We’re growing together
My four-year-old son tried snatching a tape measure from my husband, Anthony. Anthony cautioned him to ask for the tape measure politely, but Li’l D ignored him and grabbed for it again.
I cautioned Li’l D, “You’re going to lose a story if you keep snatch–”
I couldn’t even finish the sentence before he turned a sour gaze my direction. “I don’t want you to read me a story!”
“Okay, I won’t read you a story tonight,” I told him before turning my attention to Anthony. “Since I’m not reading him a story tonight, I’m going to walk the dog now.”
After walking the dog, I settled onto the couch with a new novel from the library. I could hear Anthony and Li’l D whispering to each other in Li’l D’s bedroom. I couldn’t hear every word, but I could tell the discussion revolved around why I wouldn’t be reading to Li’l D.
I’d only made it a couple of pages before Li’l D snuggled up next to me on the couch. He nuzzled his head into my neck with a murmur of, “I’m sorry, Mommy.”
“It’s okay, sweetie. Thank you.”
“Now will you read me a story?” He pulled away and smiled at me.
I smiled back, but shook my head. “No. We already discussed that.”
“You’re not my friend anymore!” He flopped back onto the couch and flailed in frustration.
“That’s okay. You get to decide who’s your friend. I love you anyway.” I reached to rub his belly, but he shoved my hand away.
“I don’t love you so much if you don’t read to me.”
“I’ll read you plenty more stories, Sweetie. Just not tonight. Tonight, you not only kept doing something we asked you not to, you talked over me and earned a consequence you could’ve avoided. It’s just one night, though. We’ll read tomorrow, same as always. Do you want me to sit with you while Daddy finishes his story?”
“No! I want you to read me a story!”
“We already talked about that,” I told him before calling out to the bedroom. “Daddy? The little guy might need an escort to his bedroom.”
Anthony came and collected Li’l D. I stared at the book on my lap and debated getting up to write about the exchange. I shook my head at myself and resumed reading. Why write a story only partially completed? I thought I knew how the story would continue the next morning, but I wanted to sit on it to be sure.
I was groggily scanning emails when I heard a cheerful, “Good morning, Mommy!”
“Good morning, sweetheart!”
Li’l D cheered. If he says “good morning” and I say he needs to go back to sleep, he knows it’s not really good morning time yet. When I echo his “good morning,” he knows the day is his–ours–and he celebrates. It doesn’t matter how the night before went down. To my little guy, morning means a new day and a new set of chances.
I turned on a light before sitting on the couch, where he nestled up against me for a few lovely, quiet moments. I tickled him for a little, relishing his giggles before he asked his favorite morning question. “Can I watch some TV?”
“You can watch one episode after you finish your homework,” I replied.
“I have a great idea! I could watch TV and do my homework.”
“That doesn’t work so well. You can watch one episode after you finish your homework.”
We sat side by side at the dining room table. I sketched a few capital R shapes for him to trace. He ignored them, launching into drawing R-like letters all over our test page.
“Sweetie, you start with the tracing so you can see how the letter is supposed to be written. It’s not a circle with two legs. It’s like this.” I tried showing him, but he was fiddling with crayons.
“Sweetie! Please pay attention! We can finish this super fast if you watch how it’s done.”
“I already know how,” he grumbled.
“If you already knew, you’d be doing it like the ones you refuse to trace. Let’s write a few together so you can see how it feels, okay?”
He agreed, and got the hang of it within a couple of minutes. I scooted back to give him room to finish the worksheet, but quickly got antsy about how he spent five seconds writing for every minute he spent staring into space.
A dozen Rs in, I pointed out he could already have watched one whole episode of My Little Pony if he’d moved a little quicker. He stepped up the pace and finished a page of Rs written pretty darn well compared to where he’d started.
I was still feeling pretty chill, but my mood darkened when I realized he had numbers to write, too. The week’s assignment felt like the longest assignment he’d received all year. Of course, if we’d worked on homework instead of playing “bots-and-ponies” (in which My Little Pony and Transformer figures band together for alternately good and nefarious purposes) the night before, there wouldn’t have been quite so much to do. I vowed not to take any grumpiness out on him since planning these things is parental–not preschooler–duty.
Twenty minutes later, with only a few numbers written, my patience was fraying. “You could have watched two episodes in this amount of time! You have five minutes left to finish everything, or we’re out of time for an episode this morning!”
“But I want to watch one!”
“I know you do! You need to focus and finish your work for that to happen.” I got up and gestured for Anthony to help Li’l D wrap up the rest of his homework. I wouldn’t help anything by being grumpy.
Thirty minutes later, Li’l D and I stopped at a light en route to preschool. Homework hassles were light years away in his memory and heart.
“Hmm?” I replied.
“I love you!” he burst out, prompting me to break into a grin before reaching back to squeeze his leg.
“I love you, too. So much. What I don’t understand is how you got so big!”
I glanced at him in the rear-view mirror. He threw his arms up in emphasis as he shouted his cheerful answer. “By growing!”
I laughed as we began to drive.
Indeed. We’re growing together.
Thursday night’s story withholding and Friday morning’s homework frustrations are all facts of my parenting experience and my son’s childhood. And that’s just it: they’re parts of a bigger story.
I recently wrote here about why I emphasize the good over the bad in my posts about others on my blog. It feels even more important with parenting, where focusing too much on hard incidents blinds me to a more complete wider angle view. Still, writing that there are grumpy incidents is different than writing about some of them. It’s been more than a year since I shared this gem, so I thought I’d keep an eye out for an opportunity to write about at least one new one, for similar new gems are shaped weekly in my home. I play a role in them. I don’t want my blog’s relative quiet as to the grumpy moments to be read as indicating it’s all sunshine and unicorns here, because it’s not. Sometimes the grumpy moments get grumpier than those captured here, but they’re always fleeting.
When I decided to keep an eye out for a new grumpy incident or set of incidents to share here, I was determined to write about them not as vignette but in context. Yes, we have our grumbly moments here in my house, and I’m part of them, but we have many loving, lovely moments–more by far than the former kind!–and I play a role in those, too.
We grumble. We snap. We glare. We get a lot of things wrong. But we do those in between many, many moments of laughing hard, loving hard and lifting each other up.
I’d bet it’s the same at your household. So after you’re done shouting or griping, I hope you’ll step back and see the goodness of the whole picture, yourself included, or at least trust that you’ll see it again soon. There’s more to parenting than any one incident.
Beside that, spending too much time fretting about what was done yesterday leaves little energy for doing things better today.
As parents, it’s important to spare some kindness for ourselves today. Even on grumpy todays.
It’s not just our kids who are growing.
We’re growing together.