Losing It

Tonight, for no good reason, is one of those nights when I feel like I am on the verge of losing it. As is usual on these types of occasions, it wasn’t one specific incident that tipped the scales, but a delicate concoction of increasingly annoying circumstances: At school today, an unproductive planning period that resulted in an even larger pile of papers cluttering my desk; a school bag stuffed with work that would follow me home; forty-five minutes of watching my eldest daughter be “that kid” at her swim lesson and running the risk of being labeled a helicopter parent if I intervened; the same child’s declaration, “I don’t like you and I don’t love you” because I wouldn’t allow her to play games on my phone as we drove home; a crappy salad for dinner because I was attempting to be healthy, but really wanted, like, a double bacon cheeseburger smothered in chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream; two crying children in the bath (one, because her sister was repeatedly kicking her, the other because she wanted her sister out of the bathtub); and then, on top of everything else, the ridiculous chore of picking up our house for the freaking cleaning lady.

I was completely aware, throughout the day, of my elevating stress level. I could feel my blood pressure rising, my ability to keep my cool steadily decreasing. I yelled at my nine-month old for sticking her hands in the toilet while we waited for the bath to fill. I snapped at my husband when he asked if I wanted him to work on cleaning or if he should try to rock the baby to sleep. I told myself, as calmly as possible, that nobody benefits from my bad mood. But, as many of you probably know, cold, hard reason isn’t terribly effective when you’re legitimately losing it.

“It”: a tiny pronoun that encompasses so much. My mind, for one. My body. My ability to carry on a phone conversation that requires actual listening. A lot of my friendships, probably because I can no longer carry on a phone conversation that requires actual listening. Relaxing dinners out. Movies more  than ninety minutes long. Spontaneity. Uninterrupted quality time with my husband.

The list goes on. Forget about losing it. “It” is long gone.

When I was nineteen, I got my tonsils removed. Before the surgery, my mom and I sat down with my doctor and he read out a questionnaire that was meant to determine how I would deal with the stress of the procedure. I remember laughing as we described my most common response to stress. When I was in high school, my mom would frequently wake up to the smell of brownies or muffins and come downstairs to find out what was wrong. Apparently this was enough for the doctor to believe that I wouldn’t lose it; with the help of baked goods, I could cope.

Eleven years later, I have other tools at my disposal. An episode of The Mindy Project. A glass of Pinot Noir. A Pandora station called “Indie Rock Dance Party”. Supportive work friends. Yoga. A husband who really, really, wants to make my life easier.

I love my children with every tiny atom of my being. Their ridiculously cute faces grin at me from the desktop of my school computer. I constantly catch myself telling stories about them that no other human being could possibly care about. I know that some of this craziness and chaos will end when they grow up, but I don’t want them to grow up.

You all know where this is going. You know that regret isn’t a part of my vocabulary. I’ve gained more than I’ve lost. My life is bigger, more fulfilling, better in a lot of ways, but it doesn’t stop me from missing some of what I’ve lost.

As a writer I long for closure, a clean and clear-cut way to wrap up. Tonight, I think, it’s not going to happen. Parenthood is what it is. It isn’t clear and it sure as hell isn’t clear-cut, and the majority of the time it makes me feel like a genuine psycho.

The end.

The Hard Way

I was going to title this post “Living With Discipline,” but then I thought that might be misleading. When I think about that phrase, I think about somebody who gets up at 4:45 every morning to get a workout in before the kids wake up, someone who only allows themselves two alcoholic beverages and one dessert per week, someone who controls the number of minutes that they spend perusing Facebook and Instagram each day. That person, clearly, is not me.

No, what I mean is living with the butt-naked, possibly possessed, supposed-to-be-napping child who, until about 40 minutes ago was shrieking at me from the top of the stairs to read her a book. (Now she is peacefully sleeping on her bedroom floor…not that I have DARED to get close enough to confirm that.) That, my friends, is the kind of discipline I am referring to.

You think I’m leaving without this
princess chair? Try me.

Let me back up: Maggie, while at her sweetest is the most darling child ever on the face of the planet, at her worst honestly reminds me of the kid from The Exorcist. She has been this way from the very beginning- difficult to please, impossible to reason with, and as they say down here in the south, as hard-headed as they come. I truly believe that I have been dealt this lot in life because I was such a butt to my own mom when I was growing up, but that’s a tale for another day. Of course, today when nap time rolled around my husband was out of the house (coincidence?), but the routine was the same as always. Pull-up on, read two books, sing two songs, music on. I set her “Owl”, her alarm clock, for the time when she’s allowed to wake up, and as long as she’s quiet, we’re good.

Unfortunately, our routine hit a snag when Maggie decided she wanted four books instead of two.

Me (Very calmly): We read two books. Which two do you want me to read?

Maggie: I don’t like you.

Me (the human embodiment of a cucumber): That’s fine. Now which two would you like me to read?

Maggie (Not at all calmly): NO! WE READ FOUR!

Me (Again, very reasonable): Maggie, if you scream at me again, I’m not reading you any books. Do you understand? You don’t speak to your mommy that way.


So, just like Super Nanny taught me, I made good on my warning. No books. That part was easy. What wasn’t easy was the crying, begging, ripping off clothes, and eventually taking away two of her favorite books that followed.

Discipline sucks. I wish I could be more eloquent about it, but seriously, it’s the worst. This witch lady who takes children’s books away from them and once barred my daughter from Sunday school because that was the one thing she was excited about- that isn’t me. Never in a million years did I imagine me, as a parent, asking my child, “Are we going to do this the easy way or the hard way?” and then dumping cups of water over her head while she screams like I’m pulling off her toenails instead of rinsing the shampoo out of her hair.

When it comes to parenting, there is an easy way and a hard way, and choosing to discipline your child is by far the harder choice. It’s necessary, I know, because I’ve taught kids who have seemingly never heard the word “No” in their lives, but (expletive of your choice) it’s exhausting.  Discipline is beyond poop, beyond throw-up, beyond middle of the night feedings, beyond being forced to watch weird, borderline-creepy kids’ shows, the least fun aspect of parenting. Because, as Maggie tells me, “You a bad guy, mommy.”And who wants to hear their kid tell them that?

I pray about discipline. No kidding, I do. A lot. It takes a superhuman amount of strength to instill in your child positive habits and morals without wanting to pull a Homer Simpson on them. And I continue to do what all of us in this boat do, which is to take it one day at a time and fight each battle knowing that, at least for now, I’m bigger than she is.