At least a few times a day, my kids accuse me of being the worst, meanest mother on Earth. Though I know they don’t read my blog, once and for all, here is my response:
I am mean and awful because I make you do things like clean up your toys and hang your coat in the closet. I am mean because I serve you vegetables. I am awful because I make you eat your age in bites of some dinner that you hate so much you’d rather vomit uncontrollably than force it down your throat. I am unfair because I blame you when you hit your brother or sister and then make you apologize before sending you to your room. I am uncaring because I demand you treat others with kindness, and that keep your elbows off the table when you eat.
I understand that you have a busy life. You have to get up early and go to school and sit still (even when all your body wants to do is get up and move because you’re only a kid, for crying out loud). I am so proud that, because you are kind and good and a do-gooder, you sit because sitting is expected. I am proud of you for raising your hand and listening to your classmates and respecting your teacher, and for being smart and cooperative and enthusiastic about school.
And I know it’s an awful lot of work, that it’s all very busy and exhausting.
So I understand that, when the bus drops you off at 2:45 and you run up the steps, you let loose because you are home and you can. I don’t mind that your first words to me, after hello, are can I have a snack, and can I call so-and-so for a playdate, and, because I know you have been quiet and behaved for the last 8 hours I say yes — but first.
But first, you must empty your backpack and hang up your coat and put away your shoes and show me your homework assignments. Then we can snack and make phone calls, — unless you have religious ed or a sport, or unless we have to go to the library to return books and that Wii game that’s going to be overdue at $2 a day. If we don’t have those other things, yes, of course you can play with your friend – but only for an hour, because there’s dinner and homework and bathing and bed by 7:30, and that takes a long time with the four of you.
You grumble about doing those things, and I get that, because I don’t always hang up my coat, and yes, that’s Daddy’s coat and umbrella and shoes by the front door, and if he doesn’t do it, why should you?
I understand that, by the time we are home once again, you are too exhausted to do homework. There’s spelling and math and reading and handwriting and moon journals and multiplication tables and science books and enrichment word problems – and all you want to do is run to the basement and shoot mini-hoops or skip upstairs to play with your dolls or cover the kitchen table with nine million craft projects. But I am Mean and I am Mommy, so you must do homework and I must cook dinner.
And, no, it will not be your favorite meal because we can’t eat butter-and-cheese pasta or hot dogs or steak or grilled salmon with pesto every night because not only I am not a short-order cook, there is a budget. So I am mean and make you eat dinner, no matter what it is, and even though we laugh and talk about the day and tell jokes and make up stories, I am especially mean because tonight there is no dessert.
Then there’s washing up, and yes, you must use soap. No, you can’t do laps around the bathtub while the water runs over you like rain. I am annoying and awful because I make you brush your teeth and wear clean pajamas.
After some stories, you will have to go to bed. No, you can’t have your DS or stay up late to read because in addition to being your mother, I also once took a cool science course in college where I learned that the human growth hormone is only secreted while you sleep. If you don’t sleep, you won’t grow. Plus, I have to wake you up early and don’t want a big crankypants at 6:45 a.m. grumping down to breakfast.
Also, I’m tired. Yes, Mommies get tired. We’ve all been racing through the past 14 hours, and I need some quiet time. I am therefore not only Mean, but also Selfish and Insensitive because I need a break from the chaos of my four kids and our schedules. Just like you, I need to rest.
I am mean, demanding, and annoying, yes, but here’s what you don’t know.
An hour after bedtime, you are asleep. Your hands are thrown over your head and your mouth is open slightly, and maybe you’re snoring a little, and though you are big now you look just like you did when you were a baby, cuddled in the bassinet by my bed. You don’t know that I watch you breathe, sometimes just to reassure myself that you are still, in fact, breathing, and sometimes I want to climb in bed with you – but you are so big, when did that happen? – and I want to wrap myself around you, to remind you that I will do my best to keep you safe. Every day — from monsters under the bed, and the ones that might come in the day with big knife-sharp smiles on their faces. If someone bothers you at school or on the fields or around the playground, I will make sure it never happens again.
I know I can’t entirely protect you from the hurts of the world, but at night, I like to believe I can, just the same way as my cuddle or lullaby once protected you from the crawling things you were so afraid of in the middle of the night.
The funny thing is, you protect me too, a little. Being your Mom makes me feel safe and full, and sometimes I worry that I’m screwing it all up, but you never seem to think I have. The smiles and hugs and the quiet soft talk in the night-light darkness fill me with hope and comfort. Sometimes I need you for much more than you needed me as Mommy the Monster Slayer.
You won’t know this, of course, until you are grown, and by then it won’t matter much. Today, what you know is that I am a Mean Mommy. And yes, I will continue to be, because you really do need to learn to tidy your things and hang up your coat and be nice and use soap when you wash. Until you leave this house, I will insist on these things.