My daughter Leah has a special stuffed doggie. I gave it to her for her very first Christmas, when she was just shy of 2 months old. He is soft and brown, and as soon as she was old enough to show a preference, she started carrying him around. His name is, of course, “doggie”. What else would you name him, really? I chose him just for her because he was cute, and also because he wasn’t pink. When people know that you are having a baby girl, you get lots of pink frilly things. I had a boy first, so you would think that I would have been all in with the frilly girly stuff, but I wasn’t. It was a bit too much for me. So whenever I bought her something, I sort of shied away from the super girly stuff. So doggie turned out to be a much loved toy, and still keeps Leah snuggly at night.
One day the kids were playing in the family room. Doggie was there, as he usually is. We have a rule in our house that “we” don’t jump on the furniture. Some of us are better at following this rule than others. I won’t name any names. Despite this being a rule from the beginning of time, etched onto stone tablets, and enforced with brutality on a regular basis, both kids still jump on the furniture. Every day. And on this particular day, I was having a long day.
I am reading a book by Ann Lamott right now, in which she speaks about those moments with your kids where you lose your mind. She says that one of the things that helped her was to realize that we only seem like we are going from 0-60 in a split second. In reality, when we flip out all of a sudden on the ones we love most, it is because we have been slowly simmering, idling at 58-59 all day, and working hard at keeping all of our emotions under control all the time. Then our kid (or our spouse) says or does something and, that’s it. Last straw. Camel’s back=broken.
So, I guess I had been idling most of that day, because Leah was jumping on the furniture for the 19th time. And I just couldn’t take it anymore. I couldn’t even. So I yelled at her to stop jumping on the furniture, and she gave me her little smirk, for the 19th time that day, and called out a careless, insincere “sorry mommy!”
The smirk, I think that was what put me over the edge. Who knows. What I did next, I am not proud of. But I am going to show you my crazy. I started yelling something like, “STOP JUMPING ON MY FURNITURE!! HOW WOULD YOU LIKE IT IF I JUMPED ON YOUR THINGS? I DON’T THINK YOU WOULD LIKE IT IF I TREATED YOUR THINGS THAT WAY!” Then I grabbed doggie, threw him on the floor, and stomped on his head. With my foot. Over, and over, and over again. That’s right, I did.
I watched Leah’s little smirk crumple into a frown, and then tears. Then we were both crying. I felt like a huge jerk, of course. I picked up doggie and apologized for my angry outburst, and she in turn apologized for her part.
I like to tell this story to people who are having a bad parenting day. I think it is important for us all to admit that this is what parenting really looks like, at least some of the time. My friend Keri also likes to tell this story to her friends. We spread it around town so that, one by one, whomever we tell it to feels a little less crazy, and a little less alone. (“Well, I just lost it at my kids in the middle of Target, but at least I didn’t stomp on a stuffed toy’s head like Tracy. That would be nuts. I’m doing OK.”) You’re welcome, everyone!
When I feel bad about myself, what I really want is for someone to come alongside me in my miserable state of being, and to tell me that they too are a messy, miserable, hopelessly flawed human being. Being a parent, I feel a need for this kind of connection more than ever. But it is so hard to find sometimes. I suspect more people want to participate in these honest, authentic interactions, but everyone is afraid. Or else all the other parents truly are just very busy with their latest handmade Pinterest crafting project that is educational, good for fine motor skills, and an excellent alternative to screen time for their young children. I hope not.
In case you are wondering, my children still jump on the furniture. Every day. Doggie is still a constant companion. And no animals, real or stuffed, were permanently harmed for the purposes of this story.