This was a summer of growth, both metaphorical and literal. My six-year-old lost her first tooth but gained a forest of blonde hair on her little legs. My seven-year perfected flip kicks and cartwheels, as well as her withering stare and single word answer, “Whatever…” to everything I say. And after a heated battle in the midst of trying on new shoes for fall in the middle of Nordstrom Rack, I finally had to acknowledge that her twin brother’s feet grew longer than his nine-year-old brother’s. Big stuff in the life of a mom.
More heart-wrenching though is the way all four of my kids have continued to grow away from me in fits and starts. And also in leaps and bounds. They need me for less, express their own opinions more. When I ask for help with a chore I get far more huffing and hissing than eager compliance, and if I flinch or falter they let their imperious nature be known in a way that their sweet little toddler selves never would have.
They lie about whether they have homework and are always vaguely disappointed in everything I do. They hit and push and damage each other in ways so complicated that even Sherlock Holmes couldn’t untangle their messy tales of who did what first when. Statistically, I can’t go an hour without one kid doing something that would drive any mama out of her ever-loving mind.
I’m left screaming above the chaos and then literally throwing all four of them in timeout together, may the strongest child win. Then they return to me and do exactly what they know I want them to do least. They know me like I’m their mother, but they play me like they’re the cool kids and I’m the awkward girl with braces and glasses.
They’ve turned the corner, and I’m not sure I’m ready for it.
And so, I was listening to some science-y podcast in order to make myself feel smarter. And they were talking about flipping the script in terms of our psychology, how a man walked into a dinner party with a gun and asked everyone to give him money (which they didn’t have, who brings money to a dinner party anyway?) At a loss, and with a gun ostensibly held to someone’s head, one woman offered him a glass of wine. And it worked! He was literally and figuratively disarmed. Supposedly, the evening ended in a group hug with the criminal walking away and leaving his wine glass neatly by the curb.
While I’m not saying my children remind me of a gun-wielding criminal, I am saying that this stayed with me. I never flip the script. I flip OUT. I’m like an emotional Simone Biles when they push me far enough. Like, if you’re bringing your crazy to the mat I will triple back flip your crazy right back at you. And I will stick the landing. Even if it’s only in my mind (grown-ups gotta act grown up, I know.) It’s just really hard to see beyond the moment of wackadoodle frustration and mayhem. Because parenting is hard and tiring and emotionally fraught.
But earlier today, when my daughter was horrible to her sister and then obnoxiously rude to me, I hugged her.
She squirmed and said, “Are you trying to hurt me?! Why are you hurting me?! I hate this!!”
“This is a hug,” I calmly replied. “I am hugging you.”
“Why?! Why are you hugging me?!”
“Because I think you’re having a hard day and you need to be hugged.”
She arched her lower body away from me in an effort to resist the hug, but I gently continued. I pulled her whole self towards me (and not so hard she couldn’t have fled by the way. She totally could have broken my hug and run. I’ve seen her take down her nine-year-old brother with a one arm Heisman and then run away from his broken body like a cheetah.)
So she sort of let me hug her. And I was literally trying to hug the crap out of her, the self-doubt and the frustration and the anger.
Later, shortly after breaking the door to the medicine cabinet and right before shoving his sister off her bike, I hugged my seven-year-old son, too. I just stopped him in the middle of his whirling frenzy of destruction and I held him. And after a few seconds, he held me right back. He actually melted right into that hug like he’d been hungering for it all day.
What they expected me to do was flip out, to double down on the crazy. But instead I flipped the script. And it worked.
They are not going to mean to, but they might bring a metaphorical firearm to almost every party I throw until they each grow into their next phase of amazingness, and I am going to need to offer them a metaphorical glass of wine anyway. Which is not an easy feat. I’m going to literally be wanting that literal glass of wine for myself. Literally.
So for now I'll feed my kids some intentional goodness, maybe even some preemptive hugging and "us" time, in order to supply them with a whole refrigerator of mom-happy to pull from when they really want to huff and roll their eyes and be belligerent. I'm going to flip the script.
Wish me luck, and if you see a mom gently hugging an eye-rolling, pre-tween zombie in Target, you’ll know it’s me, loving my complicated kids the way they deserve, even if they can’t quite figure out how to ask for it.
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