I am not a zen parent.
My twin toddlers didn’t want to leave the art studio, the place where they had just spent two hours exploring, making messes, and were mostly free of restrictions. When it was time to go, they ran from me, refused to put on their jackets, and threw their shoes. As I tried to convince my guys to leave, I took a deep breath, grabbed their stuff and headed for the door. I sighed and told another mom that my kids drive me crazy. They make me so tired. “Really? You seem so Zen,” she said. She was serious.
As I tried to convince my guys to leave, I took a deep breath, grabbed their stuff and headed for the door. I sighed and told another mom that my kids drive me crazy. They make me so tired. “Really? You seem so Zen,” she said. She was serious.
The struggle then became not to laugh in this lovely woman’s face. This kind mom would see the act of me leaving with my two children, and since I was in public it would happen mostly without me yelling, but she had no idea how far from Zen I felt.
Apparently she couldn’t sense my willingness to march my kids outside, into the cold spring air with bare feet and jacketless bodies. I must have been doing a decent job hiding the fact that I wasn’t in the mood to rush home to make lunch for my kids, knowing at least half of it would go in the trash or on the floor. She clearly had no idea how anxious I was already starting to feel about naptime.
With a lot of work and discipline, I can usually pull off the illusion of patience, but it is rarely without internal stress.
Starting with feeding breakfast to three kids, packing lunch and snacks, getting my daughter and partner out of the house for school and work, to a day with twin toddlers, then dinner as a family followed by bedtime routines, my days feel like an endurance test. There are absolutely great parts of the day, with quality moments with my kids, but this parenting thing is no joke. This work is hard. And I wanted to apologize to the mother who thought I had it all under control.
She saw my kids blatantly not listen to me, so she knew I wasn’t a magical being who could get her children to do what was asked of them when it was asked, but this woman’s assumption that I was so flexible and carefree about their behavior felt like I was misleading her.
I was anything but Zen. I was irritated. I was tired, so tired, and I was searching for the energy to just get my boys into their car seats before it was all used up from trying to keep my cool.
This woman isn’t around me all day to hear the number of times I sigh and mutter profanities because of my kids. She doesn’t know how much pressure I put on myself to be all of the things my kids want and need me to be. Nor does she know I do the same when it comes to my partner.
This other mama doesn’t have a clue about the amount of work I put into trying to balance it all, while still feeling like I am always coming up short, somewhere. Always.
In the lobby of the art studio, after a couple of hours of relief from the constant bombardment of their needs and demands, this woman witnessed me at my best when it comes to dealing with my kids: externally patient and internally exhausted and anxious.
I wondered what she would think of me if she had seen me throw my kids’ toys off of the porch when they wouldn’t stop fighting over them. What would she make of me serving my kids buttered noodles and processed meat for five meals in a row? What would she say if I told her there are times I can’t stand the feeling of their touch?
Her opinion of me would surely change if she had seen me fall behind the seat of the minivan, literally wiping the sweat from my forehead after rushing to get my boys out of the house in time to find a parking spot at the library.
I had yelled at, bribed, and rushed my twins to the van an hour before music time started because there are never enough parking spaces when Matthew and his guitar are at our favorite daytime hangout. And Matthew is worth every drop of sweat because he’s actually a great musician and story teller, and he’s not afraid to reprimand kids and their parents for being too loud or self-indulgent.
This mama didn’t feel the wave of guilt I felt as I hoped the enrichment of live music would outdo the damage I did to get us there.
As the other mother stuffed her own headstrong toddler into a jacket while working around the newborn she was wearing on her chest, I made my own assumptions about her.
She had likely already experienced days and emotions similar to mine, to the ones she couldn’t see in that moment; I doubted she would blame me for any of my imperfections. I didn’t need to tell her that my enlightenment came from exhaustion or that I loved my kids even when they are on the verge of breaking me. I didn’t want to minimize the work I was doing.
I quietly forced shoes onto four little feet and accepted her compliment, “Thank you.”