When I was a kid, my mom used to make “baked apples.” It was a cored apple with brown sugar, cinnamon and raisins. Although it was a “healthy treat,” it tasted like heaven. But even better than the taste was the smell. Suzanne and I would bound off the bus, see my Mom’s car in the driveway and run into the house. Midway from the bus, we could smell the baked apples wafting out of the kitchen window and it just smelled like home.
She probably didn’t make the baked apples all that often, but the memory and the smell stuck with me.
Both my parents worked when we were kids. Suzanne and I would dread the days when we were “latchkey” kids because it meant we would be home alone until dinnertime. I usually watched Duck Tales and Oprah (like all 8 year olds do) while Suzanne checked every door and window for signs of burglars. Tuesdays and Wednesdays were my Mom’s days off and they were the best days of the week. School was always more tolerable on days that my mom was going to be there after school. Baked apples or not, Mom meant “home.”
It’s that feeling that has always driven my own parenting aspirations. I wanted my presence to feel like a safe haven for my kids. A place of respite from the pressure of the world. A soft place to land.
Only I haven’t been feeling like that kind of Mom lately.
I’ve felt stressed and overwhelmed and frustrated. Easy to snap at the kids and roll my eyes at them for doing things that aren’t their fault (like spilling their milk for the umpteenth time), not because I blame them for the mistake, but because it creates more work for me. And the list is already so long.
Except the kids don’t know how long my list is. Nor should they. They are busy being kids. I don’t work outside of the house. My job is creating a home for these four souls. I shouldn’t care that I’ve cleaned the same spilled glass of milk every single day for the past eight years like it’s groundhog day. It’s my job to be gentle with their tender little hearts no matter how much milk is spilled.
Some days, when I’m trying to talk myself out of my frustration, I remind myself that ten years from now none of this will matter. I won’t even remember all the little things that swirled around my head each night before bed. Long gone will be my worries about the bills, and Finn’s struggles at school, and Charlie’s worries “about the unknown,” and when Henry will stop drooling, and Tallulah’s superhuman insensitivity to pain.
The decisions will have been made. Our story will be told.
Long after the stress of this young motherhood life is gone, I often wonder what part of my own legacy will be left? What will be my “baked apples?” Will the kids remember how I (try to) read them Harry Potter every night? Will they remember the affirmations I whisper in their ears before bed? I know they know I love them, but do they feel it? Or do they see a crazy, stressed-out banshee lady?
When we were kids, Suzanne and I were friends with a family who, like us, had 5 kids. Their kids were much younger than the 5 of us and things definitely got chaotic in their house. The mom was always exasperated and yelling at everyone. We would visit their house and the mom always seemed on the brink of a breakdown. I was 8 and I realized it. I’m sure she had a lot on her list, too, but we were kids; we just thought she yelled a lot. I never wanted to be like her.
The stress of parenthood and parenting a special needs child is just something that is interwoven into my life. It can be a thread in the pattern, but I can’t let it ruin the whole design. The stress is always going to be there. Despite my best efforts, my floors will always be dirty. The TV will always be too loud. The twins will always find a reason to pull each other’s hair. Charlie and Finn will always wrestle too hard. And milk will always get spilled.
One day, the stress will be gone, but so will the twins’ chubby knees. And the funny way that Tallulah says “Goldfosh.” And Henry’s incessant insistence that we “go to ‘Mickey Place’ with Daddy.” And Finn’s fascination with lighthouses. And Charlie’s relentless enthusiasm and budding liberalism.
The chaos is not going away any time soon. I have to find joy in the chaos. I have to parent meaningfully through the chaos.
Those four hearts are far too important to take chances.
I will do better. Starting today. I’m taking the “Orange Rhino Challenge” to not yell at my kids for 365 days. Behaviorists and autism experts are always saying that as your child starts to lose control, you should remain calm so that they can model your behavior and their behavior doesn’t escalate. I know this. But putting it into practice when everyone in the house is melting down is another story. But that all ends today. I’m jumping in with both feet. It seems really daunting, but they deserve a little peace and, frankly, so do I.
Finn must have sensed I needed this.
He made both of these this morning.
Inspiration for this post:
“Learning to hold a yell” by Orange Rhino
“10 things I learned when I stopped yelling at my kids” by Orange Rhino
“12 steps to stop yelling at your kids” by Orange Rhino
“The perfect storm” by Lisa Jo Baker
“How mothers are made” by Lisa Jo Baker