Tilting and shifting, yet abiding

At the end of every summer, my children become wretched.  They are also lovely, and we do special things like our spontaneous outing to Crane’s Beach.  But without fail, they are difficult.  I swear it’s the universe making it more bearable to go back to school, back to fall, back to the routines and strictures of Regular Life.  Right on schedule, the last week of summer, Whit had a terrible day.  He was talking back.  He was ignoring me.  He was misbehaving.  He received a warning, failed to heed it, and I sent him to bed at 5:30, without dinner.  I know.  I’m a witch.

In his bed, he cried on and off for an hour.  I sat in my office, right down the hall, remembering all of those nights that I waited out a wailing infant.  Every few minutes, he’d crack the door, tiptoe out and tell me quietly “I’m going to the bathroom.”  In the bathroom he would blow his nose and then creep back his room with a look at me.  Each time, I would say, “I love you, Whit,” and he would shuffle back to bed, tearful.

Finally, at about 6:45 I went in and sat on the edge of his bed.  He was red-faced and upset, but placid, quiet.

“Can we make up?”  He asked me, looking in my eyes.

“Of course we can.”  I hugged his little shoulders, feeling how warm he was, how damp his face and hair.

“I am sorry.” He said, muffled, into my neck.  I rocked him a little. “Mummy?  I’ll do anything you want if you will let me go play Legos.”

“No, Whit,” I said firmly, “You can’t.  This is a consequence.”  I felt, as I do so often, how much easier it would be to just give in.  But I didn’t.  We talked about why he’d been sent to bed.  About not talking back, about listening, about eating his dinner.

“Sometimes when I misbehave I don’t know it.”  His voice was soft, hiccupy.  “Can you sometimes tell me so you don’t have to do this to me again?”

“Yes, Whit.  That’s what the warning was for.”  I hugged him again.  “I will make sure I’m really clear with you.  But I think you do know some of the things you are not supposed to do.”  Sheepish, he looked down at the bright robots on his sheets.

“Are we really made up now?”  Looking up at me through his long eyelashes, he held out his hand as though to shake.

Trying not to laugh, I said, ” I think we should make up with a hug and a kiss, don’t you?”  He nodded, and sat up to hug me hard.  I kissed his cheek and asked if he was ready to go to bed.  “You’ve been really upset in here, haven’t you?”

He nodded again, more vigorously this time. “I’ve been talking to myself, angry at myself that I’m not listening.”

“Well, it’s good to figure out how you can do a better job at that.”  He clutched his Beloved Monkey even closer to him and looked at me.  “We’ll figure it out together, Whit.  I promise.”  I brushed his hair back from his forehead, thinking of all the times I’ve said goodnight in this room, of how often I’ve smoothed my palm across a brow right here, of how often I’ve heard the lullabies that drift from the small CD player.

The specifics of each moment tilt and shift constantly but the central emotions abide, unchanged, sturdy.

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  1. Posted October 3, 2011 at 6:50 am | Permalink

    oh my heart is raw reading this, lindsey…feeling the intense emotions that claim me as a mother daily. thank you for honestly sharing your stories, the pain and pleasure. and for inviting us to live more transparently, courageously, fully.

  2. Posted October 3, 2011 at 7:53 am | Permalink

    Beautiful piece, Lindsey. I have yet to cross into these murky waters of motherhood (except for the wailing infant part — I get that), but when I do, I suspect I’ll feel much the same way you do.

  3. Posted October 3, 2011 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    Just beautiful, Lindsey, and a stage I remember well.

    Thanks so much for this and everything you do…


  4. Posted October 3, 2011 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

    My oldest is positively wretched with all the changes that have come this September, just as he was last September. Your post helped me to recognize the pattern of it. We are very firm too, though my husband much more than me. I hope in my heart that we balance each other in positive ways.

  5. Posted October 5, 2011 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    This is so beautiful, Lindsey. My parents were just visiting, and we were sitting around the dinner table talking about how hard it is to stand firm and let your children cry — whether it is the infant stage or the terrible misbehavior stage. Jillson listened very carefully to that conversation. I love that Whit asked you to help him remember so you wouldn’t have to “do this” again. The sweetness, the innocence under the recalcitrance is so powerful and, in many ways, makes our job harder! Hugs to you.

  6. Posted November 21, 2011 at 11:04 pm | Permalink

    This is a really helpful reminder for me, about the central emotions abiding. Thank you…