Wednesday, July 18, 2012

A Mother's Comfort

When my children were little and they were hurt or afraid, it was easy to gather them in my arms and make everything okay. It’s not so simple now that they look me in the eye and question my competence.

My middle child is sensitive to any slight in the distribution of parental tolerance, reprimands, and praise. She sees injustice everywhere and well she should. Life is not fair. Never once have I suggested it is or should be. If life were fair, we wouldn’t have the abundant blessings we take for granted. But I digress.  

Because this child perceives that I “like the boys more”, she does not welcome my comfort when it is offered. She craves my attention, yet pushes it away when it is presented. My husband says she is exercising her woman’s prerogative.  

Earlier this week I carted her off to the oral surgeon to have four permanent teeth pulled. While she is my loudest child, ironically she has a tiny mouth. There is not enough room for all her teeth; and her permanent teeth are vying for front row seats creating a multi-tiered smile. Four have to go and then we have years of braces to look forward to.  

The original plan was to have my husband escort her to this appointment. While I am a woman of hearty stock, I become squeamish at the sight of a man with pliers in my daughter’s mouth. She has had eight baby teeth pulled in previous visits, trying to help the permanent teeth find their proper place. Each time I held my stomach and my tongue as I watched the doc work. This time it was to be my husband’s turn. 

Events conspired against us – the doctor had to change the date and the only date available was during a week my husband would be safely hiding on the other side of the planet. It fell to me. 

I let her use my coveted iphone to play games during the drive to the office and reassured her repeatedly as she let out small, whimpers each time she looked up to see that we were closer to our destination.  

Once in the chair, she was stoic. The doc was very impressed, gushing, “You’re awesome!” as he stuck her repeatedly with his nasty needle. I survived the ordeal by looking out the window and concentrating on the whir of nitrous oxide machine rather than the crunch of the pliers extracting each tooth (“Oh – the last baby tooth – bonus!”).  

Afterwards, as we stood by the check out desk, my daughter looked lost and beaten and kept holding her numb chin to be sure it was still there. I pulled her to me and wrapped my arms around her sharp edges hoping she would accept my comfort. When I looked at her face, it was obvious my hug was more painful than the teeth pulling, so I released her. 

She was quiet until about 15 minutes in to the ride home when the blood seeped through the gauze stuffing her mouth and spilled on to her shirt. I pulled over and tried to help, but she just screeched at me through her cotton-filled mouth and smacked my hands away. 

Once home, the tears finally came. I offered ibuprofen – the liquid form in the blue-raspberry flavor she loved (to heck with the food colorings). She swore she couldn’t drink it because her lips were too numb. I hunted up a straw and placed it in the tiny dosage cup, and held it out to her. She put the straw in her mouth and then cried even harder, shoving the cup back at me.  

Thirty minutes later she found me in the kitchen and through teary eyes informed me that her mouth hurt. I leaned towards her, arms outstretched and she leaned away, so I offered ice cream instead. She rebuked me like the idiot I am – how could she eat if she couldn’t feel her lips? 

I retreated to my desk to write, but she followed me there, still whimpering like an injured dog. I offered my kindle fire – maybe there was a show she could watch. She looked through the offerings and said there was nothing she liked.  

Today I could not offer my daughter the comfort she needed. In the end all I could say was, “I’m sorry this had to happen.” That seemed to be what she needed. She nodded and left to find the cat who apparently can offer much better comfort than I.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Mom on Strike

My husband called from the other side of the earth the other day and said, “So I hear you’re on strike.” Apparently, my oldest e-mailed to alert him of the dire situation at home.
Last night after cleaning up the dishes, spilled jelly, and mashed blueberries that covered the counter, I reached my breaking point. I realize those small tasks don’t seem like enough to justify a labor dispute, so let me paint the picture for you.

First of all, it was the just about the bazillionith day of six-thousand degree heat which improves no one’s mood. I had begun the day by dragging my beautiful children out of bed and forcing them to go to church with me. I was in need of some sanctuary. In the afternoon I ferried them to the swimming hole two miles down the creek and indulged them with all manner of snack food. I played an endless game of monopoly and allowed them friends, mindless TV, and unlimited computer time the rest of the day. Dinner was a free-for-all (hence the blueberries and jelly). So, with the exception of forced-church, it’s not as if I’d been taxing them all day.

For me it was the endless mess and the prospect of ten more days of solo parent/maid service/cook duty that was pushing me towards that dangerous edge of Angry-Mom. These children are smart, resourceful, energetic, creative souls. Certainly they can clean up after themselves.

My request that they put their own dishes in the dishwasher was met with disdain as was my appeal for someone to feed the dogs and cats. But it was the cheese puff bag under the coffee table that sent me over the cliff. First of all, I had turned a blind eye to the child who placed the cheese puffs in the grocery cart, so the fact that they ate them in the living room (not allowed) and then had the gall to leave the empty bag on the floor lit the fuse that I had been dragging behind me all day.

I blasted them verbally and then retreated to my room to fume to my journal. After I had written myself calm, I went back downstairs and informed them that I am on strike. I’m not doing anything for them until they start pitching in. No rides, no playdates, no meals, no laundry. Mom is on strike.

So the next went a little better. I didn’t fix anyone’s meals or do anyone’s laundry (except my AWOL hubby’s). I told them their rooms must be clean by this weekend. Amazingly, no dishes were abandoned on the counter. My oldest simply skipped lunch rather than fix it himself. Miraculously the cats and dogs got fed. My youngest even helped me bathe the dog that won’t stop scratching. (please God, let it not be fleas)

I decided to cross the picket line and fix dinner, but I didn’t put down my sign. I do realize that I have no one to blame but myself (and my husband) for the lazy inclinations of my children. It’s a little late in the game to be asking them to start picking up the slack which is precisely why extreme action was called for – hence the strike. I was resolved to hold my line.

The next day I caught myself washing the dishes abandoned on the counter before I remembered that I was on strike. I considered calling for the culprit, but was too tired for the fight that would inevitably follow. Which is how this strike ended peaceably. Later in the day I picked out broken glass from the dishwasher where some well-intentioned but annoyed worker had actually put his/her glass in the dishwasher without being threatened first.

After dinner I watched as one of my boys dumped his ketchup laden plate directly in to the dishwasher and dropped his utensils ala clothespin-in-the-milk jug in to the utensil holder, two out of three making their mark.

Was my strike effective? Hard to say, but it registered my unhappiness and it even inspired a tiny change of behavior. Will it last? Again, hard to say, but once the other boss is back in the country it may be time to renegotiate this contract.