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TW for this post: self-deprecating language
it is new year's eve.
the day begins simply, as all mornings ought to.
Cake wants to paint her nails, so I tell her to go for it. She sets up shop on the parlour room floor, which in retrospect is the first mistake, but she follows me throughout the house, and this is where I am.
Kids follow you, fucking everywhere, back and forth, for all eternity. And it's maddening, really. Get out of my ass and give me space for fiiiiiive minutes, please! But if you stop and consider the why, it makes perfect sense. People, as a whole, are communal. She doesn't necessarily want me to sit down and paint her nails, or paint mine with her. She'd be delighted for me to join in, sure, but it's mostly just, mom is in the parlour, shuffling around in the mugs, grinding coffee beans, turning on the record player and thus, this is where she wants to be too.
I'm sure reading this, it makes perfect sense. But how often do we stop and consider this, truly consider it, from the child's perspective? Particularly in the moments where we are so dang frustrated and need space? They just long for company, and parents are the best company they know when they are so small.
I wonder too, when does that fade? How long does that last? My parent(s) were/are not my preferred company. My spouse is, personally.
This is fine though, because it is a new morning, a bright new day, there's a latte in my hand and Cake wants to put on her Cranberries album she got for Christmas, and I am happy to share our newfound love for vinyl together and teach her to use the record player. It is not grating, it is endearing.
It is about perspective.
There is a clattering.
"What the--??" she says, and looks down at our feet.
There is red nail polish, everywhere. Spattered where her make-shift station is, spiraling out in wet webs, oozing from the bottle that had bumped her foot and gotten her attention.
She is blurting out apologies, and I am at first, initially, angry. She has been negligent and now there is the reek of cheap polish overwhelming us and a mess I will have to clean up--
--but it was an accident, and there are two cats and two dogs ambling about, and the youngest furry monster, our eight-month-old black cat Brisket, is darting around like a fucking lunatic, so I immediately reign it in, and am soothing her, holding her hands gently and telling her, it's okay, it's just an accident, accidents happen! We can clean this up, easy day, let's find the acetone and cotton balls, I'll show you how.
I want her internal voice to be compassionate. I don't want her to have the one I have, the one that screams and berates me, reminds me I'm a fucking idiot, I'm a mess, this is why I can't do things, this is why you suck Erin. I do not want that voice to be in her head. It already is. She is an anxious person. She is my clone. I love that about her, I hate it beyond all else for her. It sucks, being in your head like that. So I try, so much, to be the gentle parent she needs, the gentle parent I needed. Parenting my child has allowed me to re-parent myself, in so many ways.
We clean the mess.
I love doing nail art, so I've got all these extra goodies to make my home-manicure as bougie as I can. I have this neat stuff called Acetone Antidote from an indie polish maker, Baroness X, that is an additive which adds restorative oils to your skin and masks the chemical stink with fantastic scented oil blends. I mix the Pistachio Macaron scent into a bottle, and it makes the cleanup less unpleasant. I show Cake to clean in small circles instead of smearing the mess side to side, and she is ecstatic with how good of a job she's doing cleaning up. With the power of our ADHD Hyperfocus™️ combined, we scrape the polish out of all the tiny grooves in the luxury-vinyl-planking.
This was a Good Learning Experience. I handled my own frustration, I eased Cake's, the mess was cleaned quickly and I am pleased I have Acetone Antidote and vinyl floors; earlier in this year, Gage and his dad refloored our house, this room used to have a very janky DIY excuse for "hardwood flooring" made out of splintering 2x4s from a previous owner, that would have been an impossibility, woulda just pulled the varnish right off the floor.
In the afternoon, Cake wants hot cocoa, and I oblige her. She picks out a mug, but instead of one of her own, she grabs one of mine.
It is my favorite mug: a large one with glittering gold and black bees and large pink and gold flowers that reminds me of my days as a strike-off seamstress. The mug is probably about five years old; it is from a friendship, a work-relationship, that no longer exists, from a company that went under shortly after I had bought the mug. She had been trying to expand her fabric shop and started offering other items with her fabric designs on them; I had specifically requested she list this bee-print because I would not wear gold and pink fabric, but I will drink my coffee from this mug.
Nothing about this mug exists anymore; I think it is the only one in it's existence. It is filled with memories. I love the print, but more than that, I love the memories attached to this mug. The way I had pleaded for the mug, the way my freelance-boss-ish had been delighted in my enthusiasm, listed it that minute, and I had purchased it right then.
Writing this now, I don't think she ever managed to launch that section of her website, her company closed before she had the chance. She had opened it up early to her team of sewists so that when she was ready, we would be ready with physical items to show off, too.
But I didn't think of all these things, I simply tilted my head to the side and asked Cake, "Are you going to be careful?"
And she of course insisted yes, she would be, it's been so soooo long since she used this beautiful mug!
By the afternoon, my good mood has dampened. I am agitated by everything around me for no (outwardly apparent) reason; I have too many thoughts in my head, phone calls I need to make, emails I need to check, appointments to make and commitments to follow through and--none of them need to be done right this second necessarily, but they all need to be done and it is too much and there is laundry piling up and the office is falling apart because my cats keep climbing into the fabric shelves and kicking the fabric out to make themselves more fucking cubbies, and litter I can feel cat litter crunching under my feet so I need to vacuum, I am trying to write, trying to schedule posts, trying to post to Patreon, and every time I get half a thought down, Cake is calling me, showing me something, asking me something, demanding my attention, requiring my assistance, I am trying to shuffle around the mess of the house in my ADHD-pacing-fog, what am I doing right now? I bark at her to clean up her messes, there's trash, empty Sunny D bottles and the wrapper of a meat-stick and her paper plate with crumbs that has tipped to the floor, clean up your mess, PLEASE!! it is not a request, it is a shriek.
I sink back into my office chair, plop my headphones on.
There is a shattering.
I turn my head, slowly, towards the the parlour room, where Cake stands, arms full of plastic horses. Arms overflowing, knocking over the messes she had left out on the end table. I stare vacantly, already knowing what just broke.
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry, it was an accident!" she says, but I am just... pissed. Fucking livid, if we're being honest.
I stand up, not hearing whatever she is saying, scoop up the pieces, snatching the one she has picked up out of her hand viciously.
I am aware that this was unnecessarily cruel, passive-aggressive, she is a child, I am an adult, it is just a mug. But that doesn't matter, I am angry! I take my stuff to the trash, look over the beautiful bees and flowers once more, then drop the pieces unceremoniously in. I walk past Cake; I don't know if she says anything, if she looks at me. I am angry, I am a wall.
Like in Fight Club. I am Jack's boiling point.
I walk past her and straight outside, to sulk on our front porch. It is here where I consider why I am so fucking angry over an accidentally broken mug. It is here that the flood of memories attached to the mug come in, what all the mug meant to me. I am still furious. She couldn't know what the mug means, she didn't mean to break the mug, but--
I am embarrassed to write this
I want to throw my potted plants next to me onto our walkway, I want to shatter the pots. I want to hurl them at the tree before me and scream and rage. I want to stomp and get in her face and tell her that if she would clean up her stupid fucking messes the first forty-six times I asked her, if she had put the mug away when she had emptied it like i had asked her to, this wouldn't have happened, she would have bumped her hip into the end table and said ow and that would have been it and i would still have my mug, it's just a fucking MUG Erin it doesn't fucking matter! but I am furious.
I am angry with myself for being so furious, but that doesn't make it stop.
When I feel I have been gone too long, I go back inside, but I am still angry. I fold a single piece of fabric, sit down on my futon, and cry a little. I can allow myself a little cry over a broken mug, and then I will feel better.
But I don't. I am still thinking of all the mean things I could do. I want to walk over into our parlour room and start dropping mugs, her mugs. What the fuck is wrong with me?!?
I don't, of course, but what the fuck, brain?
... this is why I need her to have a healthier, a kinder inner voice than the one I have. A gentler voice than the one I am wrangling with, the one insisting that to make myself feel better I need to make her feel as badly as she made me feel.
This is ugly and horrific. Who the fuck??? Treats kids?? That way?
Stressed out tired parents who are at their wits' end and not thinking rationally, really.
I didn't act out these thoughts, thank fuck, but they were there in my head and that was awful enough.
What about the times we don't hold strong to our resolve, can't work past our inner voice whispering cruel ideas?
It happens. It didn't this time. It doesn't usually. I hope it doesn't ever again, but y'know, it does.
Later that night, turns out.
It is evening, we will soon settle in to watch the Pete the Cat New Year's Eve special. (It's really cute, btw).
I have abandoned the earlier attempt to rage-clean my office, plagued by the reminder of the laundry on the couch, and sat in the living room and folded it with Gage. Decompressed, fucked off on my phone, finished some writings.
Cake is finishing up her chores, putting away the clean dishes.
There is a small cry of surprise, followed by--once again--the sound of something breaking.
"I'okay!" she calls out, then frantically, "it was an accident!! I tripped!"
I peer in and see one of my decorative pieces that goes in the parlour room, that has been pushed under the kitchen table since I decorated for Christmas and had no where to put all the usual crap, is broken neatly in half. She is picking it up, along with a shirt, holding the shirt up and inspecting it. "I tripped on the shirt..." she is saying.
And I am trying to reign it in but it is just flowing free-form out of my mouth:
"Are you, in any way whatsoever, aware of your surroundings, at any given point?!"
She blinks, her face screwing up, "Y...yes, I think so..."
"I don't know, are you, because this is the third time today!!" I am spouting off, frazzled, manic, close to tears myself because I am so frustrated: with her, with myself for being frustrated with her in the first place, yes it was three things all in one day and that is terribly unfortunate but they were all accidents--
which is what she is mumbling in between the shrugs and the i don't knows, it was an accident, she didn't mean to,
and I know this, and I tell her I know but she has got to be more aware of what going on around her! What is a shirt doing in the middle of the floor, anyways?!
Gage's voice chimes in, the shirt is his fault, it got wet when he was washing the dishes and he just absently chucked it to the side and forgot about it there...
this makes my brain ache more, because whyyyyy, but also because tripping on the shirt that shouldn't have been in the walkway wasn't her fault, but also how do you not notice a men's shirt just in the walkway how did you trip on that,
and really, it doesn't fucking matter.
what really matters here is that i am losing my mind, on my child, over things that are relatively unimportant, for things that were generally outside of her control. this is not the gentle and compassionate parenting I was emulating this morning.
this is the burnt-out parenting, the passive-aggressive internal voice parenting, the it's been two years of a global pandemic, I'm immunocompromised, and my kid is an only child who doesn't get enough social stimulation from her exhausted mother, -parenting.
This is not my parenting. But it is how I am parenting right now, and it's not fucking cool.
The other day, I saw a really great thread about gentle parenting, about do-overs.
We talk about how I am sorry I lashed out (both times), how yes, it is true, I am angry that things were broken, and that it is okay for me to be upset, but it is not okay for me to make her feel badly, and continue to bring up her accidents after she has apologized for them. Parading her mistakes over her does not help anyone: it harbors animosity, encourages fear from her mother, solidifies that voice in her mind I am trying to eradicate, the one that will remind her well into adulthood, if i don't quash it, that she is a mess, she is a failure, she breaks everything. I don't want that voice for her. I have that voice and I do not want it for me, I absolutely cannot allow it to exist for her.
After the Pete the Cat special, we talk about our year, the good things, the bad, the events, the mundane.
"I don't believe I've been admitted to the hospital at all this year!" I announce proudly. We cheer.
I ask Cake how many teeth she's lost this year; she doesn't know, and we try to count, but this brings up how earlier this year, in May, she had to be sedated to remove an infected tooth. They pulled another that was going as well, and a third one had fallen out during the process, it had been so loose.
"So there's at least three!" Gage and I say, encouraging her to try to count them, but instead she is making this horrific whining, gurgling sound, one of discomfort and general displeasure to the topic. The sounds grates on us. You can tell us you don't want to talk about this, you can express why this is bothering you, but please for the love of all that is good at pure do not fucking whine like that.
It is getting late, and all three of us are getting agitated with one another, but no one is willing to budge; we want Cake to reminisce with us, she wants to change the topic, we want her to learn to express her feelings, she wants to shut down and go to bed.
We try to get her to wiggle her loosest tooth, we used to love pulling our teeth out as kids! Don't you want the tooth fairy to come and leave you money, what a fun way to wake up in the new year!
It's not that we're neurotic monsters who want to rip her teeth out; it's that she leaves them in so long that her adult teeth are coming in at odd angles, her teeth are overcrowding, and she needs to get those little baby teeth out.
But she is becoming more obviously distressed with the conversation, howling that awful whine, her little body becoming rigid, pulling away from us physically.
Gage calls her back in, wraps his arms around her, lays his cheek on her head while she stares at me, unyielding.
And I begin to ask her
what are you afraid of? what is giving you anxiety? why are you upset?
but she is shrugging, grunting i dunno type sounds, whining.
i try a different approach, yes or no questions
are you feeling anxious?
you do know. you know things, sweet girl. you know your feelings. you know your heart. are you scared?
she wavers her hand in front of her, which means "medium."
is it about your teeth?
do you feel scared about your teeth?
does thinking about the hospital make you feel scared?
do you feel worried that you will have to go back to take care of your teeth?
whimpers, a nod, her face twisting at the thought.
babygirl, i croon, that's okay. that's understandable and fine. it makes sense. it makes sense to be scared. that was a scary experience, and your tooth, that tooth hurt you. it is understandable to be afraid of something that has hurt you.
the infected tooth had caused her gums to swell up, an angry abscess she'd had to take antibiotics for because the surgical date kept being postponed, I don't remember why, I just remember the agony of working between the hospital, the dental office, the referrals from the dental insurance and medical insurance and fighting for my baby to get in and be covered, …how horrific that must have been for her.
You know, I tell her, I'm scared of the hospital, too. I'm scared of going back, I'm scared every time my tummy hurts that I may have to go to the hospital. it scares me, too.
Her eyes light up slightly, her body relaxes against Gage's and she sinks into his arms a little bit more.
But, I continue, we have to take care of ourselves. I know you don't like teeth stuff, it scares you, but we have to take very good care of your teeth so that that doesn't happen again, okay babygirl?
We all feel better after this; sad, tired, but better. As parents (and I haven't really asked him, but we both kind of shared the silence together afterwards so I feel okay writing on the behalf of us both), there was a certain agonizing sadness about realizing that our kid has medical trauma, surrounding her teeth, surrounding something we thought was so mundane, indeed, even figured she as a child would think was fun. We thought we were being fun, but we were hurting her. This is horrific, because we should know better. Look at her mother, I am a posterchild of medical trauma. How did we not notice that sooner?
I don't know. But I'm glad we did. It may have taken months, but we got here, and now we can work through it more. We are learning the tools that we need to open up the conversation. She may know her feelings, but she does not know how to put them into words, or how to form a conversation around them. She is learning that, along with us, because we did not know how to do this either. We didn't teach her how, in May, or in the following months after the extractions. We did not teach her until the end of the year. And it is not a one time lesson. We will have to continue teaching her this, over and over, as we learn, as she learns, as we as a unit lay the pathways for communication, instead of building up walls around us, sequestering us from the paths.
She heads to bed with peace in all our hearts.
the parenting for the day ends here, but my evening does not.
Gage and I ring in the new year quietly on our couch, streaming the ball dropping from new york, toasting with our sweet rose champagne (which he gags over being too sweet, and I choke would be better if it had honey poured into it), then resume to chatting, playing video games, puttering on our phones. Around two in the morning, we agree we should head to bed.
I head into the kitchen, straighten up a little. I pick a tupperware out of the fridge, nibble on a bit of cold ground beef from burritos the night before.
From out of nowhere, nausea hits me--hard. My mouth immediately fills with saliva. I chew the beef contemplatively once more... nope, definitely not working for me right now. I turn to spit into the sink, but this wave is bad, I am breathing hard, my mouth hangs open, slack, bits of beef flowing out down a stream of saliva. Hot. I am hot, I am breaking out all over in a sweat, completely drenched. I think quickly to myself that I need to make my way outside to throw up, the fresh air will help.
I hear screaming. Shouting? It's not shrill, just one long, anguished howl, rising in volume, in intensity.
I am vaguely aware of my head jerking back, looking upwards, before losing sensation all over my body and meeting contact with the ground.
cool, sweet, ground. it is a relief to my hot, flushed skin.
"What is it?! What's wrong?!" Gage's voice is filled with panic, his feet thundering from across the house to where I am, it's near me now: "what's wrong, what happened?"
I can feel the sweat, pouring off my face, my arms are sticky and slick under my sweater. I cannot breathe. It's too hot. I kick off my moccasins. Still too hot, but it helps. I have the moment of panic, is this it, is this how it ends? will i make it to the ER?
I realize my calves are seizing up, they ache terribly. My throat hurts.
"That sound..." I whisper, staring at my arms splayed on the ground before me, "that sound came out of me..."
"Oh babe," he says, touching me, "you're burning up, you're so sweaty."
I feel my torso pulling itself upright, my arms peeling the sweater and tank-top underneath off in one slick layer.
"You... left a puddle." Gage says, and we gaze at the wet image of myself I've left behind.
"I soaked through a sweater," I mumble agreeably before laying back down. "I don't know... what happened. I don't know. I'm just really nauseous. I don't know. I'm so nauseous. There was... something." I cannot remember, but there is the thought of something, something had to have happened, I was nauseous because I was nibbling and there was something...
the something evades me. there is just fog in the whole moment. I try to focus on the scream. I had felt it rising in my throat, I think? I had been... aware of it, growing stronger as... whatever that something was... it doesn't make sense. I don't understand what just happened, or why. something. I'm just so... confused.
After eternity, or maybe just a minute, the extreme nausea and dizziness passes, my breathing regulates.
"You need a cool shower," Gage is telling me, coaxing but insistent. "I'm going to go get you a cool shower started." the need to do something, the drive to help in some way, any way. it is love.
I take the cool shower.
It helps, a lot.
My therapist tells me there is a 70/30 rule. If you're being a decent human to your kid 70% of the time, you're doing a good job parenting. People make mistakes. You cannot be the best parent, 100% of the time. You just cant. You will make mistakes, have moments of failure. Give yourself a margin for error; 30% of the time, you're gonna screw up. Try not to do it more than that. And, if you are serious about gentle parenting, you will request a do-over with your child. You will be candid about those times you screwed up, apologize, because all humans regardless of their age deserve apologies if you've screwed up. So many of us were taught that grown-ups are right all of the time, just because they are grown-ups. I'm a grown-up now, and I can say with one hundred percent certainty, that's bullshit. Teach your kids that even you make mistakes, and that that's okay. It's part of being human.
I'll suggest it once further: apply the 70/30 rule to every other relationship. To your partner. To your friendships. To your parents and relatives. Allow people to make mistakes, they cannot be present and perfect for you all the time, but don't let them hurt you, either. Are they applying it back?
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