I am a naturally affectionate person, and I love my kids like you wouldn’t believe. I was the baby of my family—the youngest out of all my grandmother’s grandchildren—so I never grew up around really little kids (and definitely wasn’t in charge of caring for any of them). So when I had my daughter I was over the moon with affection and oxytocin. I wanted to snuggle her non-stop and smell her little baby head. I knew I would be firm, but gentle. I would listen to her. I would be compassionate and engaged.
As the saying goes…everyone’s a great parent until they have kids.
This post is really just for posterity, because I know there will be a day, sometime in the future, when my daughter looks at someone and says through tear-filled eyes, “Why is my mom so mean?!” There are fights and tantrums in my future—hell, we’ve had our fair share of fights and tantrums already. So I just want someone to be able to tell her that I wasn’t always like this.
Before the “because I said so’s,” there were lengthy explanations of the rules. Before the yelling, there were patiently repeated requests. Before the “I know you better go somewhere with that’s,” there was scooping her into my arms and apologizing for the hurts, real and imagined.
Let the record at least show that I tried.
I’m writing this with a new perspective on the relationship I had with my own mother and the other women in my family growing up. I used to think that my mother was sadistic and enjoyed yelling at me. I figured she couldn’t care less about my feelings or what I wanted. The fact is, that was completely true. As a parent, one of the toughest growing pains that you face is learning to prioritize your children’s needs and their well-being over their happiness. It’s because you love them so goddamn much that you wrestle them onto the floor, pour the antibiotics down their throat, pluck the raisins out of their nose, slather them with anti-fungal cream, take the broken stick-that-you-don’t-know-exactly-where-they-found-it away, and restrict their daily intake of mandarin oranges because they trigger the most unsightly, violent, and persistent diaper rash you’ve ever seen.
My mom would scoff at me when I’d get upset, or walk away, or complain about me on the phone to my aunt and my grandmother. I heard the cold mirth in her voice, and it sounded cruel and detached. I resented her for mocking my feelings. But I hear the same joyless chuckle from myself when Phoenix throw her mock tantrums or falls off something after I told her to get down a million times, and I finally recognize the sound. It’s not sadism. It’s nerves. It’s not knowing how to deal with your heart being so on the line and your sanity being worn so thin, feeling like you’re dropping the ball at every moment. It’s trying to dispel the tension because the stakes are so fucking high. Because she’s just a kid, but she’s just your kid, and you can’t do enough to protect her from the fucking mandarins that she’s determined to eat even through they sear the flesh off her ass like Napalm.
I don’t know if she’ll ever get it, and I know that as mother and daughter we’re likely destined to be at odds for a very long time. But please, if she ever stops listening to me, or God forbid, ever for a second thinks I hate her because I yell too much, please remind her that she is loved. She is so, so deeply loved. And also slightly allergic to egg whites.