Parental challenges, they never stop a'coming

Despite my utter elation about the decisions rendered by SCOTUS yesterday (not so much for what they did to the VRA the prior day), this week has been colored by some enormously challenging dealings with my boys. Tuesday afternoon and this morning were periods of stress not even a Xanax could quell, and that is really saying something. Many of the tests parents face remind me of shape-shifters of the sneakiest sort. You may have thought you'd dealt successfully with unfathomably inconsistent sleep schedules but alas no, your child then gives up his nap, ages into the years during which nightmares begin, commences nighttime potty training, simply decides he doesn't feel sleep is as important as do you. You may have been patting yourself on the shoulder for having kids with incredible palates and the next day find that suddenly, no previously-loved foods are acceptable. Perhaps your child never had the slightest bit of stranger anxiety but then one day, you find that you've got a third leg, so glommed onto you is he.

Perhaps the hardest challenges, though, are those that surprise you, those you didn't see coming, those that really suck the wind from your sails. These are the struggles in which you can feel deep disappointment in your kids as well as a pretty intense dislike of them. These are the times that can make parents deeply sad, as opposed or in addition to the more common suspects of frustration, confusion and anger.

On Tuesday, between exercising, fetching the dry cleaning and picking the kids up from camp, I went and bought them special snacks, one chosen especially for each boy based on what have now been for some time, their consistent favorites. Oliver is a muffin-aholic and so I purchased a beautiful lemon-raspberry in a tulip cup for him; Jack is wild for cinnamon-sugar soft pretzels, so I picked the softest, biggest, sugariest one for him. I'd had such a lovely morning making those Zingers, I had a great chat with my Mom, and I headed to camp with real excitement about seeing the boys. As soon as I stepped out of my car, I saw a man at whose store I've taught several classes. We said hello, and then our kids bounded up. I hugged my boys, told them treats awaited in the car but asked that the first come meet this man's son as he's at camp too.

Oliver had, however, snuck into the car and peeked in each bag. He immediately complained that he didn't have a pretzel and then tore Jack's in half because he wanted part. Jack went ape-shit, threw all his camp stuff onto the ground and started wailing. I, mortified beyond belief, calmly and quietly (read: seething with anger so attempting to keep a lid on it) suggested he stop embarrassing himself and It took a fair amount of control for me to keep a peaceful face as I buckled Oliver in and drove away.

And boy did I lose it then. I don't know if I've ever been as angry with the kids as I was that afternoon, in part because for only the first or second time, they really hurt my feelings. At that point I realized we were in a new phase of their maturation: they are old enough to start behaving with some degree of control, especially Jack; and they are years past old enough to say a big "thank you, Mom". But instead of either, they engaged in such spoiled, ugly, self-indulgent behavior, and I was not about to have any of it. By the time we got home, I was crying, my head was throbbing because really, my voice had been raised for at least 10 minutes, and they were mute. If you read Em-i-lis regularly, you'll know that the fact that they were speechless is exceedingly rare and really means something.

I sent them to their rooms and told them not to even consider coming out until dinner.

Then I called my Mom and sobbed. It seems you're never too old to do that, and I guess I'm just grateful I can.

It is hard to express how shaken and sad and utterly disappointed I was. I am not a perfect mother but I am a really good one. I work so hard at it, and I don't slack. I am fair, and I try to keep in mind exactly where each boy is developmentally so that I neither over- nor under-expect of them. I do not judge their interests and passions but rather try to help them explore those things further (see: sewing Jack a bikini top so he could channel Ariel and letting Oliver wear entirely orange outfits every day even though he looks like a traffic cone because it is his favorite color). I am almost overly-generous with the love I shower on them, I try to bring happiness and lightness and inspiration and enrichment to their each and every day. I do these things because, to me, those elements are some of what good parenting is about.

But good parenting also involves a hefty dose of firm yet loving, consistent discipline, and by and large, I think I haven't slacked in this department. I'll be damned if my kids don't have good table manners, if they can't comport themselves well in public, if each of their EQs isn't all it can be. They are such fortunate children and need to learn, know and appreciate that. We talk on an almost-daily basis about how little too many in this world have, about homelessness and poverty, about how important it is to give back to the communities of which we are part. Spoiled, bratty behavior is not something there is a place for in my home.

Hence my disappointment in them on Tuesday, for spoiled brats they decidedly were. It took me all afternoon and night to start to feel moderately better. On Wednesday morning, we talked about what they may have learned from this experience, and I underscored the fact that I love them like crazy but that certain things will not be tolerated and that they could learn that the easy way or the hard way. Wednesday was nice.

This morning, however, I could have jailed them both and sued for emotional distress. The noise/penis/butt/wildness levels were off the charts, and by 8am, they'd both, per the Summer Rules list posted two weeks ago, lost dessert and evening stories privileges for today. So yet again, we head back to the drawing board and dig deeper into the reserves, meager as they may be, that enable us to remain as consistent as possible over the minutes, hours, days and years.

While tomorrow is another day, who knows what it might bring.