The girls are with my mother-in-law today seeing Circus Smirkus, which Pearl pronounces (adorably, if I do say so myself) “Shmirkus Shmirkus.” And I get some writing time, which has been hard to come by lately.
Last night, Aviva came home from her second day of camp intent on sleeping at a friend’s house. When it became clear that the “yes” wasn’t automatic – that there were some things we needed to talk over first – she lost it. She cried and screamed, at me mostly. Meanwhile, Pearl had her third pee accident of the day, thankfully on the floor and not the rug (we still can’t get the smell out of the living room rug – any tips?). All of this as we were getting dinner ready, of course. Aviva came down with a note that said, “Sorry to Mama.” This was quickly chased by a second note reading, “Now can I have a sleepover at Emma’s?” When I still said we had to talk, she lost it again.
I went out on the deck, where Greg was grilling turkey burgers. “What do you think we should do?” I asked. He said it was pretty clear to him that we simply had to let her know that yes, she could have the sleepover – as soon as she showed us that she could speak to us respectfully. I hemmed and hawed, so aware as always of my reluctance to be perceived as the bad guy. (Good to know our weaknesses, right?) But what needed to happen was obvious: I needed to move through my fear of letting her down, and she needed to be given the opportunity to earn the privilege of sleeping over at Emma’s this week.
Somehow we got through dinner. Who remembers?
After dinner Greg got Pearl (who was now the one screaming) into the bathtub, and I joined V at the little art table she uses as a desk. I realized after a few minutes that it was quiet in the bathroom, and I pulled out a piece of construction paper, without too much fanfare writing on the left side “SLEEPOVER AT EMMA’S” and on the right side, “RESPONSIBILITIES.” I told her that I didn’t appreciate the way she spoke (or rather yelled) at me earlier. She began to get defensive, interrupting me to say, “But I was overwhelmed!” I said that I had no problem with her being overwhelmed or angry or disappointed; what I was looking for was to hear her articulate that to me, using words. “All you have to do is tell me you’re overwhelmed, and I will leave you be until you decide you’re ready to talk.”
She took the marker and made a vertical line between what I had written, forming two columns. “What would be a different way you could talk to me?” I asked. She took the cap off the marker. “Nicely,” she wrote as I looked on. “Nicely talking to everybody.” “Great,” I said. “What’s one other responsibility you can think of that would show us you’re ready to have a sleepover this week at Emma’s?” I really wanted her to have some ownership here, not to just thrust all of my agendas at her – and God knows there are so many of them. “Help Pearl remember to say Please,” she wrote. “Oh!” I observed. “Helping Pearl to use her manners can help YOU remember to talk nicely to everyone!”
I suggested we both sign the agreement and put it on the fridge. V started to write “signature,” getting the first three letters down before asking me how to spell the rest. “The next part is just like it sounds,” I said. “Naaaah.” She wrote, “na.” Then, as I was saying how the last part was tricky to spell, she was writing “ture” before I could even finish my sentence. Goes to show me!
She signed it. Then she copied from her Summer Reading Program sheet, “Verified by” followed by a long line, where I proceeded to sign my full name.
By then, Pearlie was done bathing, happy as a clam and all clean and yummy smelling. Everyone got pj’s on. Greg settled in the couch and I wandered into my study to check my email and Facebook and all of the other places I go online to connect or check-out (amazing, isn’t it, how connecting and checking out can look exactly the same, depending on one’s state of mind?). I overheard the three of them laughing and having a great-sounding time playing one of those on-the-spot games you can’t possibly record in writing, much less recreate ever.
Then V put on Dance Party music and before I knew it, all three of us girls were rocking out to Nirvana… naked. Greg sat there watching, clearly pleased as punch at the sight of us. And the rain that has been intermittent for days on end returned, beckoning Aviva out to the street, where she did her best air guitar in full naked glory under the summer shower.
I have to admit, it all sounds pretty sweet when I write it out.
V came back in and kept saying, “I was out there in public!”
Bedtime followed, and lunches and dishwashers and overlooked messes everywhere. In the space of a few hours, we went from parenting hell to parenting bliss. After the girls were finally asleep – seems like bedtime keeps creeping later and later this summer – I said to Greg, “Can you imagine how fried you would be if you didn’t have some kind of center, some neutral place, some way of moving through those huge highs and lows without getting completely swept up in them (especially the lows)?”
Of course, I can imagine. I know what it is to lose my shit, to feel so pulled, so stretched, so shaky, so angry, so unsure, that I either lash out or check out. But last night, somehow, it felt like we managed to maintain some equilibrium as Aviva and Pearl ran the gamut, and I am convinced that that is partly why it was possible to wind up having so much fun.
You hear it so often it loses its impact: “Parenting is not for the faint of heart.” Neither is life, really. Not if you mean it. Practice is the only way to strengthen our ability to find that balance between soft, resilient, and adaptable with clear, firm, and respectful. Every now I then, I get a glimpse of how good it can get.
And now for the ironic post-script.
The girls just got home from the circus. They’re settled having some movie time. I went into the kitchen to get something and saw that I left a burner on THE ENTIRE TIME I SPENT SITTING HERE WRITING THIS POST, EVEN THE PARTS ABOUT FINDING CENTER, NOT CHECKING OUT, ETC! I had been boiling water to make rice for later. Two cups of water must have evaporated in ten minutes at the most. The pot appears to be melded to the burner, which I realized when I tried picking up the metal handle on the lid and burning my hand. Oy.
It seems that this post was really about paying attention, which is probably what everything turns out to be about. “What you pay attention to thrives. What you do not pay attention to withers and dies.” What’s my takeaway now? Don’t put the water on to boil and then disappear into the study. Multitasking = not paying attention to anything. There goes my whole post up in smoke. Sheesh. Humbling to say the least. Maybe I should make some agreements with myself, about what responsibilities would show me that I get to have the privilege of writing here.
p.p.s. I’m back again, next day. I was just straightening up and realized: it wasn’t Pearl Jam, it was a Nirvana jam! I’ve retitled this post. Now I’m really done with it. Seriously. You will not see me adding to this post again.