“Oh, oh, oh! My leg!” Juliette wails as she drags her left leg behind her, clutching her hip.
Another mother would rush to her, gather her up and search for this most grievous injury.
I barely glance up from the onions I’m chopping and say, “Sorry, honey. Try sitting down.”
“I can’t sit down! I can’t MOVE!” She demonstrates her incapacity by lurching forward and moaning.
I stifle a laugh.
This is Juliette’s third life-threatening ailment of the day, and it’s only 11 am.
When she woke up, she couldn’t see. Everything was “blurry and white.” I suggested that maybe she just needed to blink to clear out the sleep. She was unimpressed with my medical opinion.
At breakfast, she took a bite of hard boiled egg, threw her chair over backwards and went running to the bathroom yelling, “I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe!” Little flecks of egg yolk trailed behind her like breadcrumbs marking her path. I suggested a sip of milk and maybe mentioned that if she could yell, she was getting plenty of air. She held her hand over her mouth and looked at me in disbelief. Clearly, I was trying to kill her.
Since it’s only 11 am, and she’s only almost died three times, I still have a little humor left. I can watch her and remind myself that feeling your feelings so deeply and expressing them with so much finesse is a special kind of gift. I can thank my lucky stars that my dear middle child is in no danger of being overlooked. I can even wonder if my mother’s often repeated blessing/curse May you have one just like you! has landed at last.
By six o’clock, it will be a different story.
By six, she’ll have almost died at least nine times, thrown herself face down on the sofa over the injustice of the world (usually snack related) twice, complained about every meal, and had at least one sobbing fit while yelling, “I’m not crying and whining!”
By six, I will have lost all of my sense of humor, all of my patience, and most of my mind. I’ll find myself thinking things like:
- What am I doing wrong? How did I screw her up already?
- Was that doctor who said I was going to ruin Juliette’s life by having twins so soon, right?
- Will she ever be happy, or am I watching the childhood of a future drug addict?
These are dark thoughts, people. But not as dark as the shadowy one that slithers up through the years to hiss in my ear,
You best stop now, before I give you something to cry about.
And though I’ve never said it aloud, just the thought is enough to scare the living shit out of me.
Because here’s the truth. We know what we’re taught, and we do what we know until we learn better. And learning better is no small feat.
It doesn’t happen just by reading a few articles about peaceful parenting. And it doesn’t happen fast. Learning better can take generations. Like sewage being filtered down through a septic field, each layer of sediment, each generation, strains off some of the shit until what comes out at the other end is fertilizer, not poison.
Sometimes I look around at my green grass life and think, “Looky there. Last layer. I’ve done it!”
Then Juliette pretend-gags at the dinner table over a piece of “nasty fill in the blank,” and I realize, “Nope. I still got a ways to go.”
I came into motherhood utterly unprepared. For years I felt like I’d been dropped into a war zone with a Nerf gun. No armor. No compass. No basic training.
Fourteen years and five kids later, I can scale a wall of toddler defiance with one hand tied behind my back while performing first-aid with my teeth.
But I still stumble through mine-fields planted long before I was born. Right under the surface lurks “I’ll knock you into the middle of next week,” and “You’re cruising for a bruising.” I worry that one misstep could blow up the whole business.
Sometimes, when I’m tired, say, after Almost Died Event #10, or six o’clock, it can feel like Juliette is dragging me right into one of those fields, just begging me to put my foot down.
But on a Saturday morning, when she crawls into my bed to scratch my back, or lay her sweaty blonde head on my shoulder, I realize she isn’t dragging me at all. She’s just guiding me, walking a couple steps ahead to plant little red flags like flowers above each bomb. Reminding me that I’m not finished. There’s still shit to sift and work to be done.