This was going to be one of those gushing posts about my little cherubs turning TWO last week, but the truth is I’m just not feeling the love lately.
I mean, I am, of course. Evelyn is suddenly super affectionate, running up demanding “Hug. Kiss. Cheek. Cheek. Ips.” and making exaggerated smooching sounds too boot. It’s adorable and heartwarming until she decides she hates everyone again and her scream makes my blood run cold. Similarly, Rowan is tapping into his gentler side- eager to help his sister up a flight of stairs or to unload the groceries, or pick up his toys. At then he isn’t and he throws whatever is in reach or rams his hard head into your chest or leaves full dental implants on E’s arm and I lose my mind.
I love them. But also loving them is bringing out the ugliest parts of me and, like any mature adult who has intensely avoided working through her feelings, I sometimes hate them for it.
After hearing people go on and on about the Enneagram test, I finally took it for myself a few days ago. The website spit out my ‘type’ and a whole page of insights about my personality which I quickly glossed over until I found the flattering things I most identified with, and then I made Drew stop what he was doing (actual work) and take it so we could find out how compatible we are for each other and if we should commit to a long term relationship together. What can I say? I like to stoke that spark of intimacy in creative ways. [Apparently we are destined to be best friends but highly ill-advised as lovers. Thanks internet. What do you even know. #5yearstolife]
This morning when I opened my computer the same page was staring back at me but this time I read a whole depressing paragraph about the rage that bubbles just beneath the surface of my mama bear personality:
Eights feel they must control their environment, especially people, sometimes becoming confrontational and intimidating. Eights typically have problems with their tempers and with allowing themselves to be vulnerable.
Nothing there is really surprising. I am bossy. I love to be in control and act on my intuitions and I have no patience for anyone who can’t anticipate the next step in my dazzlingly ‘logical’ train of thought. I can drum up passion about anything worth forming an opinion over, and it’s true that I tend towards holding my feelings close to my chest. (I always blog with the computer cradled there, so you get my rawest bits of honesty.) But as I’ve grown up I’ve learned how to reign in my zeal, or at least how to keep it in the realm of zeal and far away anything resembling rage during intense confrontations. I’ve always prided myself on being the level headed, rational, calm friend. The one who has an eye on the bigger picture, pressing towards justice and light and redemption in a wise, measured way.
But there I was, sitting on the floor of the twins bedroom without a grand vision or noble cause, and I was SCREAMING at them.
Let me just list the chaos, for a little context.
- I was sorting through their toddler-reorganized dresser (aka: they had unloaded everything into a mountain of clothes on the floor), looking for their pj’s so we could get the show on the road to bedtime
- after having just cleaned up the pee of a child who ripped his diaper off as soon as I put it on him, ran into the other room and peed in three places, tracking through it with wet footprints as he shrieked with laughter
- the same child who, just before the pee-incident, climbed onto the kitchen table, grabbed a pair of scissors, and nearly impaled his sister
- because for 30 seconds I wasn’t watching him while I was running to the other room for some rags to clean up their dinner mess
- which was made by two children who, after a shockingly pleasant 10 minute shared meal, decided to abruptly end things by chucking their dishes and remaining food onto the floor
And so now the kids are screaming and jumping on their beds and suddenly they run over to the curtains which have been hanging precariously for a week and with one gleeful yank, down comes the whole thing.
And I lost it. Screaming, spanking, waving black-out curtains in their faces like a crazy person. They grinned and giggled and my rage was pouring out like steam. I threw the curtains to the ground (not satisfying) and decided threats were all I had left, my only way out of this ridiculous show. “Put on your pj’s if you want milk OR ELSE IT’S BEDTIME.”
First of all. Yikes. Secondly, whatever your opinions may be on spanking (I have been and remain committed to using non-corporal punishment, so this was a spectacular failure), I was FURIOUS when I smacked those little diapered bums. In-control enough not to hit too hard, but angry enough to think I was going to feel better if I could just vent my frustration physically.
Feeling this out-of-control is maybe the lowest point of my parenting career. Worse than when they pooped in the tub and I was too tired to care that they drank the water. Worse than when I accidentally fed one newborn twice and just ignored the crying baby for two hours because I thought they already ate. Worse than my new habit of baiting them to the car-seats with fruit snacks.
I hit my kids because I was mad at them. I’ve been sitting on that sentence for days, hating myself and feeling like a total failure. How did I become this person? Have I always been this person? Latent rage just waiting for the right mix of insanity to bring it to the surface? Thoughtful, passionate, big-picture Julianne crumbles at the sight of too much urine and a broken curtain rod?
I feel myself acting out the part of my own mom when I was tiny and she was the young mama, overwhelmed and exasperated and alone. Back when spankings and time outs and threats were ‘the only way’ to keep us in line, encouraged by big-name christian writers. It has been fascinating to watch how my parents’ approach to behavior and discipline changes as they raise my youngest siblings. I had hoped I’d be able to jump right to their mid-life wisdom about the power of grace and healthy boundaries and letting go of the control you never really had anyway as you seek to encourage and nurture your children into thoughtful adults. But now I hear it doesn’t work out so neatly. Bummer about that.
So tell me, dear readers. Do you really mean it when you say you love your toddlers and everything about being a mom? Are you just holding so tightly to your tickle fests and the sticky hugs and sweet slurred “I wuf yuuu”‘s that you block out the rest of this god-awful stage? Is it a sort of coping mechanism? Convincing yourself that only the good times matter? Because that was working for me for a while but now it’s not. Like, really not. We have plenty of beautiful moments every day but they seem to serve as a siren song for toddler mischief: adorable dancing becomes a biting contest, somebody gets slammed into the brick wall, pee. Always pee, everywhere.
Never have I ever worked in any job as demeaning as this gig. Never have I worked so hard to be creative and energetic and emotionally available, organized and flexible, patient and kind. Never have I had my most faithful efforts so mercilessly thrown back in my face (or down the stairs, or over the side of the porch into the neighbors yard, or ripped into pieces that were peed on and then shoved in the couch cushions). How do you all cope? How do you hold onto or better yet – nourish – your inner self? How do you step beyond motherhood so that you can re-energize your whole self for this all consuming task?
I’ve been thinking back on my golden years of independence, the blissfully privileged season of life called college. I had these amazing routines that included regular exercise, adequate sleep, quality time with friends, attention to my hobbies, cultural experiences, journaling, and a vibrant inner spiritual life. Now I just spend a lot of time washing dishes and picking up toys and it all feels so alien. How did I get here?
I want to spend the summer working on mindfulness. Contemplation. Meditation. All of it seems totally at odds with this parent-of-two-toddlers gig, but it also seems like the only thing that will see us through. Like the soft kitchen light left on for the straggler, so the mystics and contemplatives have been lighting the way home for the weary, one generation to the next, for thousands of years.
And there’s this: the enneagram is a tool developed by the desert fathers and eventually further fleshed out and then brought to the west by Franciscans and Jesuits. These monastics used this tool to help people understand their darkest selves, and from that place of understanding, to grow.
So maybe my children are my enneagram, making me face my true self, nudging me towards a fuller life in the light. When I look at them I see all the possibility and terror of the future. I see myself. Some days I even see hope in spite of everything. And we press on.