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Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Rushing Roulette

I had to turn on the car defroster this morning, there was so much steam coming out of my ears on the way to school. I don’t know why running late bothers me so much. I guess it’s the feeling of not being in control. I should know by now that I can’t control how long it takes my daughter to pick her wardrobe for the day while my son is swinging on the bunk bed in his underwear. If anything, there is an inverse relationship between how much I yell at them and how long they take. Still, I yell. Not as much as I used to, but more than I’d like to.

What pushed me over the edge this morning was looking for stuff at five to eight. Megan couldn’t find her script on play rehearsal day. Luke couldn’t find his rain coat. My image of a well-run house involves everything in its place—the script, the raincoat, the field trip permission slip—so that no one spends their mornings hunting for stuff. Unfortunately I’m the only family member who puts a high premium on assigning everything a place.

Last night, feeling bored and lethargic, I turned on TV and saw a commercial that featured a mother picking socks off the lamp in her teenaged son’s disheveled bedroom. No way, I thought. I won’t be that mom. My kids will learn to be responsible for themselves. Then I remembered that when Luke throws his dirty socks under the bed I’m the one who digs them out, not him. OK, he’s six, but sixteen is only ten years away. How is he going to learn to be a responsible adolescent if I don’t start training him now?

I’m never quite sure how much to help my kids and how much to challenge them. Picking up Luke’s socks is about twelve times faster than coaxing him to pick them up. Spreading the kid’s cream cheese is so much easier than having them fight over who gets the cream cheese first and then watching the one who wins spread the cream cheese over their bagel oh so slowly to increase the suffering of the waiting sibling. Fighting over the cream cheese is one of those things that can make children late for school. And have I mentioned that I hate being late?

Now that I’m writing in a favorite coffee shop, with jazz trumpets playing overhead, I have a calmer perspective on the morning rush. I realize that getting to school on time is not as important as the process that gets us there. Perhaps running around looking for her script will help Megan to learn to keep track of her stuff, a lesson potentially more long-lasting than whatever they do in class for the first twenty seconds of a Tuesday. Perhaps seeing me exemplify patience would help them learn to wait for the cream cheese without yelling. Perhaps.

I’m sure yelling at my kids for being disorganized and pokey does more harm than a tardy mark on their records (which they didn’t get anyway, having slipped in under the wire once again), but I can’t get stuck in guilt. I have to just keep learning the same lessons over and over, until they sink in a little deeper. Sometimes I wonder why God let’s me screw up in exactly the same ways over and over, and then I remember: God is a parent, too. If my kids were always perfectly prompt, then I would never learn patience, just as if I always pick up Luke’s socks, he’ll never learn to do it himself. It’s not the fastest way to get things done, but parenting is not a speed sport. Neither is spiritual growth.


Blogger Cuddles said...

When I ask my seven-year-old to complete a task on his own he wails, "you make me do EVERYTHING!" If only he undertsood how much I do for HIM without whining.

1:20 PM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

I found myself nodding as I read your entry today. I am so glad to see that I am not the only one who struggles with this. Thanks!

5:18 PM  
Anonymous sinda said...

Have you read the Faber/Mazlish books, one of which is How to Talk So Your Kids Will Listen, and Listen So Your Kids Will Talk?

I could read them every day and still lose my temper or choose to do the work myself, but it does give me glimpses into a beautiful world when I am able to practice what they preach.

I'm a new reader, referred here by your Brain, Child piece - I enjoy your blog.


2:01 PM  
Blogger Eileen Flanagan said...

Thanks, Sinda, Jennifer, and Ty. Hope you keep visiting.

Yes, I did read How to Talk so Your Kids Will Listen and Listen so Your Kids Will Talk about four years ago, though I too need reminders. I got one today when I was getting my hair cut, and there was a very cranky mother yelling at her son in the hair salon. As I listened to her lament, it was clear that she had too much to do and was stressed about time. Years ago, before I had children, I judged yelling mothers very harshly. Today I mostly felt compassion for both mother and son and tried to send them calming energy. I have to confess, though, that a little part of me was thinking, "Wow, I don't think I'm ever that mean." It's so much easier to identify destructive behavior in someone else, but next time my family is running late, I'm going to try to remember what that women sounded like to a stranger and make sure I don't sound the same.

4:50 PM  
Blogger Lone Star Ma said...

I know I do sound that mean sometimes. I always think about that when I hear someone else turning into the mean mommy and give my kids a hug.

4:15 PM  

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