I was sitting on my couch, folding laundry, when I caught sight of Novan in the next room over, the dining room, eating his quesadilla. My eyes became immediately trained on him as I saw him throwing something from the table and onto the floor. As I watched more closely, I realized he was pulling the stray cheese that had hardened at the edges of his quesadilla and tossing it onto the floor.
My jaw dropped. Yes, it was a jaw-dropping moment. I was that shocked and horrified. And I didn’t move for several long seconds as I confirmed that what I was watching was actually happening. I kept waiting for him to look up and see me watching him but he was completely oblivious. And in an instant I asked myself if it were possible that I had failed to tell Novan at some point that throwing his unwanted food on the floor was not okay.
I was sure I hadn’t failed at conveying at least the basics of table manners. But it just didn’t seem possible that this 8 year old boy didn’t have the sense to not do something so horrendously disrespectful--and with a look that said he was not caring of it in the least.
“Are you kidding me?” I said loudly but in an even tone. “Novan, please tell me you’re not doing what I think you’re doing.” He looks up finally, a blank look on his face, and I swear in that moment he had no idea why I had the royally pissed off mom expression. Whether he could feel the daggers shooting from my eyes, I had no idea. I just got up, went to my kitchen.
It was then that he got it. Because I heard the last-ditch desperation in his voice as he said, “Sorry!” He sure as heck knew what was going on then.
I came out of the kitchen with my wooden spoon and unceremoniously smacked his hand with it twice. Then I turned him toward his mess and said, “Clean it up. And when you’re done eating, you will sweep the dining room floor.”
It took every ounce of my willpower not to injure him further, to not hurl verbal insults of his stupidity and laziness. I was absolutely livid. Speechless really, because there was nothing I wanted to say that was okay to say to your child. I wanted to do so much more. SO much more.
After putting my spoon away, I went back to the couch, my body literally heaving from the emotions moving through me. And then I began crying, in anger, in hurt. Look, a few cheese scraps are no big deal.
But disrespect is a big deal.
It’s a HUGE deal to me. It’s the evidence of single-mindedness. Of selfishness. Of an inability to see ones effects on others. Of a disregard for others. And I’m not just any “other”. I’m his mother who he knows is the one who usually sweeps the floor. Who helped him make that quesadilla and ruffled his hair as he did it.
Just last night our family home evening revolved around respect of our property, of thinking about actions before acting. Because prior to that meeting, Novan had decided to try and hang from our palm tree lamp and broke off one of the “limbs.” Nevermind that he’s been told explicitly not to touch it, has been corrected when he has touched it in the past, and been warned over and over that it will not support weight. No, he did it without once thinking of these things. Because he’s in his own mind, unfeeling toward his actions. Unfeeling toward people.
I don’t give two pennies for a damn lamp. Or a dirty floor. But I care everything for an awareness of others. Of thought before action. Even if that thought is flawed, I’d at least be less affronted with some indication that he did think.
Sometimes my frustration accumulates to the kind of levels it did during this incident. Isolated, it wouldn’t hold nearly as much weight. But Novan has been demonstrating similar behaviour for a while. Due to other slights, he has lost all of his video game privileges. And when he lost them, he decided to start getting up in the middle of the night to play them secretly. So we had to lock the door to our computer room. Lots of lies. Lots of disregard.
And I hate it.
In that moment of watching him toss cheese the floor, I hated him. I had no kind feelings, that I could find, toward him.
Sometimes I hate my children. I really do. And when I do it makes me cry. Because I’m helpless against those feelings.
Once I had calmed down, sent him off to scouts, I marvelled over it. I can only think of one other person I have ever hated. I mean the kind of hate that comes from having nothing positive to say about them, not the kind of hate that motivates harm. I just hated Novan because in him I saw zero care for anyone but himself. I saw nothing to value. And it made me hate him. Only for a few minutes, but it was still powerful and all-encompassing. I could have easily acted on it. But I didn’t.
How strange that such strong feelings can be directed toward my own flesh and blood. And conversely, that flesh and blood has garnered the most helpless love I have ever felt as well. Helpless hate. Helpless love. I fluctuate like a pendulum between them when it comes to my children, some swinging much closer to the hate side than others more regularly.
I used to suffer for such realizations. In the past I probably would have sat on the floor of my closet and cried my eyes out over not being the kind of mother that could look past anything and love them through any error. But I don’t anymore. I’ve come to recognize the intense feelings I experience regarding my kids is a good thing. It’s evidence that I care that deeply about the choices they make, about the choices I make regarding them, and about the people they become. And the bad behaviour that upsets me the most is not a result of material or shallow concerns. My heart hurts the most deeply over a lack of love and nothing more. I can and do easily overlook almost anything else.
And I am not to blame for every error my child makes. I am an imperfect being trying to raise other imperfect beings. They’re going to screw up. Sometimes royally. I can’t fashion them exactly how I’d like them. Nor should I want to.
So sometimes I can’t stand them. But it’s temporary. And I forgive. And I forget. I no longer allow those feelings to change the way I feel about myself. Because when I used to, they rebounded in other forms: resentment, impatience.
Being a parent sucks 76% of the time for me. The work. The emotions. The heartache and break. The time. The sacrifice. The drudgery. The grossness. But it’s a soul-refining work. Just like all hard things. The harder it is, the more opportunity you have to make yourself into something worthwhile. And it is VERY hard for me. It’s not my niche. It’s not what I’d rather be doing. But we’ll all make it out alive. I daresay we’ll all be better for it. I know I am. I hate them. I love them. I cherish moments and I wish they were already out of my house. I lose my temper and I dissolve into an emotional wreck when I take their slights personally. I’m awash constantly in enduring the volatile dregs of parenthood. And I’m totally okay with that.