Mom and William, one week old, November 2001
“I want PIE!” Jamesy yells at me this morning. He has already climbed onto the second shelf of the pantry, which he knows he isn’t allowed to do.
“Well, I didn’t make the pie, and besides, that’s not a breakfast food, is it? Lets get down from there,” I reply calmly, trying to mask the tension that is rising like bile in my throat. I look at my angelic, chubby three-year-old with star-lit, midnight blue eyes and tousled blond hair. I know what is coming next—what has been happening in our house for months now.
‘NOOOO!!!!” he wails like a super sonic boom and then hurls a kitchen timer against the wall.
I take a deep breath and pick up his squirming body. “Ok, time out buddy.”
His legs kick my calf. Hard. A zinger of pain flashes up to my kneecap and down to my swollen achilles’ heel. Why did I forget to put that damn boot back on? I think as I grimace with pain. Almost three weeks ago I tore a tendon in my left calf, so chasing after my three-year-old has now become an Olympic endeavor. I manage to strap him into his time-out chair—which is my second car seat. As I walk to pick up the now broken kitchen timer, he kicks his seat over, landing with a thud. His head is now on the floor, his feet raised above him in a sitting position. The crazy guy laughs, looks at me victoriously, and then starts screaming again.
“I HATE TIME OUT!!!” he screams.
William and I just shrug and sit down to eat our breakfast. We have gone through this scenario many times since we took the advice of Jamesy’s teacher who recommended that I place a car seat in my kitchen and strap him into it for a time out each time he throws things, yells, hits, climbs the pantry walls, bites, etc. Ignoring him, threatening with a consequence, taking away toys, and dare I admit, even a spanking, all don’t work on my little guy. Putting him in time out didn’t work before because he just refused to stay seated. Strapping him into time out is helping, believe it or not. It’s just taking an extraordinarily long time. I have a very stubborn three-year-old who hates to hear the word No or not be able to do what he wants to do. Like most I guess, but his older brother was never this ballsy or stubborn. Eventually, he stopped these shenanigans. Plus, I didn’t have William and Jamesy close together in age. William is 10, James 3. I can’t imagine surviving life as a single mom with an insanely stubborn James and a brother only one or two years older. Seriously, with an ex in Europe and no family help, I might have ended up in Betty Ford or some mental facility.
Today, when I was taking James to school, I thought about my mom. You may be wondering what my son’s behavior, and how the scene I just described to you, has anything to do with a Mother’s Legacy. Well, a lot actually. My mother had four children and a husband who would work three-day shifts at the hospital. Back then, three-day-shifts were not frowned upon like they are today. She was virtually a single mom in Boston with my brother 3 and two sisters ages 2 and 1. They were all still in diapers!!
“Well, I just didn’t know any better,” my mom said to me 10 years ago when she visited me after I gave birth to William. “I mean, back then, you didn’t expect your husband to help you. You didn’t complain either. And I just thought it was fun,” she laughed. I clearly didn’t believe her last statement.
When she said this to me, I was in the throws of repeated sitz baths for a class 4 tear, (men reading this, DON’T ASK), sore nipples, engorged breasts verging on infection since I couldn’t get the milk to come in properly, and hormones raging to the point where at certain moments I literally wanted to die. Exhaustion, hormones, whatever it was, I realized that what I was feeling was akin to what clinical depression must feel like. Having three kids one right after another, and than four years later her oops child, (which I am), my mom must have always been on the brink of despair. But I don’t remember seeing her succumb to it, not over raising children anyway. Maybe she was just too busy.
Mom and William, three months.
Over the next two years after William’s birth, she graced me with her stories. But her stories about raising three babies were what inspired me most. She didn’t know why I was in shock, but clearly, she loves babies and has a higher threshold for stress, than I do. Her stories gave me strength, however. Luckily for me, once my breast milk came in with earnest and I could breast feed around the clock, my cloud of depression lifted. I listened to her stories and began to think I can do this.
“Every Sunday I called my mom and we’d talk about politics. I loved our Sunday calls,” my mom told me 10 years ago. ”Well, this one Sunday, I’ll never forget it. Your father was at the hospital and I looked around as I spoke with NiNi (her mother) and I saw your sister (and with her next description, I knew exactly which sister it was) climbing up the curtain rod! I started to go for her, but then I heard something and looked out back and your other sister was pushing down your brother from his bicycle. Well, I’m still on the phone, but as I go to your brother, I turn around and look back and I see your sister now putting a screw in her mouth!” Amazingly, the whole time she’s telling me this story, she is smiling. What lesson did she learn? Not to decorate, or put up curtains partially, and then take a phone call when you have three children. I, on the other hand, was completely horrified. I had my one and only baby suckling at my breast and began to think I will never, ever, have another child.
“Well, I laughed and laughed about that. Of course, I had to get the screw out of her mouth first!” my mom said. Over the years as her Alzheimer’s began to take hold, she repeated that story to me over and over again.
Mom and William, 2 years.
It was as if she knew that I’d need to remember it too. That I would need to pull it out of a file in the back of my mind to remind myself that this craziness is what it’s all about. We’re all pushed to the brink when raising children. But it’s how we handle it and carry through that matters.
Three years ago I was visiting my mother. She was still at home then, although we had assistants to help her. It was evening, and she had fallen asleep with her TV on. I went in to shut it off. She raised up and pointed to the hall light.
“I finally put a cover on it. Like it?” she asked me. I turned to look at the hall light and noticed a new sconce. “Oh. Wow. Yes, we finally have one.”
“I know, I never replaced the old one because I was so ashamed,” she said to me, clear as day.
When I asked her what she was talking about, she replied, “Well, one day, when you four were up to something. I can’t recall really, but one of your sisters was yelling and your brother was doing something, I don’t remember what, but I got so mad, I actually threw my shoe up the stairs and it hit the hall light. I never did replace it (the sconce) because I wanted to look at that ugly bulb to remember how stupid I was. I didn’t want to lose my temper like that ever again.”
I swallowed hard and held her hand. “It’s ok mom.”
“Oh, it’s silly. I should have known better. Don’t do that kind of thing, ok?”
The next morning, when I told her I enjoyed our talk she replied, “Oh? What talk? Didn’t you just get here?”
Well, call it Divine intervention, but I know we did have a talk and I’m so grateful—that even though she didn’t remember it—I always will. And I thought about her advice today after Jamesy threw his smoothie across the car and it landed with a SPLAT across the entire backseat. Sigh. I’m clearly on the brink too. But I’m going to be brave and stand on the edge and take a deep breath. I may have to dig in my heels and brace myself or a long stay. But my little guy will grow up eventually, right? And if I make it through with my sanity in check, just think about the stories I’ll be able to embarrass him with!