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Friday, November 11, 2011

It's Nice to Meet You

          Today, my son is back at the doctor’s office to figure out why a cough won’t go away. We’re waiting for the nurse to come in, and Aidan sits on the exam table, hands spread in between his thighs and legs dangling over the crinkled paper. I am sitting in the designated Mommy chair across from him and we’re staring quietly at each other, having brought no toys or books to entertain ourselves with. It’s taking a long time. The exam rooms are filled with sick children. Aidan and I made silly faces at each other and have staring contests. We occasionally look away and think our own thoughts, surrounded by a patient silence. He glances out the window, bored but polite. I organize a few things in my pocketbook. I take our my camera and click through the pictures I took that morning of Aidan and his friends on a gloriously autumnal nature walk. Golden sunlight glistens through their windblown hair and crackly leaves fall like snowflakes around them as the boys run into the shimmering forest and out of my camera’s lens. They are mere silhouettes in other shots; dark shadows against the golden landscapes around them. Phantom children - there, but not there. Busy exploring their world as their mothers stay behind on the trail to capture the moment before it is too late.
          As more exam table paper crinkles under Aidan’s body, I look up at my son. I am abruptly taken aback at who looks back at me, as if I haven’t noticed all this time. Even though my tiny three-year-old can’t seem to gain weight, get taller, or lose those chubby little chipmunk cheeks he’s had since six months old, he is no longer a baby at all. A little man-child stares back at me and sighs gently as if to say, “this is sure taking a long time, huh?” I snap a picture of him. Something seems memorable enough about this moment to encapsulate on photo. It’s the first time I thought to not join Aidan up on the exam table but rather take my seat across the room as spectator. The distance between us as I sit in the side chair as Aidan is poised alone waiting to be examined evokes deep sentiment from within me. This is a milestone in the making, I think.
          I think about the well-checks Aidan had every few months as an infant, and of how my husband would meet me in the doctor’s office after work so we could co-struggle him into complacently long enough for us to listen to the doctor. I remember the two of us trading smiles and baby talk with Aidan on and off synchronically as the other nodded at the nurse. I think of all the equipment I’d pack with me for every doctor visit - Aidan’s beloved stuffed puppy “Gingee,” teething rings to chew on, books to finger through, little crinkly caterpillars to shake around, extra diapers, extra wipes, an extra onesie, that emergency pacifier just in case, a container of Gerber Puffs, a Sippy of ice water, tissues, a yellow Post-It of New Mother questions I jotted down but hesitated actually asking. I remember explaining to the nurses how Aidan was really an angelic baby but just hated confinement, waiting around, and getting his clothes taken on and off as he wailed and flinched as I pulled a pair of overalls around his head. I remember the overwhelming energy expelled from within as I danced and talked and sung around Aidan while we waited and waited in the little exam rooms for the impending nebulizer treatment or weigh-in or vaccine shot. I recall the new-parent terror and slightly-less-new-parent fatigue and universal-parent feeling of judgment in those rooms these last few years. I remember how damn hard everything was. How vulnerable my emotions were. How defensive I became, how sheer exhausting constant childcare used to be.
          And as I look up now at my son’s maturing face as he waits for the doctor, sans toys or plastic figurines or entertainment from me, I am struck with how rapidly my season of parenthood seems to be changing. It leaves a sweet and sour taste in my mouth. I’ve always looked forward to Aidan getting older, and never seemed to be able to relate to other mothers who just want to go back to having a newborn in their arms, when everything seemed so sweeter, small, and simple. For us, it was harder, scarier, more intimidating. We grappled with breastfeeding, fought the great gaining weight issue, wrestled teething nightmares, pulled our hair out as we dealt with a newborn who didn’t want to sit still, waded through every sleep concern that ever existed with a baby, and grew antsy and anxious over the pressure to stimulate an infant that seemed to require stimulation constantly. We lamented the loss of our own identities, wondered how the giant rift in our closeness as a couple got there, and questioned if we’d ever be able to escape the dark abyss of new parenthood.
          I’ve always grown excited when I think of Aidan getting older and growing up. About having a child that I still parent with 100% spirit and effort, but who is his own man. When I walked into the house we would eventually purchase for the first time, I envisioned Aidan as a teenager and young adult galloping down the stairs and out the front door to get somewhere. That’s how I knew it was our home.
          Over the last year and few months, I see signs that my role is changing yet again. I see full-time school out in the horizon and wonder if I will be content still being the full-time, at-home parent I’ve always thought I would be, or if I may not feel that way after all. I hear the nuanced tones changing in my young son’s voice - sarcasm, folly, frustration - as he experiments with talking back to me and complicating every scenario that is put in front of him. I observe him at play with his close friends and am in awe of his leadership skills and immensely imaginative spirit, and of how quickly he can just pick up and go with a friend without introductions and enthusiasm from me. I make peace with the fact that I don’t really know what goes on in preschool each day, and that Aidan has his own agendas, plans, and relationships that I need not be a part of. I notice the pace in my own body slowing as Aidan and I get through each day, and of how I am not needed for putting on shoes, lifting him into the car, and zipping down jackets. I hear a toilet flush upstairs while I am alone in the kitchen and think nothing of it. I don’t worry about booster seats or special cups for milk at restaurants anymore. I walk out of the house with keys and sunglasses and chuckle at how “light my load” has become.
          I am watching my son growing into a young boy and eventually his own man and feel a thrill and a relaxation. I am enjoying the slightly-less frazzled pace of motherhood these days. But as I look across at Aidan sitting in the doctor’s office, I’ve overcome with maternal protection. Aidan himself is a fleeting moment in time; a boy-child who still needs so much, but who is growing so independent. I try to quickly take note of the peach fuzz on his upper lip, which will be replaced by real hair one day. I put to memory the lines of his round face and cheeks, still soft and supple like a newborn’s. They will never be like this again. And I will never be like this again - the mother of an emerging little boy, both of us on the cusp of a new way of life. We are an axis; two partners orbiting around each other in our own self-molding. I realize it is not about relishing one phase of life or capturing our child’s moments in time with photos or sentiments or memories, but about finding the beauty in the unfolding and ever-changing evolutions. It is not letting go, or holding on, or what season of parenthood is harder or easier. It’s the unraveling of everything we thought we knew and the newfound truths we unearth from beneath and beyond.
          I am putting Aidan to bed after his doctor’s appointment, dinner, and bath. I snuggle into his twin-sized bed for his story and back scratch like I do every night, and as my hands fall over the warm silky skin of his tiny back while I remind him he will always be my baby, I start to cry. “Mommy, are you gonna be sad when I turn into a man?” he asks, his words always accurately calling me out on the truth.
          I gulp back my awe, my fright, my appreciation, my sheer panic at the inevitability of the passage of time. “No,” I lie. “OK, last hand holding of the night,” I say as I cup his little hand for the last time before leaving his bed. There is only this moment. There is only this little fuzzy boy, breathing in my face. We won’t be able to stop the seasons from changing, but we’ll cross over together, forever gazing at each other’s transformation.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Follow the Leader

          I am following his lead up the hill and around the monument. I am positioning my walking stick the way he has instructed, being careful to do so the right way. I am looking up at his stride, matching mine to his as he marches around in a square and towards the steps. I am listening to his commanding and assured voice as we make our way up the wobbly makeshift steps, dodging the insects below and surmounting the vast hill. “This way, everybody! Follow me. OK! Here we are, plant your walking sticks in the ground!” he advises as we approach the overlook, panting from the exercise. We’ve made it.
          I am not on a hiking excursion or following a tour guide in the wilderness. I am journeying up the big hill at our favorite park in town following the leader - my tiny three year old son. His slightly younger friend is with us, and though we’ve traveled up this hill a thousand times since moving here, today, something is different. My son has taken charge of the two of us in a way that makes me surrender to his guidance and strength, as if I am the child, the vulnerable and eager tourist. Although I know this hill, this park, this historic monument where George Washington’s mother came daily to pray and mediate like I know the route of my own home, I find myself looking up to Aidan for direction and reassurance as he makes us track our spots with walking sticks and pretend to go camping. My eagerness and subordination to him is authentic this time, not some make-believe role reversal that parents often engage in. I am mesmerized by the confidence in his leadership, and I surrender completely to him. “OK,” I respond to his commands, legitimately putting my trust in Aidan as he directs us to the next part of the venture.
          Aidan is a natural born leader. I literally gave birth to a brand new infant that swayed his arms about with animation, as if he was conducting an enormous orchestra or managing an entire theatre of puppets by himself. His newborn eyes roamed the room eagerly, as if to say, “what can I control in here?” His defiance of strollers, car seats, seat belts, shopping carts, swings, bouncy seats, and everything else that other babies seem to enjoy, we learned, was not an attempt to drive his parents crazy, but rather Aidan’s way of obtaining mastery over his own life. “So what if I’m two months old? I’m not going to go in that stroller and there’s nothing you can do to control me!”
          Over time, we learned to follow his young lead, and the more power Aidan was able to earn, the more he seemed to chill out. When he started cruising furniture at seven months, we approached the walking stage with relief rather than anxiety. When the little thing did start walking then running a few months later, we followed his lead, trailing behind him as he decided where he wanted to go. We always respected Aidan’s independence and need for freedom. Later, as his verbal skills and personality traits grew and became more nuanced, we realized that his extroverted and theatrical personality plus his strong will made the way for innate leadership quality. A choreographer. A teacher. A politician. An entertainer who can draw you in with humor and subtle tone. Aidan can be all these things in one day.
          But with the gift of leadership comes the disappointment and frustration when things don’t go as planned. After awhile of pretend camping at the top of the hill, Aidan’s friend grows bored and drifts down to find his mother near the playground equipment. Aidan grows perturbed that someone in his crew would jump ship, ruining his whole master plan. His nostrils fume in irritation and his normally mature voice grows cavechild-like again. “Come back here!” he demands. I offer to stay at the plateau of the hill to look for treasure near the evergreen tree. But when Aidan orders me to crawl under the branches to search for acorns and I cannot fit, I continue the mutiny and tell him I’m going to start heading down too. He fumes, he shoves his small pointer finger in my face, he turns angrily demonic for a few seconds as he expresses his anger at me. “But I want you to go under the tree!” he emphatically roars at me. He continues to bully me angrily. His tone approaching the realm of unacceptable behavior, now I need to turn into Mean Mommy. Lecturing Mommy. We are suddenly lost in the wilderness again, my confident tour guide turned savage bully. I explain about respect when someone declines to do something Aidan wants. I remind that we can’t tell others what to do, we can only ask. I threaten discipline for nasty tones. But we’ve veered too far off course from fun, respect, teamwork, and even leadership. In Aidan’s place is his recent alter-ego, Mr. Bossy. I look for an internal compass within to steer us back, but am suddenly dumbstruck at how to handle this little guy, as well as my own feelings about his Jekyll and Hyde pendulum swings.
          I want Aidan to be liked. I want him to always have friends. With his inborn gregariousness, I never worried about this before. But lately, it seems as though my son’s need for control and dominance can turn very, very ugly when he is unable to organize the people in his life they way he sees fit. No one likes a bossy kid. A bossy kid with boundless intensity, high emotions, a flair for drama, all fitting into 27 pounds of small body. It’s an overwhelming combination. I read about bossiness in kids. I discover I am doing exactly what experts say not to do with such a child - tell him that no one will like him if he is bossy. I can’t believe my mouth can utter that phrase, so opposite of the confidence-boosting things I try to instill in Aidan normally. But it seems to just come out when Aidan is in the midst of his freak outs.
          How can I find an equilibrium for Aidan - gently balancing his gift for leadership and his imperfection in being too bossy? Over his three years, I’ve come to develop such high expectations from this little man due to his overwhelmingly complex language and imagination. How could I not expect emotional maturity from someone who wants to discuss life and death and relationship issues ad nauseam? We’ve never struggled with hitting, kicking, biting, extreme sharing issues, or the like. Instead, my challenge has always been reining in his intensity, holding the delicate gift of Aidan’s fiery spirit in my palms and finding its power, dispelling its toxicities.
          The current Mr. Bossypants matter has thrown me. How can I control someone who wants control? Instead of stroller and car seat protests, this has to do with personality, spirit, and a sense of self. How can I let Aidan’s leadership strengths shine brightly enough to overshadow his dominance and grouchy disappointment when things go wrong? I hear the gentle whispers of truths blowing through my mind. This is not my balance to find.
          Two days after following Aidan up the hill, we are walking downtown with friends, having just taken the boys to watch trains go by at the small station. On our descent from the ramp, Aidan wants to lead the way back. His eyes gleam with the opportunity to pilot our crew, his elbows bend in right angles as he speed walks precociously down the street. “Come on everybody, this way!” He is in his glory. Soon, other mothers lost in conversation begin to stride faster than him, innocently moving their way in front of the miniature tour guide. Left behind and stunned by another mutiny, Aidan regresses to young toddlerhood again. “No one else can be the leader!” he growls from his gut. He stomps his foot on the cement, eyes white with possessiveness.
          I kneel to the ground on Aidan’s level and, embarrassed by his snarling bossiness, I snap. “Aidan, you may not speak like that to anyone! Ever! Everyone is allowed to take turns being the leader.” A reasonable parenting response. “You are going to lose all your friends if you keep being bossy to them!” I add impulsively, hoping the shock value will finally drive home the point. Aidan crumbles to the dirty ground, tiny palms over his shut eyes. Hmmm, maybe that was a not-so-reasonable parenting response. At first I think he is just upset I have snapped at him.
          It’s only when we drag ourselves a few blocks to the heart of downtown and Aidan sinks again to a heap on the cement sidewalk crying that I realize what’s happened. My social son, the boy who saunters out of preschool casually tapping his friends on the back to leave as he says, “’bye Jack, ‘bye Matthew,” like a mini John Travolta walking the streets in Saturday Night Fever - my little extrovert whose livelihood relies on the attentive ear of others has just heard that he is going to lose all his friends. He’s taken it literally. His heart has been broken, trampled not by a first girlfriend or the inevitable void that grows within friendships, but by his own Mommy’s gloomy prediction. I’ve been so worried about others breaking the strong spirit of my son that I have unknowingly crushed it myself in the process.
          Our friends head on to get home for lunch and naps, frowning sympathetically at us as Aidan and I sit on the sidewalk in the midst of midday downtown business. I look up to say goodbye, as I know I will be there for awhile, holding my tiny guy, trying to undo the mistake I’ve just made with tender touch and soft words. The two of us hold each other, and my mouth begins to redraft a warm, appropriate response to Aidan’s domineering intensity. As I talk, apologize, modify what I said into what I should have said about being a leader and being bossy, I think back to all the times since Aidan’s birth that we’ve found ourselves here in this place of forgiveness, humility and rebuilding. For every time I snap, bitch, control, and act impatient with Aidan, we inevitability find that these routes never work, and only lead to trying again with love and understanding. And perhaps Aidan’s leadership issues are not at all dissimilar to how I parent him. Perhaps he needs to make the mistake of bossing people around and dictating and demanding, if only to pave the way for better leadership and communication. And perhaps this is something he needs to do without my management.
          We sit on the pavement of the sidewalk as mail carriers, businessmen, and tourists walk by us and time stands still as we mend our bond of trust. There is only Aidan and me. After awhile, we rise and make our way south towards the river. We’re hungry, and need a reprieve from intensity. I’m struck by how my historic town reminds me so much sometimes of the little towns in Europe I‘ve strolled through. Today the sky is overcast and the air smells of French fries, musty historic architecture, and exhaust fumes from passing buses. The combination is sweetly nostalgic for me, and brings me back ten years ago to the first time I made my way across the Atlantic completely on my own. As Aidan and I wander through the streets of our little tourist town I’ve come to know so well, my upper lip sweats with the afternoon humidity and I somehow feel lost as I search for a café that can satisfy my child’s craving for a simple grilled cheese sandwich. Ten years ago, wandering through the hilly streets of Europe, feeling at the mercy of Italian street names I could not understand, alone - I felt the same drifting anxiety. I was where I was supposed to be, but yet didn’t know it at the time. I returned from my journey a slightly wiser young woman with a better sense of direction, knowing that it was not exactly the trek to a foreign country alone that allowed me to find myself, but the drifting through humid streets, the dead ends and wrong corners that paved the way for me to figure it out on my own. Today I am a tourist yet again, this time with a young child walking in synchronicity through the dense air. I am disoriented, but Aidan is assured, his little arms pumping his body down the cobblestone streets towards his goal. This is his journey towards self-discovery, balance, flaws and strengths, not mine. And these are his streets to walk and to lead. I slow my pace and follow the leader. He already knows the course.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

You Need to be Reached at All Times

           I lived entirely without a cell phone until almost two years ago, when we leapt into the vast unknown of relocating to another state. A lot of people find this hard to believe. I’ve always been slow to warm up to new technology; I refused the concept of email for awhile when it first exploded into our world, I couldn’t tell you how to operate an Ipod or download music, and I can just about DVR things without help from my husband. I’m old-fashioned, and I like it that way. As for a cell phone, it just never seemed to be something I needed. I never liked talking on the phone and it never seemed like I had that many people I needed to be in touch with whenever I wanted. But when we had one month to uproot our lives and move halfway down the Atlantic coast, my husband and I knew it was time for me to keep a phone in my bag for emergencies. I’ve rarely used it - a business call here or there, a quick heads-up dial to my husband when a regular phone was not available. I just could never relate to the desire to always be available to be reached.
          A year ago, my son started preschool for the first time. Within the robin-egg blue pretty paperwork I needed to fill out for new teachers was the space for cell phone numbers, work numbers, and emergency contacts. I struggled to remember my cell number but finally wrote it large and clear, afraid to make a mistake. My mind drifted to all the emergency scenarios - sickness, accidents, natural disasters - where I would need to come pick him up prematurely. What if they couldn’t get in touch with me? What if the cell phone wasn’t working as I ran my errands and traveled through town? What if the stupid thing was malfunctioning, lost, suffering from a low battery life? What then? To add to my newfound paranoia, there it was in clear, bolded type on the form: You need to be reached at all times. The blue forms epitomized parenthood for me in one brief statement. Summarized responsibility. The caring for another human being relentlessly and without pause. Being on call. Always.

          Despite my broken cell phone fantasies, I naively and happily looked forward to Aidan’s preschool. Not that this was the sole purpose of why we chose to start Aidan in school at two, but after 27 months of intense and heart-wrenching childcare, I would have a whole three child-free hours to myself twice a week. A reprieve. I regarded preschool with sentimental joy and weepiness for my little guy, but also with a pent-up exhilaration for my own liberation from the hardships of constant mothering, if only for a short while. I rationalized that the former emotion of maternal concern released me of any guilt for the latter, more selfish one. Like any mother feels but is often so apprehensive to acknowledge, I just couldn’t wait for a small taste of freedom.
          Aidan’s very first day of school (and his first real experience with ever being “dropped off” somewhere) went blissfully. Even back then, the pint-size fireball of independence and extroverted exuberance had no problems parting with Mommy. He waved and stated, “I love you!” before turning his back to me to play with a plastic tea set. I sat crossed-legged outside of the local coffee shop across the street that day with fellow preschool mommies. We sipped our drinks, talked shop, and prided ourselves on being able to mentally separate from what might be going on with our little ones across the way. It felt uncomfortable at first, then a little rebellious, then natural. “I could get used to this,” I thought.
          The honeymoon ended on Day Two. Aidan asked me if I could stay with him, and when I reminded him that I had to go, his enormous brown eyes welled with water. As I left, and his jovial teachers distracted him, Aidan cried out for me incessantly. I sank into the wall in the hallway and slumped down to the ground to hide as I waited for the cries to dissipate. They didn’t. Naïve and dumbfounded at my independent little son’s separation anxiety, I thought, “So this is what it’s like.” I stared at the miniature coat racks, the princess and superhero lunchbags, and listened to the silence inside the adjacent classrooms amongst my son’s feisty wails. And I listened to the crash of my own tender heart as it collided with reality and spattered onto the linoleum floor in a thousand minuscule and irreversible pieces. In its place grew a truth I suddenly knew. No matter what, my soul will never be able to really separate from this precious creature. Never.
          Eventually, I peeled myself from my hiding spot on the floor and stumbled dizzily across the street just as the unabashed waterfalls exploded from my eyes. I sat in the refuge of my car, misty with newfound grief. Utterly lonely. Not sure how to make sense of what I was feeling. And the only thing I could think to do was hold onto my cell phone - the only lifeline to my little boy. I cupped the little black device in my hands as if it were a fragile egg fallen from its nest, my heart fluttering in anticipation of the phone ringing. It was all I could do. Holding onto that phone, my surrogate child, I thought of the warning within the office paperwork. You need to be reached at all times. It taunted me and consoled me at once, another paradox I would have to make sense of as a mother. For the first time in my life, I wanted to be available at a moment’s notice just as the naïve notion of liberation crumbled away. I realized that separating from one’s child is not, in fact, ever separating at all. 

          That was Aidan’s only bout of separation anxiety with school, pretty tame in the grand scope of things. Besides a few stressful weeks when we were in the midst of moving, Aidan never complained about going to school, and never feared the Goodbye. My confidence with leaving him in the care of others grew each day, and soon, I was the mother rushing off nonchalantly at drop off time. 
          This week, it was back to school for a second year. As I predicted, Aidan did great his first day. He seemed like an old pro; a veteran student happy that a few classmates would be with him again in the three-year-old class, as well as one of his teachers from last year. Both of us suffering from summer burnout, Aidan and I were mutually ready to hug each other goodbye and come back refreshed from our brief absence. As we rushed out the door to get to the second day of school, I chuckled to myself, thinking back to last year’s Dreaded Day Two, and of how much Aidan has grown in a year. He’s just changed. So. Much. Gotten so much more mature; three going on thirteen. He seems like a jaded teenager at times, already rolling his eyes at things, already distinguishing between which friends he wants to hang with more and which he’s sadly outgrown. And as I suspected, he sauntered right into his class on day two, eager to get to work on the play food and kitchen.
          I think of my little man and I think of how I’ve spent the last three years building a new identity for myself as mother. As nothing else but Aidan’s mother, it seems; gently setting out to sea pieces of my former self to make way for the overwhelming distinctiveness of Mother. I wonder if there will come a time when I won’t need to be reached at all times as this person, as Aidan’s safe house and anchor. And what then? Who then? Who am I if not my son’s guardian? As badly as we all want freedom from our children after a certain intense period of caretaking, I have come to realize that we may never be fully unchained from our children’s call for help, no matter their eventual age or distance. The truth is, we will always, in some way, be on call. As my son grows into a big boy and ultimately his own man, I will learn to follow the cues of when I am needed and when I am not. Perhaps the season of cupping my phone worriedly as a link to my child’s needs has ended, but a new season of motherhood can begin. I will find my way to this role. 
         

         The night of Aidan’s second school day, after his big-kid cargo shorts and polo shirt have been tossed into the hamper, after his Elmer’s glue-sticky hands have been bathed, he awakes from sleep and calls for me. Not used to being “the chosen one,” I look around confused, but my husband is still sleeping and so I wobble over to Aidan’s bed in the moonlight, as I’ve been doing his whole life. Instead of a baby staring back up at me, a boy is in his place. A man-child; someone who now has hair on his legs, sarcasm in his voice, and experience in his brow. He has had a nightmare, and looks as confused and dopey as I do. I crawl into his bed and promise to sleep with him the rest of the night. In his midnight haze, he forgets himself and nuzzles next to me. “Go to sleep,” I mumble. He follows my commands, feeling secure again; an old man recovering from a moment of dementia. As he turns over with relief, he reaches out for my hand. We lay there in the bluish still of night, underneath the glow of the nightlight that projects an aquarium image on his ceiling, and for a few obscure moments, I am unsure of which hand belongs to whom. But I know I am bound to this boy, this creature in the midst of finding his own balance between independence and reliance. I will always need to be reached, and we will journey this together, gripping hands, eternally letting go and finding our way back.          

Friday, September 2, 2011

Aftershocks


        Last week, four rare and nearly unprecedented occurrences took place in my mid-Atlantic town. First, we had a 5.8 earthquake on a gorgeous and still summer day that rattled all of us for miles. Two days later, an unexpected storm was so fierce it had me huddled in the hallway as the power flickered off, answering my three-year-old’s questions about heaven. Two days later, a hurricane traveled its way up the East coast, damaging neighboring beach towns and taunting us with its power and unstoppable force. It eventually weakened into a heavy storm for my area, but its menace was already felt - flashlights purchased, curtains drawn, and nerves rattled.
        And the fourth incident. I yelled at my little son. I screamed at him. I slammed his bedroom door. Three times. I rambled on and on like a wild animal. I made him cry. I made my tiny precious, high-pitched miniature child cry in fear of his mad mother. And realizing in horror my temporary loss of sanity, I crumbled with disappointment and failure. Aidan’s infraction is still hazy to me, and nonetheless unimportant. And anyway, it doesn’t and shouldn’t matter what he did to prompt my eruption. Even though I feel horribly about it, I know that despite my normally good intentions as a mother, it will most likely happen again.
        I don’t know the particulars behind earthquakes and hurricanes. I nearly failed Earth Science in ninth grade. And while I’m not one to joke about what implications such incidences have on the future of our planet and well-being, I also wonder if these events happen simply because everything and everyone simply can’t go on without some type of shake-up every once in awhile. An eruption of force kept bottled up for too long. An overdue release.
        After my own eruption, I naturally felt empty and repulsive, wondering if I caused “permanent damage” to my impressionable little offspring. We sat and talked, I apologized and explained. After a few hugs and wipes of tears, Aidan was fine. He proceeded with his day as if nothing negative had occurred, playing miniature golf with his friends and beaming with exuberance as always. It was me who was left nervous and rattled with aftershocks of self-doubt and anxiety. I kept internally assessing my own levels of Mommy suitability. “Am I OK?” “Is he OK?” “Am I responding to him with love and appropriateness?” “Am I back to normal?”
        Following the real earthquake, for which I had the pleasure of experiencing while sitting on the back lawn as the grass and dirt and earth beneath me rumbled and vibrated, I looked out the window for days to stare at the backyard, just checking. I peeked through the curtains at every truck that drove by, held my breath for every garage door opening for a neighbor’s return, jumped at each plane that soared above me. I examined the grass, trees, and entire property anxiously just to make sure that everything was normal, unchanged. Unaffected. And each time, all of it was still there. The ground that once rumbled beneath my bottom like a carnival ride sat calm and unscathed. Resilient, as if nothing had ever happened at all.
        As parents, outbursts and floods of emotion are inevitable. If we strive to be perfect and deny the anger, frustration, and raw self-pity our children can induce, we will eventually inflict more destruction in the bond of trust we have spent so long to create with them. We as parents and children are complex; spherical and dynamic like the earth itself. Perhaps it is OK, if not beneficial, that our children occasionally bear witness to the moments in which we lose it and succumb to temporary hysteria and fury. These episodes not only reveal our human imperfections to our children, but lay the foundation for our attachment with them as we learn to unearth forgiveness, confession, honesty, and humility from within. As our children see our parental fragilities and bestow mercy on us, they learn to make peace with their own shortcomings. And providing we keep it together most days, forever nurturing our bond of trust, the sturdier and more resilient that bond will become, even during the moments of disaster and failure. I have to trust in this as a mother to keep me going, much as I have to find the trust in nature that all is secure after a scare or two.

        The evening of my screaming fit, Aidan and his father are in the front mowing the lawn together; Daddy behind the real thing, Aidan trailing behind on the safety of the walkway with his plastic bubble mower. They move in parallel lines in a silent synchronicity, one a miniature version of the other but nonetheless his own person. Occasionally, they both stop to pick up loose branches that shattered off their trees from the hurricane. I sit on the front stoop between the two of them, watching their tranquil pace. Things are back to normal, apologies bestowed and debris cleared. Our family unit resilient and restored.
        Two days after Mommyquake, Aidan and I are rushing out of the house for a day trip to a waterpark, one last summer excursion before preschool starts up again. The temperature has turned cooler after all the abnormal weather and it throws me during our morning getting-dressed routine. I scurry Aidan down the stairs, talking to myself as usual to move us along, running five minutes later than I want to, as always. “I am such a bad Mommy, I forgot we needed that,” I mutter about whatever mundane item is still upstairs but we’ll need to leave behind as we scoot out the door.
        Aidan tilts his head to the side and responds. “No, you’re not, you’re a good Mommy,” he says, smiling with nonchalant authenticity.
        I am. Aidan might remember the occasional scary yelling episodes, but I have to hope he’ll also remember the sacrifices I’ve made, the humor I’ve cultivated, the sweat and blood I’ve put into my commitment to his well-being and growth. The “normal” days. The peaceful calm before stormy weather.