Friday, September 2, 2011
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.