Recently, one of my daughters was playing with the cat, who scratched her, also playfully. She was fine but peeved and said “Wouldn’t it be funny if I bonked him on the head with a pan?”
She was joking and I knew it. After years of avoiding cartoons like Tom and Jerry, we now often have cartoon fests. I knew that’s what she was thinking of. I knew she would never, ever, hurt the beloved cat.
But…what came out of my mouth was, “That’s funny, but you know that it really wouldn’t be all right.”
“Yes, mom, I know”
She didn’t even roll her eyes, but I winced inside. I could feel in myself the nervous mother trying to straddle two opposing things: her child’s newly biting humor and my ongoing maternal duty to make every moment a teaching moment.
Or was I just being a control freak?
And isn’t that ok because that’s what mothers do?
Or perhaps, that is what mothers do when their babies are learning to walk and biting their friends in preschool?
My head can make an excellent argument that my girls are 9 and 10 and their impulse control, sense of fairness, and desire for revenge are far from perfect. But my heart is beginning to go, “You know, that was unnecessary, even for a 52-year-old”. Fussy. Even a hint of “You still need me to tell you what to do, don’t you? Tell me you do!!!”
Perhaps it’s time, ack, slowly, to give them more space.
It’s been on my mind for a while now. It was a long struggle from feminine consensus-maker to the family commander-in-chief. And I like being in charge – it’s been fun explaining the world to my little beings. Looking at life from a growing kids eyes is grounding and soothing. And I really like editing out today’s political situation and focusing instead, say, on how tadpoles turn into frogs. I’ll even make the argument that the tadpoles are ultimately much more important.
But now, at least once a day, I’m informed how things really work. This morning I was told that raspberries ripen twice a year, once in the summer and then later in the fall. My informant was not remotely interested in the correction that came automatically out of my mouth. More and more often, what I offer with a loving spirit of instruction, (“Oh, no dear, see this is how raspberries work….”), is obviously becoming more and more tedious and intrusive. Mom is no fun and missing the point besides.
When did that happen? They’re not hanging on my every word! I hate that!
In an attempt to adapt, I’m noticing how humor, not a personal strength, works better than earnestness. And the books all say that as kids get older, your job is to let them come to you.
Of course, I’m sure that they won’t come to me. But it’s beginning to dawn on me that if I keep providing these jumpy, “yes-you’re-funny-but-I’m-not-going-to-take-the-time-to-laugh-because-I-don’t- quite-trust-you-yet-so-here’s-another-correction-just-in-case-you-blah-blah-blah” answers, they certainly won’t.
I wouldn’t either.