“To know when to be generous and when firm—that is wisdom.”
― Edith Wharton
One Sunday afternoon in January, as the clouds turned violet-orange through 3pm windows., I arranged broccoli florets on the counter. A flood of peace came over me as I watched the light shift slowly upon my neighbor’s roof. I half sang, half chopped, immersed in getting-ready-for-the-week soup preparation to a soulful playlist queued up on Joni Mitchell. I sorted through piles of bills and mail on the other counter when all the vegetables were simmering.
From the living room, my daughter asked me if she could watch her favorite Netflix series before she did her homework. She pointed out that she had just chopped three bowls full of carrots and celery sticks and assured me that her room was “all good.” But, I knew her as well as I knew myself in the face of the delicious Netflix vortex. Are you kidding me? You’re really going to pull yourself away when you still have homework to do?
I will mommy.
No, not today. Homework first.
In that way that minor things become much bigger things, within a few minutes, our teeny tiny and yet, starkly contrasting points of view turned into a “I mean it” tussle over said TV/ homework/ electronics continuum that grew further ablaze into a minor household culture war, and she finally went to her desk in a sulk.
I watched her walk away, feeling deeply bummed that my soup-making, belt-out-loud in the kitchen session had been stopped in its tracks. NOT ENJOYING my hands-on-the-hips-mom role in the current play.
I went back to the kitchen to stare out the window no longer in sun-glowing awe but instead in blank agitation punctuated with self doubt (oh for god’s sake, should I just have let her?) that led me three times (ok, four!) to the bottom of the stairs and once to my daughter’s door.
C’mon, I want to talk, honey! I knocked harder than I wanted. Leave me alone, she intoned flatly.
When my daughter came back downstairs an hour later, we began one of our couch talks, the exact kind I’d been nagging for the entire preceding 45 minutes. But now she was ready.
I was stuck mommy, she explained later. (Boy, did I ever get it.)
Then, even more quietly…..she added.
“Well, I actually like that you are strict…sometimes. ”
I was too surprised to speak –and took it in
Then, quietly:“Even when I don’t like what you are saying. It’s that it makes me feel safe.”
I dared not utter a word. I just kissed the top of her head in the exact place where I still smell her baby scent–and I grabbed my journal. Because when I get clarity-candles handed to me in the soon to be descending dark, I like to store them safely for the next power outage.
And, ok, you might be wondering. You call that strict? Making sure your kid does their homework? I hear you. But what happens to you when dealing with extreme resistance and thrust in the role, only, because you (so very inconveniently) know in your center of centers better? Me? I don’t like it so much.
It’s a burden. It’s a drag. It’s the need to say something hard imperfectly, or, harder still, enter the tiger growling domain of power struggles. But it’s also–very importantly–an act of deep deep caring. A messy old verb.
May I add. The whole idea of “good” vs. ‘bad” parent is the wrong staircase and (over-simplistically) squishes out the much more “what the hell do I do now?” slippery middle perch. A staircase I know well. But the main thing I always do is summed up in three words as–or more– powerful than I love you.
I keep trying.
I acknowledge that there will be struggle–and a greater good derived from that struggle. So, knowing that hypocrisy flashlights will be shined brightly in my eyes for years to come–and that I gotta try to face (ugh) and own them all for my girl to learn that imperfection, while it isn’t “perfect,” stings your eyes and glares some hard mojo upon your raw humanity, is usually eventually okay and normal.
But, beyond parenting, I don’t think I’m alone when I say that setting limits, naming them and then, harder still, holding them, can be an intense strain…uncomfortable…confusing…paralyzing….achingly vulnerable and unknowing.
And, so we come with our flying carpets, me, anyway, with my head deeply bowed in necessary humility, at Durga’s sky-lined doorstep, the Hindu goddess of boundaries with her three sweet-inner-gaze-opening eyes and thousand love-weapon-laden (each one of which will completely blow your mind) arms.
Stay tuned to learn why a simple (honest) smile from Durga exerts more force than a Mock-Five aircraft.