I read a quote online the other day from a woman who was giving parenting advice: Always smile when talking to your children so that they remember you that way.
My husband put our daughter, Ellie, in the shower last night to get her clean. Every other time she takes a shower, we have to fight to get her out. She usually will sit in there and play for at least a half hour while Ben and I laugh, talk and pretend that we are living in a dream world where we only have two kids.
This time it was different though. Ben bathed her and dried her while she sobbed and screamed. He handed her off to me to get her dressed on his way to get one of the other kids – assembly line style.
I took her in her bedroom, still crying, and she got angry. Arms flailing, she was reaching out for anything to hit or destroy. This happens when she gets really frustrated. I am sure it was because she didn’t want to be in the shower, but she couldn’t communicate that to us in a way we would understand without things escalating.
When I opened the closet door to get her pajamas, she slammed it on my hand. Hard. Way harder than you would think a toddler could slam a door. To make it worse, a picture fell off of the wall and the corner of the metal frame landed on the top of my hand and left a blue swollen bruise.
I lost my s#!+. Every single day is a negotiation with three terrorists who are holding me hostage. Two of them, instead of talking, just scream for attention. The one who does talk believes he deserves my seat at the table and the power struggle lasts all day. By bedtime, my patience is about as durable as wet 1-ply toilet paper.
If the first four years of motherhood are any sort of indication, I doubt my kids will remember me as smiling every time I look at them. If Ellie remembers last night, she will remember me crying while trying to put on her pajamas and apologizing for not being able to communicate with her, something that is not her fault.
Our son Jack will remember it as me kicking toys around in his room telling him and his daddy to pick them up. If they wouldn’t have been covering the floor in the first place, I wouldn’t have had to brace my hand on the door frame to bend and reach around into the closet in order to get Ellie’s clothes.
Immediately, of course, I started to feel bad about my behavior and thought about this woman and her quote. “I should smile more. I’ve got to start being happier around the kids,” I thought as I moved to the dining room to clean up the dinner that Ellie threw all over the floor and picked up the plate of food that Jack wouldn’t eat because he “doesn’t like meat anymore.”.
What does “being happier” mean? How does one be happier? Wiping up the milk that baby Gus spilled because he wants to hold his cup by himself, I realized that “being happier” implies that instead of being whatever you are – tired, frustrated, confused, sad, even, overwhelmed, mad, etc. – you just cover yourself up with happy.
“This is ridiculous,” I thought. You know, when I first saw what that woman said about smiling weeks ago, I rolled my eyes, closed out of the webpage, turned off my computer and walked away.
I try to read between the lines of my kids’ behavior to gauge what they are feeling. I want to help teach them to identify their feelings so that things just exactly like what happened with Ellie don’t happen. She lost her cool because she was trying to tell us that she wasn’t happy and we weren’t listening. She wasn’t going to smile so that we remember her that way. Her goal was to get her point across so instead of pretending to be happy, she would actually be happy.
I bent over and picked up tearful Ellie who was pulling at my pants leg while I was loading the dishwasher and carried her to the front room.
We sat down on the floor and she taught me how to properly rock and feed a baby using her dolls and new doll crib. Jack and Gus joined and protected us from imaginary dinosaurs. Before they were off to bed, all three of them were in my lap reading books about Ellie’s favorite dog Biscuit.