I’m the pick-up parent, the one who does the afternoon shift. I get to work early, when it’s still dark some mornings, so that I can leave in time to get them before extended daycare ends or preschool closes or ballet starts. I get them at the end of the day, when they’re tired out, hungry, ready to be home and with their family, when they need down time and TV time, but there’s still homework to do and things to get ready for tomorrow. When we get home, I make all four dinner as quickly as possible, before the older two raid the snacks and the younger two start to cry — you know — the witching-hour meltdown. While I get the dishes in the sink so the dog doesn’t sneak mac and cheese while I’m doing baths, the twins wander around, knocking books off shelves and dropping crayons in the toilet and pulling 300 baby wipes out of the box, and their older brother jumps on the couch until the TV show he wants comes on, and my oldest yells about helping her with her homework.
Some days, when work has been too much and the kids are being too much and everything is just TOO MUCH, I snap. I get frustrated with my kids. I yell at them to stop yelling at their siblings. I yell at them to stop playing and finish eating. I yell “What do you want?” to the screaming twins who have rejected applesauce, fruit, black beans, yogurt, and even peanut butter sandwiches by throwing their food across the kitchen. I yell at them to get up the stairs to take a bath and yell at them to pick up their pajamas and brush their teeth. I’m wiped out on the working-mom and momming-mom fronts and sick and tired of them not listening. I have lunches to make and snacks to pack and box tops to cut out and thank-you cards to write and T-ball to sign up for and ballet tights to order and doctor appointments to schedule. I’m overwhelmed, and I take it out on them. And every time I do, I wish I could bite back my words as soon as they leave my mouth.
And remarkably — once everyone is fed and bathed, pajamas are on, dinner is in the oven, books are being read — and we have time to sit and snuggle in front of Barney, the twins have their evening milk sippys and climb into my lap, or my 4-year-old cuddles his hand in mine while we read Captain Underpants, or my oldest says “I love you, Mommy,” everything is okay. The earlier chaos, and the yelling is forgotten. My daughter tells me about a part of her book she liked. My 4-year-old shares that his teacher said he was the best helper today, and I give him a big hug. The twins rest their cheeks on mine and paw at my arms to be picked up and cuddled. They act like I never got mad at them, and I nibble their chubby cheeks and smother them with kisses and feel guilty the whole time, cringing that I got so frustrated with these little, sweet humans I’m supposed to be raising.
Where does this simple grace and forgiveness a child gives go when we become adults? Is it possible to hold a grudge against yourself? I do. I chastise myself after they have finally gone to sleep, and the house is silent. I think, “I should have said that!” or “Why didn’t I handle it that way?” or “WHY, why, did I just not have one more ounce of patience with them for just one more minute?” I wonder if I’m going to scar them forever when I couldn’t hold back a sarcastic remark. I worry when I hear my own 9-year-old speaking to her siblings in my tone and words. And yet, before they’ve even made it through one Wild Kratts episode, they’ve forgiven and forgotten.
This second guessing, guilt — whatever you want to call it — is just part of parenting, I’m realizing as I grow up. There will always be days where I will get frustrated with them. Or days when I take out my bad day on them out of sheer exhaustion. I will always wonder why I didn’t handle something better or with more patience. I will always know I could have done better. But, I’m learning, there will also be days when I know I’ve done my best. They love me, and I love them — and they know it. My kids are my heart, and I tell them so over and over. Somehow, they always forgive me, even on my worst days. Maybe I need to follow their example and forgive myself.