Monday, November 15, 2010

Without the Bite

I am in Tampa. My under-caffeinated brain is trying to order my morning joe, but I can’t seem to put words around what it is I’m after.

“I’d like a cup of regular coffee, but can you make it…”

What is it I’m looking for? Not weak. I like full-bodied coffee.

“Mild?” the helpful cashier offers. Yes, mild. Full-bodied minus the bite, minus the bitterness.

Minus the bite.

I’ve been thinking a lot about bite these days.

I’ve done more than my share of biting of late. In point of fact, I am wondering if I ought to get a rabies shot, wear a collar, and post a sign that reads “Beware of Mom.”

As I sit here in the quiet morning hours, well caffeinated and typing peacefully, the object of my bite seems so, so trivial. Once again, it’s the state of my house – the spilled drinks, the stacks of papers, the unwashed dishes.

While these are pretty much constants for a family of six, in the past few weeks Ainsley has become a force to be reckoned with. She is formidable, relentless, nothing short of unstoppable.

Remember those cartoons that showed an army of ants marching into a picnic area and then marching away leaving only a tablecloth in its wake?

This is Ainsley in reverse.

She stomps through the house – you can hear her coming from three rooms away. She exits each room leaving an epic mess behind. Every item in a bathroom drawer flung in four directions. Twenty feet of aluminum foil unfurled. Trash can? Emptied! Board game? Strewn about? Clean, folded laundry? Not any more!

My tactic is to keep all doors shut and preferably locked, but I seem to be the sole member of this household who thinks this way.

My sister and I were laughing about all the cool toys from decades past that have been deemed dangerous and pulled from the market. Remember Johnny Jump Up? Walkers that actually walked?

“All those idiot mothers who left their kids in walkers next to stairways,” my sister lamented, shaking her head. I immediately came to the defense of idiot mothers everywhere. In fact they are not idiots at all – they simply have older children.

When Tim was a baby I could have invited The Today Show to shoot a segment on child-proofing your home. So uncomplicated when the ratio of adults to kids is 2:1; not so simple when the ratio is 4:2 and the older ones have free run of most of the house. For every door I shut and lock, a game gets left out, a drawer left opened, or – worst of all – a screen door left unlatched.

Yesterday was nothing spectacular, but the repetitive, seemingly pointless efforts of constantly! constantly! constantly! picking up the same messes simply got to me.

John had two near misses of the bathroom variety. Ainsley got her hot little hands on the foil – again. Our babysitter called with a conflict tomorrow. While we were talking, I noticed smoke billowing out of the oven. I doused the six inch flame with a cup of coffee. I tried to drum up a new plan for dinner.

I found Pit cards flung about the boys’ room and toothpaste and tooth brushes littering the hallway. Ainsley walked out of my bedroom carrying an IPod. I surveyed the rest of the damage. She had pilfered through my nightstand and emptied a bag or two of hand-me-downs.

As my agitation grew, I heard John playing with his drill. Rummm! Rummm! This is technically a toy drill, but it actually drills, as in it makes real holes. Dave called with Cub Scout information that required phone calls on my part. I still had no plan for dinner. Tim suddenly remembered he had an essay to write. I felt like the ball in a pinball machine.

I began to clean up and found myself stuffing drawers with angry shoves, closing them with a bang, stomping off to the next mess, slamming doors in between. In the middle of my stew, I spotted someone’s church clothes crumpled in ball on a chair.

When we arrived home, my instructions had been clear – hang up your clothes.

My slow boil instantly dialed up a notch or two. In fact, I was nothing short of enraged. The baby is the baby, but the big guys? No excuse. No quarter.

I bit – I bit hard – I bit everyone.

What followed was just as inevitable as the messes – overwhelming regret. I hate myself for being this way. I hate that I can’t seem to channel my frustration into cooperation. Most of all I hate that my children so often see my bite.

I tell myself that somehow the mess gets cleaned up everyday. I remind myself that the older boys – while not apt to take the initiative to clean up – really do everything I ask them to do and with reasonably good attitudes. I point out that Ainsley’s messy stage won’t last forever.

Somehow all this – true and reasonable though it is – never seems to stop a rant in progress.

I don’t know why tonight was different, but I said, “Enough!” I am done letting my temper get the best of me. Like a drunk who wakes up so disgusted he is motivated to quit, I am ready to be done with the chronic pain my foul temper causes me and everyone else.

I have a plan – a humble plan, but a plan nonetheless. I’ll share it later.

Most of my small readership consists of dear friends and relatives. This morning I ask for your prayers.


ami said...

If children had performance goals, yours clearly hit all their objectives! Here's another approach: give in, surrender, let the house fester and stew, let the kids' clothes stay balled up. Maybe they will notice when their clothes are not available on Sunday morning - or when they can't invite friends over b/c their rooms are too messy. (this is pure theory, I'm still waiting for grace to descend on our disastrously messy house). If the mess doesn't bother them - should it bother you?

We are being dragged to the lowest common denominator of house cleaning - but at least the kids are warm, well-fed, and somewhat educated. And happy. The rest is gravy, right? (right?)

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Heather Raven said...

Paul and I have this discussion quite frequently in our house, Kel. Asking forgiveness is always good an having a spouse willing to call you on is awesome. Children are resilient right? Pray for me too and I will pray for you. Love ya.

Laura Almeter said...

Kelly, I'll pray for you...I can totally understand. I, too, have a temper that often comes with a nasty bite. So say a prayer for me, too, because like I told Fr. Healy in Confession yesterday - I would really like to change my anger into something better so that I have no regrets. (Sorry my punctuation is awful...grammar just didn't stick for long after college). Also, we've used baby gates as deterrents, especially to the bathroom. They work great until the toddler learns to climb them! The boys learned early on how to scale them to get where they needed to go, and the baby was just left behind. We also still have all those obnoxious safety latches on every cabinet door and covers over every socket. God bless!

Kelly said...

Thanks for all the support, dear friends.

Ami - You made me laugh! I wholeheartedly agree that warm, fed, somewhat educated, and happy far outweigh tidy.

Heather and Laura - I know you are right there in the trenches too.

Today I adopted my sister's approach - get out of the house. At least the house doesn't get messier and you don't have to look at it.

Onward and upward!

Anonymous said...

Reading your post, I felt such sympathy and recognition. The times I have been stretched to the limit and lost my temper with my children I bitterly regret and still remember, although usually I can never recall quite why I boiled over! However, I try to console myself with the thought that we are after all human. I often think of a little saying that I saw on a tea-bag label: "We are spiritual beings having a human experience." I think self-forgiveness is an important first step. Then asking forgiveness is a good way to teach your children how they too can extricate themselves when it's their turn. Hope things are looking better today!

Sarah said...

I love this post Kelly! It's so encouraging! The more and more I see that people are 'real' the more encouraged I am in my own struggles. I would NEVER know that you struggle with any of this! I try to spend at least three of the five days during the week out of the house because, as you said in your comment, it can't get any worse with noone home! I then bring the kids home in time for a nap, put them all down and do a little cleaning before making dinner. All in all, the weeks end with the house still not the way I would like it, but maybe close?! And most importantly, I have less opportunities to lose it, because, man, I can lose it!

Kelly said...

Christine and Sarah -

Thanks for visiting and sharing!

Christine, Thanks for the perspective. It is healthy for our kids to see us blow it and move forward in peace and forgiveness.

Sarah, you are a great mother raising beautiful children. If staying out of the house helps, do it!

We do need to keep it real. There are more than enough "perfect mothers" out there making the rest of us feel lousy.

Encouragement! I am feeling calmer by the minute.