Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Intentions Matter

Note to John: If you're going to abscond with a couple of cookies, don't hide them in your underwear.

I was going to start this off with It's been one of those days. By the end of the day, I had to conclude that we had had a great day with just a few of those moments nestled in. Ainsley dumped my coffee on the nice couch (which is looking increasingly like the ugly couch). I looked down at John's toes and saw Elmer's glue in between them. Yes, Elmer's glue. He fingered Ainsley for the crime, and, oddly enough, I believed him if only for a minute. I later heard some suspicious noises and saw John walking slowly and with an awkward gait. That's when I found the cache of cookies in his whitey tighties.

If you should drop by my house for a bite to eat, remember your mother's adage: You don't know where that thing's been!  Think: teapot.

Given all this and other issues that have brought minor bedlam, I decided an all out re-boot was necessary. Hit control alt delete on every element of family life, beginning with my beloved offspring.  I called my friend up the street for a pep talk. Laurie and I go way back. She's been my dear friend and marriage counsellor, my unpaid psych nurse and quilting instructor. She's talked me down off many a metaphorical ledge.

She listened; she comforted me; she assured me with a graphic anecdote or two that I am not alone. She brought me to the heart of the issue. They don't have bad hearts, she told me. The thirteen cups on the counter, the wet towel on the bed, the open bag of bread growing stale on the counter, the forgotten lunch -- they don't stem from bad hearts.

Yes, there is an aspect of obliviousness, a need for training and agreements, an element even of laziness. But Laurie is right: Their intentions are not bad. A cleaner floor and an empty dishwasher are not, as she gently pointed out, worth my sanity. They are certainly not worth my relationships with my children.

I read an anecdote about a mother going ape over cat vomit. Seems the family cat had upchucked at the top of the stairs. Every member of the family managed to hurdle the mess, but no one felt compelled to do anything about it. Sometimes it's hard being the mom. Sometimes it's hard being home most of the day. I would like one or two of my fellow residents to care about the glob of syrup on the table, to notice the twelve dirty socks under the bed, to consider pushing the piano bench back every once in a while.

It's easy to react over this or that.

I am in the middle of reading the Harry Potter books. My favorite characters are Mr. and Mrs.Weasley who, despite their oddities, are such quintessential parents. When their son Ron swipes the family car, flies it off to school,and then crashes it into a tree, Mum sends an exploding letter called a Howler:

Stealing the car, I wouldn't have been surprised if they'd expelled you, you wait till I get hold of you, I don't suppose you stopped to think what your father and I went through when we saw it was gone -- we didn't bring you up to behave like this -- it's entirely your fault and if you put another toe out of line we'll bring you straight back home.

If I find this more humorous than most, it's because I've dispatched a Howler or two over the past fourteen years of parenting. Like Mrs. Weasley's, mine tend to burst into flames at the end.

I loved Karen Edmisten's piece on what she's learned in seventeen years of motherhood. She starts off with a gem:

When something is really irritating you, ask yourself this: "When they are grown up and gone, am I going to care that they _____________? Or will I look back and wonder why I made such a big deal out of that?" Then decide if it's really a big deal or not. Answers will vary.

In ten years, will my children be thinking about the state of my baseboards or the status of the laundry hamper? Not likely. I hope they'll remember a mother who listened to Weird Al and laughed right along with them. I hope they'll remember a mom who encouraged their interests, including the messy ones. I hope they'll remember a mother who occasionally fed them frozen waffles for dinner, but also baked lots of chocolate chip cookies and let them eat a ton of batter. I hope they'll remember a mother who really, really wanted her house to look better, but worked very, very hard at lightening up so that the place was livable for both mom and kids.

(I hope they'll forget every Howler I ever sent. Barring that, I hope they'll remember that I always apologized and really meant it.)

Cleaning up the dining room one evening, I found a tidy pile of lima beans under a chair.

"Why didn't you just say, 'Mom, I don't like lima beans,'" I asked the stockpiling son.

"Well," he said, somewhat confused, "that would be bad manners."

In his own way, he was thinking of me. His heart was in the right place. His intentions were good. For right now, for this moment, that works for me.

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