“Why are you ruining our lives?”
I said this to my 3-year-old son today. It spilled out of my mouth just as quickly as my million-and-one regrets spilled inside of me. I said it in a moment of exasperation. I said it when we were rushing out the door to swim lessons, the three boys and I. I said it without thinking, in a dark moment, from a mind warped by days’ worth of parenting chaos.
I said it, and I immediately followed it with a deep breath and a retraction.
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that. You are a wonderful boy. I was wrong to say what I said. Mommy was wrong I just get so frustrated when you don’t listen. I love you. I always love you.”
But I still said what I said. And I can’t take it back.
Looking back now, I can barely make sense of the accumulated frustrations the led me to say this one terrible thing. He hit his brothers over the back with a giant squirt gun. He tried to pour dish soap all over the basement floor. He learned how to unlock the front door, and he nearly escaped down the block at 7:15 this morning. He screamed when his father wouldn’t give him Cheetos for breakfast. He dumped his stuffed animals all over his bedroom floor.
Once, long ago, he slept in one to two hour-stretches for a year-and-a-half, and though he sleeps through the night in his own bed now, sometimes I worry that I still resent him for our shared months of sleeplessness.
Yet none of these grievances add up to an excuse, a justification for what I said. Stated together here, it seems silly that I would even cull up that particular question–why was he ruining my life–when his behavior was age-appropriate at best, extremely ornery at worst.
Why indeed did I consider that my life was something ruined by spills and screams and preschooler violence?
Parenting is hard, and sometimes the hardness hardens me. Sometimes it turns me into a monster who says horrible things to her children. I asked my son why he was ruining our lives, and nothing my son has done or said has ruined my life. His presence is not ruining my life. He complicates and twists it, but he does not ruin it. In fact, he enriches it. Weaves a deep an irreplaceable joy and love into it.
Nonetheless, there are times when it feels as if I’m surrounded by a life in shambles. Ten minutes of toddler-screaming can inspire a churning and volcanic rage. An entire day’s worth of back-talk from my older children can leave me feeling desperate and hollow. The leaden weight of parental responsibility can pin me to my immediate surroundings, make me feel as if I will forever be treading in a sea of dependency.
Sometimes these feelings conspire to turn me into a shitty person who says shitty things.
Or maybe I simply am a shitty person who says shitty things.
I believe that’s true for many of us, parents and non-parents alike. We say terrible things. We hurt. We burst forth in anger. We spew. We condemn. We shudder with the force of our own yelling.
And then sometimes we respond with seas of “I love you’s” and “I’m sorry’s.” Sometimes we ache and obsess over the things we’ve said. Sometimes the worry and agony consume us.
Sometimes we wish, hope, pray, plead with the universe that the shitty things we say won’t ruin our children’s lives.
And sometimes we spend the evening rocking our babies, the big ones and the small ones, whispering to them the deep, imperfect well of our love.