An Hour After I Cast My Vote, I Wanted It Back

vote

An hour after I voted yesterday, I wanted a do-over – not to change the person I voted for, but to change the heart of the person voting.

It hit me a few minutes after speaking with a friend, who said she’d cried as she voted that morning. “I didn’t think I would, but I did,” she smiled. I’d become so blind that it took me several minutes to realize what she meant – that the history-making moment of seeing a female presidential candidate on the ballot for the very first time was worthy of spending a second a bit overcome in that little booth.

I had not taken such a moment, and that’s when I realized I’d voted with hate – not love – in mind. I’d hastily filled in the little oval for Hillary Clinton pretty much as a tiny black-inked “f*k you” to the hate-filled campaign of Donald Trump.

And yes I now see the irony. And, God help me, the way out.

I started noticing the signs more and more in my last few runs around town. Despite all the negative press, despite the incomprehensible bigotry, misogyny and fear that underscored their campaign, “TRUMP-PENCE” (Pence! The man who doesn’t believe in such basic things as climate change and evolution and equal rights for the LGBT community!) signs kept springing up in State College. I didn’t know what to make of that. They stole my already labored breath. They made me feel differently about certain streets. In my mind, they may as well have said “A racist probably lives here.”

On Monday I crested a hill I’ve run a thousand times and there it was, a “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN” sign on the carefully raked lawn of the sweet old couple who’d saved me from heat exhaustion earlier that summer, offering me the shade of their carport and a cold bottle of water when I nearly collapsed toward the end of a sweltering 10-miler. My heart sank.

They seemed like such good people, I thought.

I was doing it without even realizing it. The seeds of hate, planted by good intentions like yearning for equality and justice for all, were sprouting inside me, coloring my judgment, allowing stereotypes to take over where once there were individuals.

“I just hate her, don’t you see, Robyn? She’s just AUGGH I can’t even think about her face without being disgusted!” a friend of mine raged recently, trying to explain to me why Trump would get her vote over Clinton. The hate creased my pal’s pretty face and made her nearly come off the cool grey sofa on which she sat. I stayed quiet, silently appalled and feeling sorry for the misguided, mangled heart of this woman I’d been regularly praying with in a Bible study for more than two years.

Trump’s face makes me feel that way, I thought, feeling more justified in my opinion than the woman sitting across from me, seething and in pain.

“Hillary’s a liar!” people said on social media over and over, ignoring all the times Trump lied – to contractors who worked for him, to students of his own university scam, to investors, to the IRS, to his first wife, to journalists, and to the entirety of America in every single debate.

Five statues of a naked, bloated Trump appeared in cities across America last summer. “The Emperor Has No Balls,” the project was called. People gawked and reveled in the mock-humiliation of the narcissist’s likeness bared for all to see. Many of the same people jumped down Trump’s throat for focusing on and judging women based on their looks over the course of his campaign (and his life). “Body positivity!” they chanted. “Fat shaming is disgusting!”

Hate is what brought us here. Hate on both sides. We picked a side we felt was filled with lies, immorality and terrible judgment and we dug in our heels against it. We ignored or made excuses for a candidate’s shortcomings or mistakes and pointed fingers instead. That one’s way worse, we accused.

I’m sure many people voted with love in mind. Hell, I even posted a video the day before the election, pledging to do just that. But many more, whether they recognized it in the moment or not, cast their votes yesterday based on hate.

Hate for big government.

Hate for small-minded leaders.

Hate for a broken system.

Hate for racism and discrimination.

Hate for lies and deceit.

Hate for immaturity and ineptitude.

Hate for immorality.

Hate for misogyny.

Hate for the idea of having a female president.

Hate for a pro-choice agenda.

Hate for a pro-life agenda.

Hate for Obamacare.

Hate for minorities.

Hate for the fear of gun control.

Hate for the fear of guns taking more innocent lives.

Hate for religions that are different than yours.

I admonish my kids when they use that word, and I’ve used it 24 times already in this post. Hate is a cancer and it must be eradicated. The good news is we already have the antidote. I think right now many of us are worried about how to deliver it to newly elected leaders who are, at best, in denial of even having such a disease. But there must be a way. It is up to all of us to follow our hearts, not our fears.

The first thing I will do is to take the signs down in my mind; I hope you will too. Force yourself to forget ‘us’ and ‘them.’ Train your mind to see individuals everywhere, not stereotypes. And if you read that sentence and thought ‘Yeah, I know a lot of people who need to do that,’ there’s a good chance you are still part of the problem.

I don’t know what kind of change will come from above in the next four years. But I do know that in my life, nothing will change if I don’t. I am the leader in my home and I can be a leader in my community, and I choose to lead with love. I have to, so that I can survive and my children can thrive. We are building their inheritance every day, all of us, the ones who I disagree with on fundamental issues and the ones who weep beside me today.

Last night I cried for our country, especially for the vulnerable and marginalized among us who now might be facing an even steeper uphill battle than they’ve always known. I turned off the TV early and crawled under my covers, trying to pray for God’s will and for our nation’s incoming leaders with a heart that was not clouded by grief and anger. My phone continued to buzz and light up throughout the night, friends and family as stunned by the news as I was grasping for a way to make sense of the darkest implications of this election swirling in their minds.

But as one of our nation’s best and brightest leaders knew, that’s not the way forward. “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that,” said Martin Luther King, Jr., a man whose actions as a regular American citizen had more of a lasting influence than many of our country’s previously elected presidents. That, today, should inspire us even more than his actual words.

This is not me determined to put on rose-colored glasses. This is me with eyes swollen from crying, a heart heavy with anxiety, but a soul that thankfully keeps color-correcting my vision when I begin to process issues or people in black and white, and when the shades of the future I see in my mind become ominously dark.

Love is bright and bold and multi-colored. Our nation is likewise, and it will continue to be that way – more so every day, in fact. If we make it so.

Another famous MLK quote that I woke up thinking about this morning actually was paraphrased from another pastor, Theodore Parker, a Unitarian minister who, in 1853, wrote:

Look at the facts of the world. You see a continual and progressive triumph of the right. I do not pretend to understand the moral universe, the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways. I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. But from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.

Things refuse to be mismanaged long. Jefferson trembled when he thought of slavery and remembered that God is just. Ere long all America will tremble.

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The Great ChapStick Standoff

“Many are stubborn in pursuit of the path they have chosen, few in pursuit of the goal.” ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

I have heard that at some point children outgrow tantrums in favor of other less deafening limit-testing tactics like lying and running away. (Something to look forward to? Nah…) While the Terrible Twos and Even Worse Threes are a distant memory for us, we still deal with the occasional fit of pint-sized rebellion, which is made immeasurably worse by the fact that my 5-year-old has the will of a steel truck. Driving through a tornado. During the Apocalypse.

His latest display of Apocalypse-level tornado driving was over ChapStick. It all started when he wanted some as we were getting in the car after school. “Finish buckling your seat belt and you can have this,” I said, waving the Vanilla Bean-flavored lip balm that was already in my hand (because I am a ChapStick addict, which is fodder for a completely different blog post). Immediately he began protesting, loudly, and squirming out of his seat instead of following directions and buckling himself into it.

You know that whole “dangling a carrot in front of a rabbit” theory? Doesn’t work with 5-year-olds. At least not my 5-year-old, who after a few minutes had to be “helped” into his seatbelt, and then, more because I wanted a peaceful ride home than because he had technically done what he was told, I held out the lip balm for him to take anyway. But he wouldn’t take it because he was torqued at me for making him do something else first.

Who is teaching whom the lesson here? I thought before announcing, “Evan, in a few seconds I am going to put this ChapStick away and drive home, and then you will not be able to have any ChapStick unless you ask nicely using your manners. Are you sure you don’t want some?”

But I wanted it fiiiiiirst,” he said, completely stuck on the fact that he couldn’t have exactly what he wanted exactly when he wanted it – admittedly a lesson many of us never truly accept.

So I did the only thing any self-respecting parent would do – I dropped the ChapStick into my purse, buckled my own seatbelt and made the 10-minute drive home with him screaming his fool head off.

The screaming continued for another 40 minutes after we got home. Forty minutes. In that time my older son emptied his backpack, peed and washed his hands, ate a snack, begged me to play a video game 26 times and tried to read one of his Calvin and Hobbes books, occasionally yelling over the din, “Mommy, can you put him back in his room? I can’t focus with all that racket!”

“That racket” was his little brother’s desperate mantra – “I NEEEEEEED CHAPSTIIIIIIICK!!!!!!” – screamed over and over and over at the top of his tiny-yet-impressive lungs while I reiterated in my So Calm You Can Tell I’m Not Really Calm voice that I would be more than happy to provide his lips with sweet relief if he would merely stop yelling and ask for it using his manners. By Minute 38 of this tantrum, there was no longer a line drawn in the sand between us, there was a carved wall of granite that had been drilled into the ground, an impenetrable barrier of impressive density.

I wonder where he gets such stubbornness? I mused silently while contemplating the devastating personal ramifications I’d suffer if I went through with the daydream playing in my head, which was me theatrically throwing away every tube of lip balm in the house right before his eyes.

Around Minute 42, he gave in to either exhaustion or futility, and his screams downshifted to an incessant whine. But he still wouldn’t ask me for the ChapStick (using his manners) and the whining, well the whining was nearly as bad as the screaming. Finally, around Minute 47, he managed a muttered, half-assed “Caihavechapsiplea” while sitting on the floor not looking at me.

It was the first time in an hour he’d formed anything as a question, and fooling myself into believing “pleh” was a manners victory, I dug it out of my pocket. “Sure, here,” I said, holding it out for him.

That’s when he refused to take it again. ON PRINCIPLE. That child sat right there on the kitchen floor and, without lifting a single pinky toward the beloved ChapStick he’d screamed for so desperately, said, “You made me wait too long.”

You made me wait too long!

A grin of incredulity spread across my face. I have to admit, I was kind of impressed. Dizzy with anger, but also impressed.

“Evan.” My words were measured and slow. “I’m going to count to ‘3,’ and when I get to ‘3’ I am putting away this ChapStick, and you will have to ask me again, using your manners, if you want any.”

“One.” Poker face.

“Two.”

“You! Made! Me! Wait! Too! Long!”

“No, no, spending this much time crying about ChapStick was your choice. Not mine. I wanted to give it to you. I tried to give it to you in the car. I am trying to give it to you right now!”

Silence as he absorbed, then rejected this truth. Our eyes locked. Instead of crumbling, the granite wall appeared to be growing.

“Three,” I said, the verbal detonation of a bomb that exploded all over the kitchen. The screaming, the whining, the demands for ChapStick began anew as I checked the clock to see if it was a respectable hour for wine consumption. Thankfully everything happened at warp speed during Round 2 of The Great ChapStick Standoff. Within a few minutes, he conceded and asked again, with much attitude but the right words.

Both of us exhausted, ChapStick was wordlessly exchanged. He took long, dramatically slow swipes around his lips, coating the lower part of his face before finally handing it back to me. And then my little steel truck sat right back down on the floor and tried to start yelling at me for making him waste an hour of his afternoon playtime.

“You made me waste so much time!” he yelled with way more indignation than a 5-year-old should possess. I raised an eyebrow and told him that in another 10 seconds his whole damn day would have been wasted because I was putting him to bed.

You’ve never seen a child become so immediately engrossed in the book his brother was reading.

Fast-forward one hour, one glass of wine and one quietly prepared dinner later, we were sitting at the table talking about what they’d done in school that day when Evan interrupted Kostyn’s story about PE.

“Excuse me, Mommy, can I have some ChapStick, please?”

And a million kisses, sunshine. Ain’t parenthood grand?

photo-24
It’s hard to believe this angel is capable of so thoroughly exhausting his mother’s patience.

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One Woman, Two Dreams, Seven Years: How ‘Working From Home’ Is Finally Just That

Kostyn, 7, took this picture of me working this summer. I pray this isn't the overriding memory they have of Mommy from these last several years we've spent together.
Kostyn, 7, took this picture of me working this summer. I pray this isn’t the overriding memory they have of Mommy from these last several years we’ve spent together.

In June 2006, I was promoted to features editor at the daily newspaper where I worked. I had been at the paper for seven years already, and had wanted that job even longer than that. After a decade of struggling to build something resembling a career in journalism, I felt like I’d finally made it. I had a small staff of my own, a talented assistant editor at my side, a Sunday column, and six weekly sections to assign, manage and proof. I was working 12-hour days and loving it; I imagined owning that desk for a long, long time.

Three months later I found out I was pregnant.

It was an unplanned, shocking pregnancy, and though we were thrilled, almost immediately an inner battle began brewing. The writer in me was not about to give up her dream. The mother in me wasn’t either, not even for a few hours a day.

I spent the next nine months in denial, not really making a decision about what I’d do. I told everyone I’d be coming back to the paper after my maternity leave was done, because that’s what I wanted to do. I said it so often and with such confidence that half of me believed it. But the other half knew I hadn’t called a single day care center or potential babysitter to line up child care for my supposed return to full-time employment.

The managing editor and copy desk chief threw a baby shower for me. In the weeks before the due date, I trained my assistant editor on how to handle everything in my absence. Meanwhile, I helped a team of consultants redesign the features section – “My baby,” I remember saying more than once – and generally continued the hectic daily newspaper pace until the day one of my editors, a mother herself, told me I really should take it easy. So I collected a round of hugs and left my desk cluttered with the various keepsakes, papers and awards I’d gathered over the years. “I’ll be back,” I said to everyone, including myself.

Five days later I gave birth to a healthy baby boy, and six weeks after that I called my boss, choking back tears, to tell him what half of me knew 10 months earlier: I wasn’t coming back.

Almost immediately, I was blessed to be given the opportunity to work from home part-time for the paper instead, and though I greatly missed the camaraderie of the newsroom and my beloved features desk, I was thankful for the chance to keep contributing to the family’s finances (a necessity) and retain at least some of my pre-baby identity.

What I didn’t realize then but quickly learned was that the single decision to become a work-from-home parent would be followed by a million smaller ones, every day, about how to do it. And those choices, more than the work and the kids combined, can really wear you down.

Do I try to squeeze in one more phone call, or bring the boys outside to play? Do I answer the phone and try to take notes in my car in the grocery store parking lot and pray the baby stays asleep, or let it go to voicemail and risk losing out on that potential job? Do I stop what I’m typing mid-sentence when my son wants me to look at the robot he’s building? How about now? And now? And now? And now?

Can I write one more business profile before lunch? Why does my editor always call when we just start reading books?? Will Evan’s nap time be reliable enough to schedule that phone interview I desperately need to get done? Can I finish all of this after bedtime, again?

I choose the playground over the research, but then I have to choose the last-minute research over the dance party. “Just give Mommy one minute to send this email.” “Mommy has to do a phone call for work, so you can finish your lunch and watch ONE EPISODE of ‘Superman’ and then we’ll play a game…”

For years I’ve been ping-ponging between the two roles, berating myself every day for falling short on both.

Being home with my sons has been an amazing gift. I’ve been able to rock and nurse and coo (and burp and change and feed and discipline and potty train) to my heart’s content. We’ve played, we’ve snuggled, we’ve explored. We’ve painted and danced and skipped and biked for hours and hours on end.

We’ve slept in, watched cartoons all morning, stayed in our PJs all day. We’ve been superheroes and robots and wild animals on the African plain. We’ve yelled at one another and whined about each other and laughed together. We’ve read and read and read and read and read. We’ve built snowmen and blanket forts and bonds so strong they will never be broken.

But still, the back and forth tug between working and mothering has been difficult (as it is for all working parents, no matter where you earn your paycheck).

After a summer of trying to take on extra work while also entertaining (and refereeing) my growing, energetic and very loud boys, my daily life now looks and sounds much different. Evan has started full-day kindergarten. Suddenly both of my sons are in school, away from the house for six hours a day. Six hours of silence. Six hours in a row to write. To conduct phone interviews. To email and edit and invoice and market myself for even more work.

In those first few minutes of silence last week, all I could hear was the absence of their laughter, and all I could feel was that familiar regret of parenthood, which somehow appears no matter what I do or how hard I try.

If only I hadn’t worked so much this summer, we would have had more time to play together, I lamented. I tried to assuage my guilt with a mental list of the fun things we had done, but it was overshadowed by all the ideas we’d had in the beginning of summer that never happened. Maybe if I’d been able to work more I could have at least afforded the swimming lessons I’d promised them.

The kids were gone, but my mind was still ping-ponging.

As I sat there at my desk, listening to the quiet and staring at a list of my latest assignments, my email inbox lit up with a message from LinkedIn. “Sue Jarrett congratulated you on your work anniversary!” it read.

My work anniversary? I thought. I haven’t had a real job in ages. Something in my profile must be outdated. Puzzled, I clicked on the link, and there it was: “Seven years ago this August, Robyn Passante became self-employed.”

I stared at the message, worded like it was an accomplishment. Seven years. For seven years I’ve been juggling diapers and dinosaurs and deadlines. In that moment I realized I haven’t been giving myself enough credit, as a mother or a professional. I not only do have a “real” job, I have TWO real jobs. I ping-pong between them because I love them both. For the first time, that isn’t an apology – it’s a declaration.

And after seven lucky, difficult, beautiful years, I am thankful to have the breathing room I need to help me do both of those jobs even better.

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The 21 Steps Toward Approaching the 3 Steps to Bedtime

The fact that they look like angels when they're (finally) asleep is not a coincidence. God is SMART, people.

Last night I attempted to put a very overtired Evan to bed. This involved three simple things.

1. Getting him out of the tub and into his pajamas.
2. Brushing his teeth.
3. Putting him in bed.

Three steps to bed. If you don’t have children, you might think there’s only a handful of decisions to be made there. You would of course be wrong. There are actually 137 decisions to be made in that three-step process, and the 2-year-old must make every single one. Actually that’s not right, he needs to make most of them, but definitely wants You to initiate certain things, and expects you to telepathically understand when the invisible ball is in your court. And you only have a certain number of seconds to recognize that ball, find it and tap it ever-so-lovingly back across the net to him, or else the ball will explode in your face in a giant wad of fiery tears and trust me when I say that No Other Ball will adequately replace the ball that YOU CAUSED TO EXPLODE, YOU IDIOT PARENT WITH YOUR FALSE ASSUMPTIONS ABOUT HOW HE USUALLY LIKES THE PAJAMAS WITH THE CARS ON THEM.

Again if you’re unfamiliar with the toddler set, here are just a handful of the excruciatingly important decisions hidden within just the very first! of those three small steps:

  1. Whether he wants to be lifted out of the tub or climb out himself.
  2. Who picks up the last toy from the tub and puts it in the bin.
  3. Which one of them gets the striped towel.
  4. The way the towel wraps around his dripping-wet body.
  5. The intolerable injustice of the towel momentarily falling off his shoulder. (OK I know that’s not a decision either one of us could possibly make but trust me when I say it’s STILL MY FAULT WHEN IT HAPPENS.)
  6. Whether he wants me to towel-dry his hair in the bathroom or in the bedroom.
  7. Whether or not he wants to sit on my lap or stand while I towel-dry his hair.
  8. Whether or not that last decision becomes null and void when he sees his naked brother scamper down the hallway.
  9. Whether or not it’s possible for all of us to rewind time and return to the bathroom once the scampering all over the damn place is finished so that he can again sit on my lap (or stand!?) to dry off even though he is now dry.
  10. Whether or not he wants to put on his own Pull-Up.
  11. How he wants me to put on his Pull-Up.
  12. How he doesn’t want me to put on his Pull-Up.
  13. The top-secret, as-yet-undiscovered, never-been-tried-before method by which he wants me to put on his Pull-Up. Or not.
  14. Whether or not he ever wants to wear a Pull-Up again, or anything for that matter.
  15. Whether or not my threats of leaving him naked for the rest of his life are empty or real.
  16. Whether or not he wants to pick his own pajamies. (Side note: He says “pajameees,” not “pajamas,” which I find adorable in a way that makes me sense God does that sort of thing on purpose to keep parents from killing their children on evenings such as this.)
  17. How long he should silently and stoically contemplate the pajama-selecting decision while I hold open the drawer and repeatedly ask him which ones he wants to wear.
  18. Whether or not he will lose his mind when I severely narrow his choices for him.
  19. Whether or not I’ll hold him when he’s crying inconsolably over not picking his pajamies.
  20. How quickly he is able to stop crying when he realizes his brother is dressed and is singing and dancing around him.
  21. How long he is able to continue his own impromptu naked dancing before his mother loses her mind.

See? Easily blew through 21 decisions (and when I say “easily” I mean “VERY FAR FROM EASILY”) and only managed to move from the bathroom to the bedroom. Still naked. No pajamas on. No teeth brushed. No bedtime in sight. (Just to be clear here, and let’s be honest specifically because my sister read this post and said “You’re giving him too many choices,” I want to clarify that these are not choices I’m giving him to make. It’s not like I’m standing in the bathroom holding two towels asking him to pick one. Or asking him where he wants his hair dried. Or how he wants his Pull-Up on. These are just random things he suddenly decides are happening in a completely wrong way and must be altered immediately. Got it, sis?)

It was a long night. It was the kind of night that ended — a solid 40 minutes later — with me climbing the stairs three times over water. Because he wanted some. But then he didn’t. But then he did. But then I brought it in the wrong kind of cup (“Tough break, little man”) so he wouldn’t take it. So I brought it back downstairs, which infuriated him because oh yeah turns out he wanted it. (“TOUGH BREAK! GO TO SLEEP!!”) So he came down and got it himself and brought it upstairs, then called for me to come get it and take it away. And when I didn’t he screamed, loudly, for a very long time, and finally fearing he would wake his brother I climbed the stairs to fetch his water that he’d turned down twice and then gotten himself, but it turns out he wanted me to take it IN THE MORNING, MOMMY, NOT NOW, and he was just crying because he was still torqued about the fact that I hadn’t brought us all back into the bathroom to sit on my lap and dry off after he had dried himself off by running down the hall wet and naked and jumping on my bed.

I then spent three minutes trying to piece together the puzzle of proper pillow position combined with the best blanketed body to exposed body ratio. And when all that was finished, when the last kiss had been deposited on his still-furrowed brow, I left. Again. Mentally, physically and emotionally exhausted, I flopped back down the stairs, only to hear his voice cry out from the darkness when I was exactly halfway to freedom.

“Mommy?” he called quietly. There was a softness to his little squeak. I could tell this wasn’t going to be a complaint or demand. Still, I braced myself.

“Yes. Evan?” I answered as sweetly as I could between clenched teeth.

“Tomorrow I’m going to wear the pajamies with the cars.”

Well played, God.

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I hate you. Stay right here.

First they learn words:  “Dada!” “Nana!” “Milk!”

Then they learn how to use them:  “I do it?” “Mine!”

Then they learn how to use them against you:  “I don’t love you anymore.” “I want you to go away to another home and stay there!”

“I hate you.”

Kostyn has taken to saying all these things to us when he doesn’t get his way. We tell him it’s unacceptable, that “hate” is too strong a word for him — or anyone — to use. We put him in Time Out for using the word “hate,” and talk to him about how to properly convey his feelings (“I’m mad at you!”) instead of projecting those feelings onto someone else.

Sometimes he catches us at the dinner table in mid-conversation. “…and you know I hate it when my boss says….”

“YOU SAID ‘HATE,’ DADDY!”

We exchange glances of guilt and amusement. Chris apologizes and tries to explain the difference, and everyone doubles their efforts to eradicate that word from our home. It works for awhile.

A couple weeks ago Kostyn got mad at me for something and the hate started spewing. “I hate you! I hate you!” He kept saying it and saying it, so after several obstinate minutes in Time Out, I tried to explain to him once again what that means and why it’s so hurtful.

“When you tell me you hate me, that’s like saying if I walked out this door and never came back, if you never saw Mommy again, if I never gave you another hug or made you another sandwich, never kissed you or tickled you or read books to you or anything, ever again, that would make you happy. Is that true?”

His chin quivered slightly but he nodded slowly, his tiny jaw set, his wide brown eyes staring right at me.

I caught my breath, turned and walked into the kitchen. I knew he was just pushing my buttons, trying to make me feel how he was feeling, but I still found my own words stinging me. As parents we’re not supposed to need validation, we’re not supposed to need our kids to say they couldn’t live without us, because frankly we either know they couldn’t, or we’re deeply shaken by the knowledge that they actually might be able to.

As the tears came, I closed my eyes and thought about the first time Kostyn ever acknowledged me. I will never forget that moment, in the first weeks of his life, when his scrawny infant hand reached up while he was nursing and wrapped itself around my finger. I remember the surge of endorphins brought on by that simple gesture, the exhilaration of such a tiny bit of recognition from the being who was actively sucking the nutrients right out of me, the one who in a matter of weeks had exhausted me physically, mentally and emotionally to a point where I no longer knew who I was.

I’m pretty sure that was the moment we both realized who I was.

How far we’ve come from that moment, I thought as I grabbed another tissue. After a good cry I collected myself, wiped my eyes and walked back into the dining room where Kostyn was still sitting in Time Out. “I want to talk to you Mommy,” he said. I knelt down in front of him.

“I’m sorry,” he said, scooting down from the chair and reaching out for a hug. Instinctively I opened my arms, wrapping him up, needing this hug more than he did. That’s when he whispered in my ear.

“I hate you.”

It was a verbal slap so stunning and unexpected it took my breath away; I pulled back from him and he watched my eyes well with fresh tears. He had wanted to see how much power he wielded with his words, but he was unprepared for its force. The sight of his mother crying made him cry. He dropped to the floor in sobs, and I was spun around once again, from wounded child back to soothing mother.

I scooped him up and cradled him in my lap, both of us in tears. While I held him I thought about an incident a few days before when I put him in Time Out and he cried. When I came around the corner to check on him he was on the floor in front of the Time Out chair, curled in a ball. He yelled “Go away! I don’t want you here!” and as I turned to go he grabbed my leg and wrapped his whole body around it.
“You want me to go away?”
“Yes!” he screamed, clutching tighter.
“Then why are you holding onto me?” I asked.
“Well I want you to stay here,” he said. “But I Don’t. Want. To talk to you!”
“So you want me to go away but stay right here?”
“Yes.”

So I did just that. Because that’s what parents do, right? We go away but stay right here. The memory reminded me of all the times over the years I’ve done that to my own parents, told them to mind their own business, that I didn’t need their advice, that it was my life, all while silently begging for their approval. Is this OK, Mom? Am I doing well? Are you proud of me, Dad? I need you. No I don’t. Yes I really do.

I thought about how I’d also done it to God most of my life. Don’t look at me! (Please save me!) I’ve got this covered. (Will you help?) I’m not ready for you. (I need you now.)

The two of us sat and rocked on the floor for several minutes while Pandora selected songs for us and I did that thing we parents have to do once in awhile, that terribly cruel chore of allowing it to register in our hearts how much bigger our babies feel in our arms. I thought about the growth spurt Kostyn is in, how his voice is getting stronger every day, his reasoning keener, his opinions more commanding.

I thought about how “in the trenches” I often feel, here at home with both of them all day, every day, picking my battles about getting them dressed, brushing teeth, picking up toys. Sometimes around here love feels like a battlefield. When I fluff their pillows and pull their covers up to their chins at night, Evan kicks his off — one last point at which he will not concede defeat. Some days feel like an endless strategic meeting between two opposing forces. Who will retreat? Who will negotiate an end to the battle? Who will melt into a tantrum? Who will fly off in a rage and plop a small bottom onto the Time Out chair? Who will win? Does anyone ever win?

With Kostyn especially, our relationship lately often feels like a tug of war. But sitting on the floor that day I realized with great relief that I am not on the other side of the rope. I AM the rope, and Kostyn plays both sides against himself, pulling and straining for things to go his way, for me to go his way, burning his hands and expending his energy to make me succumb to his will, beating no one but himself, challenging me needlessly because no matter what happens, he ends up with more of me.

I am the rope. I am the means to a very important end. And getting through our worst tug of war days, when he hugs me and hates me all at once, is easier knowing this, knowing the point is not for him to win or me to win because it’s not a competition between us at all. He’s not challenging me (though I do find it VERY challenging), he’s challenging himself, testing his voice and his power and his place in this world, and in this house.

“Go away but stay right here.”

OK, son, I thought as I kissed the top of his head.

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