February 2005

All my children

By Suzanne Strazza

My kids are arguing. Again.

They are driving me up a wall. All my visions of brotherly love have gone straight to hell. They bicker, they shout, they break each other’s toys, they push, shove and hit.

Now, this is not behavior that they have learned from their parents, although I have yelled maybe once or twice. To be quite honest, I’ve even wanted to push, shove and hit too, but I’ve managed to restrain myself. No, this is something that they have developed all by t h e m s e l v e s . There are times when they absolutely adore each other. They play in their room for hours, building forts and castles, making up games together and honestly liking each other. These are the times when I am glad that I had children, and that I had two boys. This is what I always hoped for, for them. My brother and I were not close and I always blamed that on the differences between boys and girls.

Now, I’m not so sure. We tell them, “Your brother is your best friend in the whole world.”

“I hate him!”

“You are so lucky to have such a great big (or little) brother.”

“Who cares!”

Ahhh, this is my life.

When I was younger and envisioned myself as a mother, I was going to be the quintessential Earth Mamma: peaceful, serene and glowing. My home would be a safe haven for visitors. All of the neighborhood kids would come over and I would bake them fresh (healthful, of course) cookies while they finger-painted beautiful creations that I would hang on my walls. Of course, all the while, I would be doling out hugs and laughter.

It is so not this way. The kids come over, that’s true, but the noise and chaos send me running to my room to hide under the covers. I don’t bake – never have, certainly not going to start now. And yes, I do hang artwork on the wall, but mostly it’s in order to cover up a jelly smear that I’m too lazy to scrape off the wall.

I thought that if there was ever strife in my house that I would show infinite patience and wisdom, discussing each child’s feelings and coming to resolutions that would make everyone feel heard and valued.

Well, that’s a crock. Who has time for processing feelings when Everett and Bowen are beating the crud out of each other? I have yet to hear myself say, “I’m sensing that you’re feeling angry when you knock your brother in the nose.” Often, the urge to bang their heads together becomes so overwhelming that the best I can do is scream, “Stop it right now!”

Not bad, given what I really feel like doing.

I do dole out a fair amount of hugs and laughter, but sometimes I think that the children can tell that my laughter verges on hysteria, so they’re not often psyched for the accompanying hug. They’re afraid to have me near them.

Who’d have ever guessed that motherhood would do this to me; that I would turn into a crazed child-beater wannabe? I see some of my friends and the peacefulness and ease that they bring to the job. One close friend just had her third child and being in her house feels like a slice of time spent in heaven. She claims that it isn’t always this way, but I don’t believe it. I’m the only lunatic mom.

Although, I did have one friend mention to me last night that she can barely manage two – even though she loves motherhood and her children — and that if she did have a third, she would be sure to beat them all. Now, that makes me feel fairly normal. Let me pause while my husband threatens to separate my boys. How nice to have someone else be the mean guy.

People told me that raising children was the hardest job in the world. I didn’t believe it. During the seven years that I was an at-home mother, I think I was in such a delirious fog that I had no clue as to what superhuman strength and patience this job requires. Now that I work full-time outside of my home, sometimes walking into the house at the end of the day feels like re-entering a war zone. It’s one thing to perpetually live in the zone, another to get to leave and then have to go back.

Don’t mistake my meaning here – I adore my boys and couldn’t imagine ever breathing again if anything happened to either one of them. They are sweet and funny and smart and loving and every thought I have includes them. They are my world and it wouldn’t be as good of a place without them in it.

No, the issue is more that I have turned out to be a very different mother than I thought I would be. Plus the fact that motherhood in general is a completely different experience than the one that I lived in my mind.

Holy Toledo. If you really had an inkling of what it would be like, would you ever have children? Honestly, probably not.

Maybe that’s why we don’t really know until we’re in the thick of it. It’s like childbirth itself; you hear that it hurts, but you can’t really grasp the magnitude of pain until you are in labor and it’s too late to turn back. Then you conveniently forget how awful it was while you get pregnant with the next. That is, until the contractions start again.

It’s the same with parenting. When it’s hard, you want to stop and give them back to anyone who will take them, then, when it’s calm and their little arms are wrapped around your neck, you forget that it was ever bad. That is, until one punches the other in the nose and the games begin again.

Maybe I should be thankful for the time I’ve had to fantasize about parenthood; the time that I naively imagined the harmonious world in which I was going to live. I still go there occasionally. It is my escape from reality, the place where I go to hope (or pretend) that this job will get easier and that I still may become Earth Mamma.

Suzanne Strazza writes from Mancos.