We should have known better. We should have prepared ourselves, because she always comes back. Stupidly, we were all shocked when she showed up in the Whole Foods parking lot, teeth clenched before the barely controlled stage whisper of a yell she uses when she's angry but doesn't want to embarrass herself in front of strangers. After a week without her on our vacation, Everyday Mom had returned.
The kids' faces were wide-eyed and confused. I quickly felt fatigued and defeated. Did the fatigue cause the frustration or the frustration cause the fatigue? It's the classic chicken-and-the-egg of parenthood, and one I was not happy to revisit.
* * *
The kids and I spent last week at the lake with my parents. I think it is the place I am most relaxed. It's familiar and full of happy memories, and my parents permit me to be childlike by taking care of nearly all the cooking, cleaning, and childcare.
Without even trying, I'm Fun Mom. Desserts are plentiful, and bedtimes are lax. I swim with the kids every day, wrestling them into the water in games of King of the Mountain. I do things they don't expect, like jumping into the lake from a fifteen-foot platform. I gladly teach them about things I grew up with, like water skis, knee boards, and swimming across the cove. When my body still can, I join them.
Traveling home yesterday, Fun Mom was still with us. The kids were in great spirits, and I allowed all the juice, snacks, and video games they wanted in exchange for hours of quiet time with my book. Even a delay on the tarmac, a missed connection, and lost luggage didn't spoil the mood. During our layover, I coordinated obstacle course races for the kids at an empty gate and bought them frozen yogurt. We stopped for a slice of their favorite pizza on the way home, and complaints about having to sleep without their special blankets and stuffed animals were few. A potentially very frustrating day was not.
Somewhere between the checkout line and the car, it all fell to pieces today. I had to bite my tongue to keep from telling my son to stop touching me so damn much while I paid. Neither kid would move from in front of the cart so we could leave. My daughter climbed up to ride on the back of the cart, then decided to dismount in the center of parking lot traffic. My son veered suddenly in front of the cart and snapped at me for hitting the back of his foot. Each was only a minor frustration, but they quickly built upon each other in the span of a few minutes.
I popped open the back of the minivan to put the groceries in the car, and my daughter ran ahead, climbed in the back, and began to climb over all the seats to get to hers. They know they are not allowed to do this, and yet they do it anyway.
I told her "no." I told her "no" very clearly seven times, and yet she was balanced atop the rear seat by the time I reached the car with my embarrassed, teeth-clenching fury.
My son looked at me and said, "What happened? Everything was fine a minute ago."
I listed the annoying things they'd done in the past five minutes and pointed out that no one had been listening to me, but the answer is that I really don't know what happened.
I think the best explanation is that Real Life happened. It's hard to remain fun when Real Life requires that I enforce rules and limits, when I have to grocery shop and do laundry and cook meals and do dishes, when each of us has things to do and places to be that may not be our heart's desire. Real Life is often frustrating and, while I wish it weren't so, Everyday Mom in Real Life often is frustrated.
I've been trying very hard this summer to be more present, more open to suggestion, and less panties-in-a-bunch. The fact that my kids were so surprised by my frustration and anger today shows me that I've had some success. My aching teeth and my defeated feeling shows me I have more work to do.
We can't reasonably expect Real Life to be fun all the time, but I expect Everyday Mom to cope with it a little better. I need her to leave room for Fun Mom to make an occasional appearance, because all of us are happier when she's here. Until then, I guess I'll just have to keep doing my best and apologizing when I fail.