The Night I Was Disappointed in Myself

When I was young, I spent hours sobbing in my room. Big, gasping, wails usually brought on by some great injustice. When I was very young, it was the white patent leather shoes a size too small that my mother insisted I not wear to church. It was the silver plastic trash sacks she would fill with our things if we left them on the floor. It was the talent show I had to miss because I forgot to bring my spelling home. When I was older, it was being the caretaker for my sisters in the summer. It was having to clean the blender my mother left out to dry on the counter, with some green protein powder clinging in scaly patches between the blades. I asked her and asked her to soak it after she used it. Eventually, you lose your temper. The point is, it was little wrongs and big ones and over and over I cried alone in my room, loudly calling for my mother, even knowing she wasn’t ever coming.

You might disagree with me. Maybe that’s the way it is. She only accomplished one thing: showing me how not to treat a child. I never felt punished or chastened. Yes, I did eventually stop crying, but I also stopped loving her a little bit at a time. There’s plenty still there, of course, but you know what I’m saying. Less.

As a grown-up with a child, there have been plenty of days when I’ve wanted to close the door on my own tiny wailing soul and walk away, leaving her to work it out however long it took. Although Debra and I do sometimes let her cry, there’s that moment you can hear it – this isn’t going to resolve in anger. Only patience and understanding. And in that I can see where my mother failed. It’s hard to take the first step, to be the grown-up, and extend a compassionate hug. 

Tonight I found myself walking in my mother’s shoes. RR rebelled, rebelled further at my scolding, and then threw a mighty tantrum. I sent her to her room and before I shut the door I told her that she could come out when she pulled herself together. It was my mother’s voice. It was my mother’s hand that slammed the door closed. And I could see exactly where she stood in that second. I went into the other room and cringed. I let RR sob on and on, even though I hated myself for doing it. She has to learn to work it out, I told myself. She has to learn

Learn what though? Learn her mother doesn’t want to talk it over? Learn bigger people are always right? She wasn’t learning respect in there sobbing. She wasn’t learning not to stamp her feet and whine. She wasn’t learning anything at all. Except, maybe, she might be learning to love me less. 

And so, I got up and, I’m ashamed to admit it, still had a chill in my voice when I opened her door. Instead of coming in, I told her that she had lost much of her reading time already and would lose more if she didn’t pull herself together. She stopped crying the moment I opened the door, red and tear-stained, but she had put on her pajamas, exactly as I had asked. That’s all I could see as I walked away. One tiny person in too small pajamas, doing her best to do what I wanted her to do even though every thing had fallen apart around us. I still felt terrible. I didn’t feel like I’d done the right thing. But I had done something.

There was silence and then her feet came tiptoeing down the hall. I just need a little bit of love, she said.

And so we cuddleded and hugged and she was all smiles for bedtime. I hope I’m a better person the next time we come to this point. But I’m pretty happy that this point didn’t come until now, six years in. I can see where I’ve walked in my mother’s footsteps and I can see where I stepped aside, not enough, but I hope far enough for RR.

5 Responses

  1. This is so…true. And hard. And compassionate. It’s so hard to know if cracks in our relationships are caused by hearts breaking or hearts bursting at the seams.

    I do wonder, did you empathize with your mother a bit more after this incident? Did it clear space for her to earn back a bit of that lost love? Good for you, in any case, for seeing yourself in your daughter and meeting her where she needed to be. And thank you for documenting it.

  2. I too, learned a lot of what NOT to do from my mother. And I most certainly did not learn how to calm down and pull myself together. But that’s something I’m trying to teach my daughter, even if I’m only a half step ahead of her along the way.
    My take on this episode? You’re teaching her you’re not going to coddle her meltdowns. That’s not a bad thing. For those of us who don’t have a good guidebook for this sort of thing, there’s going to be moments where we wonder if we’re awful people who despite it all are turning into our parents. We’re not. You still had that bedtime snuggle. Go easy on yourself. It’s incredibly hard to raise good humans and even ones with the best guides make mistakes.

  3. Oh jeez…the tears. Yes. All of this. Our son is approaching 5 and has really big feelings and has meltdowns over all the injustices in his world. So often he sends himself to his room and wails loudly. Sometimes after 3 minutes you can hear him shift gears into hot wheels or hoards of tiny dinosaurs but sometimes it keeps going and you’ve just helped me feel better about going in there and asking if he wants to be left along or if he wants a hug. Sometimes he just wants me to sit there and after a few more minutes of wailing he crawls into my lap like a toddler. We rock and snuggle and before I know it he’s giving me a wet willy or trying to tickle me and just like that it’s over. Though sometimes he’ll stop and say “mommy I’m still so sad”. Trying so hard to avoid messing up our children is exhausting…RR is lucky she has a parent who is willing to put so much thought into her feelings.

  4. The fact that you’ve thought this through is really the only thing that matters. You’re aware. You are doing your best from one moment to the next. That’s all we can hope for from ourselves in those challenging moments. Sometimes, we leave room for improvement and sometimes we’re totally on our game, but we always love with our whole hearts.

  5. I’ve come to terms with the fact that everything I say and do affects my kids in ways that are major and ways that are not so major, and so, i feel like I’m hyper aware of EVERYTHING i do, and EVERYTHING i say, and EVERY WAY i react to things. I know that letting her cry it out sometimes is totally ok because she’ll learn to process and learn to be in her feelings and that’s super ok. But I also know that there are times where crying it out for her feels like we don’t care and makes her want to go to her *mom, and so now, we are starting to recognize when to offer and extra hug after another scolding, or when to let her recognize that what she did/said was not ok and she has to process that. Friend, you’re awesome! And you recognize how much you love your daughter FIRST which makes all of this other craziness so hard to sort out.

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