It’s late afternoon and I am helping my daughter with her homework. It’s an exercise in following directions, an area in which neither of us excels.
So, I read the directions silently and then aloud. She has a piece of paper with the outline of a house drawn on it. She is to draw a clock and a picture inside the house and a drum and a shovel outside the house. Okay. I’m wondering what is inside that drum that needs burying.
As she reaches for a crayon, my mother-in-law yells, “Banos! Banos!”
“Now?” Because this never happens at a convenient time.
“Banos! Now! Idiota!” Idiota is the Spanish word of the day. It means exactly what you think it means. Charming, huh? Yesterday, it was “bruja.”
So, I tell my daughter to hold off on doing her homework. I will return shortly and we can continue then. Of course, I know she isn’t going to stop because, as I just said, she doesn’t follow instructions well.
I wheel my mother-in-law into the bathroom and get her situated on the toilet. She grabs my hand. “Don’t leave me!” As if I can leave? She has me with her Super-Granny-Grip. It’s a secret super power that lots of old ladies have.
I tell her I will hold her hand for just a little while, but I will need to check on the children in a few minutes.
We hear a crash—not like furniture being toppled, but something with many pieces spilling onto the floor. Then, we hear my son screaming. SCREAMING—like he is being chased by a knife-wielding maniac!
“Mom, I have got to go check on him,” I say.
“No! No! Idiota! ” And now she is making her angry face—her lips are pursed and she is frowning. She has pulled her eyebrows together so tightly they resemble the McDonald’s arch only they are charcoal gray, not bright yellow.
Okay, who would hear a crash and a child crying and think that the mother of that child should continue holding her hand instead of going to the child? And before you defend this behavior, you should know that no, my mother-in-law was not in danger of falling off the toilet AND that she was demanding and very self-absorbed BEFORE she fell. This is not a new behavior. Calling me “Idiota” is fairly new, but who knows? Maybe she has been calling me that in her head for years.
So, I run into the kitchen where I find all the crayons on the floor and both of my children picking them up. Upon seeing me, they both start talking over each other in a rush to tell their side of the crayon spilling story–as if I have asked who is at fault.
Since my son is no longer screaming, I take it that he is not hurt and there is no knife-wielding maniac. I calmly tell them, “I don’t know what happened here, but I am proud of you both because I see you are both cleaning up the mess together. Thank you. I have to back to Grandma. Please behave.” And considering that I am being verbally abused as I wipe their grandmother’s ass, I’m amazed that I am this calm and that I’m doing this without the help of Prozac, wine, or any other mommy-mood-leveler. Hooray for me.
I return to the bathroom. My mother-in-law’s right where I left her. She makes her angry face and shakes the back of her hand at me. “You! You! Idiota!”
She tells me she is ready to get up. I lift her, wipe her, discover that she is not ready to leave the toilet, and sit her back down. We repeat that exercise about 40 times over the next twenty minutes. Yeah, I know that everyone poops, but this is %&$#-ing time consuming. I still need to help my daughter with her homework and cook supper. My husband is working late and I don’t expect to see him before 10 pm. It’s my show all night long. Lucky me.
Finally, yes, finally, we are done in the bathroom and we return to the kitchen where I discover that my children have helped themselves to apple juice—and someone has spilled apple juice all over the table, the floor, the crayon crumbs on the floor and the homework. @#$%!
Yeah, now the teacher is going to wonder what in the hell goes on in our house that a Kindergartener can’t complete a worksheet without drenching it in juice. She’s going to lump my daughter in with all those kids who don’t get enough parental supervision—you know, the kid who hasn’t had a bath this week, the one who still hasn’t handed in the emergency contact form, the one who is always tardy, the one who can’t keep his eyes open after lunch. These #$&%-ing negligent parents! Oh, and if you are a teacher, please do not tell me that teachers never make these judgmental remarks about poor parenting! I worked at a school. I know teachers do this. Maybe YOU don’t, but you know at least one teacher who does.
And of course, I now have one more mess to clean before I can start supper. Yeah, people poop, people spill and it all just a part of life, but in these moments, it doesn’t feel like a part of life. It feels like it IS my life–my whole life! And I’m certain I am the only person on the planet who experiences this kind of crap daily. Waaaaaa.
So, supper, baths, and bedtime are all going to happen a little later tonight. “My teacher says I should be in bed by seven,” my daughter reminds me. Oh, Sweetheart, your mama is doing damn good just to have supper on the table at by seven.
Frequently, I feel that my mother-in-law’s care interferes with my ability to parent my children as I would like. The stress of being pulled in yet another direction puts me in a bad mood and I’m that grouchy, bitchy, yelling mom that I swore I would never be. I resent that the most—that the circumstances have rendered me less than my best—for my children, for my husband, for myself.
As all this is happening, I am thinking about a conversation I had with one of my mother-in-law’s friends just the night before. My mother-in-law has only two friends who periodically call to check on her. She had hundreds of friends before she fell. Where the @&$% are all these people now? If I dwell on that, I will become very resentful on my mother-in-law’s behalf.
Anyway, this friend was going on and on about what a wonderful person I am because she can’t imagine caring for two children and someone in my mother-in-law’s condition. She has a pretty good idea of what it is like because in addition having raised her own children, she cared for an elderly relative many years ago. “You are an angel, my dear. An angel!” Of course, if you are reading this, you have to know I am not an angel. Angels don’t use profanity—or feel resentful.
Then, she told me that my mother-in-law would never do for others what I am doing for her. “She was never generous like that.” No, my mother-in-law loved giving people things—like inexpensive party favors. She was very generous in that way, but no, I can’t imagine her brushing someone else’s teeth or wiping someone else’s butt.
Yes, I stopped myself mid-thought. Doesn’t deserve? Do I really want to be the kind of person who is only good to people who are deserving of my compassion? And really, aren’t all human beings worthy of mercy and kindness? Wow. Right there is the center of my own personal beliefs. If God loves everyone—and He does—then everyone is worthy of kindness and mercy and grace regardless of how they behave. All people behave badly. All people make poor decisions. And ultimately, it’s never about what someone else does. It’s about how I choose to respond and I choose love—even if it is hard as @#$%-ing hell.
So, I forgave her. And I forgave myself. I needed forgiveness because I was allowing anger, not love, to reign.
And that was just the first in a series of revelations. Grant you, none of my revelations are either earth-shattering or anything I haven’t considered in the past:
As for not being the best mother, I’m a good enough mother, and my children will be fine even if they don’t get my best all of the time. Most people turn out okay despite their parents, not because of their parents.
And am I really worried about what my daughter’s teacher will think if she turns in homework that has so obviously been bathed in apple juice? Ha!
First of all, we are lucky that it was juice, not beer that spilled all over the paper, crayons, table, and floor. Why is that lucky? Because I hate to see beer go to waste. Secondly, no, I don’t think my daughter’s teacher is the type of person to engage in the gossipy, judgey chatter of the faculty lounge because she doesn’t seem bitter or unhappy. Have you ever noticed that? The gossipy, judgmental people are almost always disgruntled.
So, there you go–a snapshot of my day or really just a few minutes of it. Try not to be envious.