He still crawls up into my lap each night after his bath and brushing of his teeth. He sits there with his soft blue blanket and ragged white puppy and asks me to sing to him. I sing the familiar lullabies softly in his ear, my chin on his head, cradling his little boy self in my arms. Sometimes he sings with me, others he lays quiet on my chest reminding me of his infancy when he would finally still in my arms after a long day of what seemed like endless fussing and crying.
Jacob is a wild mess of sweaty blonde hair, sparkling blue eyes full of mischief and a wonder, and he has a smile that could light up a whole room all on its own. He is adorable and he knows it. Most days, he is running from one end of our house to the other dressed as Captain America or Batman off to save the day and take down the bad guy. I’ve lost count of the walls and surfaces he has managed to color on, the remnants of his scribbles still found in my kitchen and our dining room table. Dark, black permanent marker and bright red crayon, sharp jagged marks and hard lines that reflect his aggression and intensity.
He is my second born and couldn’t be more different than my older son both in looks and spirit. He pushes back against every rule, feels everything with intense and strong emotion and requires much one-on-one time and attention. He needs a large amount of activity every day to get out all of the energy he has in his tiny little body. And he throws fits – big, large nasty ones that involve throwing, hitting, scratching and kicking, though now he has at least directed that aggression into objects instead of people. Progress!
Many labels have already been put on my Jacob. Strong-willed. Passionate. Spirited. Energetic. And more negative labels like defiant and hot-tempered. Lately, I’ve gotten into the habit of calling him my threenager as I’ve endured some pretty dramatic episodes that I couldn’t make up even if I tried.
It’s funny to laugh about sometimes – the things we as mothers of young children say, experience and witness first hand. When we dream about these little “bundles of joy” coming into our lives, we don’t imagine ourselves having to say things like “Please, don’t lick the table” or “No, we don’t taste our pee.” We hope it will never be us that has to escort our screaming child out of Target while everyone looks at us wondering what kind of awful parent we are that our child is behaving that way in public.
And all mothers have a poopy crib story. I still shudder remembering my own.
But moms, we imagined things didn’t we? We had dreams and sweet visions of what it would be like to care for and nurture our children. Like reading stories before bedtime and making precious memories on summer vacations and Christmas holidays. And even the basic everyday things like feeding and bathing and clothing our children – of course without any incident, because what incident could there possibly be?
But, my world right now? If you give my child a piece of toast and the butter hasn’t melted all the way into it, he will scream at you until the toast is fixed or you break down and let him have a popsicle instead. And if a drop of water gets on his eye in the bathtub, we reach DEF CON 5 freakout level. And long pants are a terrible, terrible idea and mine throws himself on the floor because I had the nerve to pick out jeans for him to wear. Or the socks are wrong. Or he doesn’t like how that t-shirt feels on his tummy.
Recently, we went to a restaurant with my family and Jacob was laying on the floor as we waited in line by the counter to order. Everyone was looking at me and giving me these judgmental stares that said, “Um, your kid is laying on the floor and that’s gross and why aren’t you making him behave more civilized?” And all I was thinking was that my kid isn’t screaming at me in public and he can lay on the damn floor all he wants.
This is not the motherhood I imagined. I am not the mother I imagined I would be either. I lose it. I scream back at him. I slam doors. Sometimes I let my anger match his and later when I’ve calmed down, I regret it and feel horribly guilty.
Motherhood is rough ya’ll. I mean, it’s gnarly. Between the shit (literal and figurative), pee, puke, sweat, tears, and blood, the verbal assaults add insult to injury. Jacob has already screamed that he hates me on several occasions and I suppose I assumed that these words wouldn’t come until at least teenagerdom, but here we are.
I have actually and for seriously cried every single day for the last several weeks. Earlier this week, what was supposed to be a fun family cookout around our fire pit turned into another dramatic screaming session because the marshmallow inside his s’more was too gooey and he couldn’t eat it. Todd took him inside and put him to bed, while I sat there and sobbed as I threw his blasted s’more into the fire watching my motherhood dreams melt and burn in front of my eyes.
“This isn’t how it was supposed to be! It shouldn’t be this f*cking hard!” I shook my fist to the sky and threw my hands in the air. I’m not sure if I was yelling that at God or myself or my own mother. I know for certain that my imagined mother self didn’t say f*ck as many times as I have in recent days either.
I’m scared that I’m failing at this. I’m scared that I’m screwing him up and I’m not doing something right and that I’m failing his precious little heart because I can’t handle all of the screaming about all of the things all of the times! I want to be the patient, loving, gentle mother he deserves but those words don’t describe my mothering most days.
The truth is, I want him to always be a little wild. I want him to push back sometimes and question the rules. I want him to discover things on his own, form his own beliefs and vocalize his thoughts and feelings because they matter. I want him to be the kind of person that feels deeply and engages this world with the passion he clearly possesses. But for the love of all that is pure and holy, I want him to stop screaming about everything. Every day. All the time.
I know this season will end. I am anticipating the shift that comes with him turning four. And please God, let there be a shift when he turns four.
But I guess what I really need, is for my own mother to look me in the eyes, cup my face and tell me I’m doing well. That yes, this is hard and no, it's not possible to enjoy every moment. That God picked me to be Jacob’s mama and no one could do it better than me. And that I’m doing a good job. Because a mother needs to hear from her own mother about mothering and it’s another place I don’t have her that feels like a loss.
So I’ll say this to you, mama’s. The weary ones with the strong-willed children. The ones whose children scream at you or lay on floors in public. The ones who have to escort your fit-throwing threenager out of the store while keeping your game face on. The one who exhales deeply after they are finally in bed or a trip to the grocery store alone is your happy place:
I see you. I’m with you. You’re doing a good job. It’s going to be okay. You’re not failing. It’s hard and it’s not what you imagined. Let's grieve that together. To you, I raise the box of tissue for the bad days, the sweet ones, and the gloriously easy days that take you by surprise.
Let’s mother on.