Sunday, April 22, 2012

A swing and a miss

I'm not at all cut out for a career in food service.

Yesterday was the annual fun fair at Little M's school.  The fair, much like the school, is adorable, and well-run and charming and lovely.

Or at least it was until I showed up.

I signed up for a volunteer shift---at the food tent---at lunchtime.  I just might be the dumbest smart person alive.   My paid job is stressful, and my life's not exactly a cakewalk, but I exaggerate none when I say that I was more stressed out and on edge during those 60 minutes in the food tent than I've been in years.

People are nuts.  Especially when they're hungry.  Oh, and I'm nuts.  Especially when I'm short on patience---which is, as you all know, virtually all the time.

You add my inherent lack of patience to my four main pet peeves in life, and it will become obvious to you why the food tent at lunchtime idea was a very bad one indeed.

My other pet peeves?  They'd be, in no particular order:

(1) People who are high maintenance
(2) People who special order
(3) People who wiffle-waffle on decisions when there's a long line;  and
(4) People who say "Give me" and "I need" instead of "May I have" and "Please".

So, clearly, I was the best person for this particular job.

I was actually holding up reasonably well until close to the end of my shift---when I became completely unglued.  It started with a nasty attitude (not mine, by the least, not yet), and a few give-mes, and was followed by a few "I needs" before veering into the territory of my personal favorite-  the "get me."

It came to a stunning crescendo when the person commented that I was a bit slow and followed it up with a "Are you LISTENING to me?"

Now.  I don't like confrontation.  I don't do it.  I'm a chicken and I was raised to be a "nice girl" (and I could rant for days on that one), so I normally just take stuff like that, internalize it and move on.  Which is what I intended to do today.  I'm not going to embarrass my daughter and cause a scene.  AT HER SCHOOL.  No, thanks.  I smiled, finished the food transaction, and finished out my shift.

That said, I was definitely flustered and that fluster set the tone for the next few hours.  I left my shift to rejoin my family, and the first words out of my mouth were "Where's the beer tent?"  Turns out that beer tents are frowned upon at preschool events.

But my mood?  My mood was definitely shot.  That person definitely got to me.  I was undoubtedly on edge.

Like most parents, I have my moments when I really doubt that I'm doing a good job as a mom---doubts that I'm making the grade, doubts that I'm raising her to be a considerate individual who will give to this world instead of take from it, doubts that she wouldn't be infinitely better off if she had a different mother.   Add in some working mom's guilt for good measure and fold in some developmentally normal preschool tantrums and.....voila!  A.BIG.FAT.MESS.

I can usually keep it together when at parenting at home.  Parenting in public, though-- parenting in public, in front of an audience, is another animal entirely.  I cannot be the only person who feels this way.

Parenting in public gets judged---often harshly--by a panel of judges who, at best, knows 25% of the story.  And we all have done it.  For better and for worse, we assess the quality of our own parenting--- and we determine own parental identity on a relative scale--- by judging others...usually at the moment when their kids are acting like, ummm, kids. Parenting in public, particularly after your kids act up, is part actual parenting and part performance art---put on display to show the other parents in the room how competent you are as a parent as much as it is about actually parenting your kids--- and I'm so tired of it.

Yes, Little M did something at the fair yesterday that required some level of discipline and parental involvement.  The problem is that I blew the call on how to discipline her----and I blew it BADLY.   There were a lot of people around, and there was a lesson to be learned, and I was really, really harsh.  Unnecessarily harsh.  I didn't yell, or hit----but I most definitely stung with words-- and I know part of that originated from the fact that I was parenting in front of an audience.

I've apologized, profusely, to my little girl.  She may have forgiven, but I'm not willing to forgive myself for that one.

After I had said my peace, Little M looked up at me.  She didn't cry, she didn't fuss.  The look in her eye, though?  It crushed me.  She looked at me like I betrayed her---which is appropriate, because I did betray her. I recognized that betrayed look in her eyes--it's one of my own.  That's a tough pill to swallow.  I hurt my little girl's heart- that's an even tougher pill to swallow.

I love my daughter.  I'm her parent.  I'm not her friend.  I need to discipline her, and set limits and guidelines and all of that good stuff.  This isn't about not ever upsetting her---I'm truly a parental failure if that happens---but about disciplining her in a way that honors her spirit, and respects her feelings and protects her beautiful and precious little heart.   I failed yesterday.

It's not about how I parent the average child, or anyone else's child----it is how I parent THIS child.  MY child.  My ONLY child.  My beautiful, sensitive, kind-hearted, compassionate, empathetic, will-never-let-another-child-cry-without-giving-them-a-hug wild child.   The same sensitivity that makes her heart so beautiful is the same sensitivity that makes her heart hurt and ache so badly-- a trait that we share, and a trait that I ignored for a not-great reason yesterday.

I am so sorry, Little M.  Mommy loves you- and will try so much harder.

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