There’s nothing like realizing you only have 40 minutes to get yourself and your easily distracted child fed, bundled and shod, seat-buckled and safely delivered to school to get one’s adrenaline pumping. I mean who needs caffeine when you’ve got the ever-ticking clock to fuel the system?
Although I find myself in this situation on more days than I care to admit, the truth is I still don’t handle it very well. The efficient parent makes a quick mental scan of the morning’s to-do list and jettisons all but the most essential items. The positive parent embraces the challenge and finds satisfaction in whatever solution she comes up with. And the relaxed parent just doesn’t mind if his offspring starts the school day later than her peers.
Then there’s me.
The parent who just can’t let anything go, despite the fact that she knows that very little of it is essential. Who grows quick-tempered and flustered when stressed rather than focused and determined. And who clings to the notion that if she just goes a little faster, she can get it all done and still show up on time.
Unfortunately, my daughter doesn’t share this same sense of urgency.
“Sit here please so I can brush your hair,” I say.
“Have you seen my doll Kit? She needs to get dressed too . . . ” she replies, looking around the room.
“No. I need to brush your hair.”
” . . . and it’s cold out. Where is that new sweater for Kit that Nana sent?”
“Is it by Kit’s hair brush? Because I could use that to get your tangles out.”
“Oh yeah, I better brush Kit’s hair — she went to bed with it messy.”
“It’s getting late. Can you please sit down?”
“Let me just grab this book so I’ll have something to read while you brush my hair.”
“I’m feeling a little frustrated.”
She sits down with the book, then dramatically falls over while clapping her hand to her forehead as an indication of how silly something is.
“How funny! I opened the book the wrong way and it’s all backwards!” she cries.
“Hold still or I’m going to pull your hair.”
In hysterics now, she shrieks, “Merfloggindypoonoo! Mommy, it says ‘merfloggindypoonoo!'” Then, rhetorically, “What does that mean?! Ha ha ha!”
“It means ‘sit still or your mother is going to lose it.'”
“Mer-floggindy-poo-noo,” she sings while I work on her hair.
When I finish, I say “I’m going to go brush my teeth now. Can you come in and brush yours once your socks are on?”
Ten minutes pass.
“Are you going to come brush your teeth?”
“Oh right, I forgot. I’m coming. Let me just find my . . . “
“I’m waiting,” I interrupt.
” I have to pee, too . . . “
“OK, go pee, then brush your teeth.”
She pees while still humming to herself, then flushes, reassembles her outfit, and starts to leave the bathroom.
“Wait. Have your forgotten something?”
“Wash my hands?”
“And brush your teeth!”
“And what happened to your socks?”
“The ones I put on your bed and that should be on your feet.”
It’s at this point that my tone starts moving in a more ALL CAPS kind of direction.
“YOU HAVE TO TAKE SOME RESPONSIBILITY FOR THESE THINGS!” I bark. “I told you to brush your teeth. I got out your toothbrush, put the toothpaste on it, and set it on the counter right next to you. And I also told you to put on your socks. It’s your job to get these things done.”
Still cheerful, she says, “I know, mommy! I’m sorry. I’ll do it!”
“That would be great.”
She brushes her teeth for like 13 seconds, then stops.
“Can you believe it’s my birthday Friday?” she says dreamily. “I only have two more days to get through.”
“I can, but right now I’m more worried about getting through this morning.”
“Can you brush my teeth?”
“No, you can do it.”
“OK. I should brush Kit’s teeth, too. I’m going to set this down and go find her toothbrush . . . “
“Come back here and finish up!”
“OK. I’m sorry, Mommy,” she sings.
We get through the teeth brushing. The lip balm and the hand lotion, because it’s winter now and everything’s dry as a bone. And her socks finally make their way on to her feet.
We’re gonna make it, I think.
“OK, now find your jacket and I’ll go get changed. Meet me by the front door.”
I head into my bedroom and she to hers. A minute later, I hear it.
I rush into my daughter’s bedroom to find her sitting at her bedside desk, holding a small toy in one hand and a pencil in the other, staring at the tea cup of mine she’s knocked over, which has of course issued its contents on to the nearby comforter, pillow, and much of the rug.
Did I mention it’s black tea? The kind used as a dye to make “tea-stained” paper and textiles? That the bedding is a kind of natural, off-white color? And that we’re running late?!
And now comes the part I’m not proud of. The part where I say d— it in a less than happy voice (yes, I said the D word) and what’s going on with you this morning and you have to pay attention, shaming and blaming my daughter all while angrily stripping the comforter of its cover and mopping up errant liquid.
My daughter rushes from the room, to freak out, I think ungenerously, because she tends to dramatize her misery when she does something wrong.
“You know you could help me clean this up,” I shout after her. “That might help you feel better.”
“I can’t right now, Mommy,” she says. “I’m using my breathing tool to help calm myself.”
And that stops me right in my tracks.
The “breathing tool” is one of several strategies my daughter is taught at school as part of the Toolbox curriculum, which focuses on helping kids build their social/emotional strength. And she’s doing just what she’s supposed to when things fall apart: calming herself down so she can focus on how to best fix the problem. I, on the other hand, skipped straight ahead to the “fix it” part without thinking about the collateral damage I was causing along the way.
And so out of my rushed and stained morning comes a profoundly teachable moment.
And once again I find myself in the role of student.