I don't like moments like the one I endured this morning. They are the absolute drag of parenthood, and they are unfortunately some of the most important ones, too.
Nolan was whiney from the get-go today. Starting at 6AM when he woke up squealing "like a ninny", as Ian likes to say, until he was out the door with Ian and Sean at 8AM for the walk to school. In the meantime, his whiney-ness was peppered with his typical charm: he sat and watched cartoons in only his underwear, snuggled in a big fleece blanket with a single, bare foot poking out. He smiled that smile he has--a smile that outshines most. He flashed his dark little hazel eyes and arched his eyebrows while asking for Cheetos. ("No, Nolan. We don't eat Cheetos at 7:30 in the morning, honey.") He giggled and cuddled and wrestled with Sean. So far, despite being a little whiney, it was an okay morning.
Then it was time to leave for school.
Sean, my typically well-behaved first-born who is eager to please and devastated when he gets in trouble, waited patiently by the front door with his backpack while Nolan, still without socks or shoes on, tore through his closet upstairs on the hunt for a toy to bring to the aftercare program today at school.
"I want Venom!"
Venom, for the unititiated, is the dark side of Spider-Man. Exhibit A:
We have two Venom action figures in the house. One rides a motorcycle. The other is a simple, poseable "guy". Nolan had found the motorcycle but not the accompanying figure. He was not happy to take the simple "guy" with him to school.
Ian called from the stairwell: "Nolan, got your shoes on yet?"
"I'm trying to find Venom! I NEED to take him to after care!"
"Get your shoes on, Nolan."
And from there on, chaos ensued. Nolan whined and cried while putting on his sneakers. He whined and cried about having to take the "wrong" action figure to school. He whined and cried about being torn away from his closet to go to school. He whined and cried because we didn't have time to look through closets and toyboxes and baskets for the other Venom. It was time for school, and that's all we had time for. At the top of the stairs, he threw Venom and began to scream in a wail worthy of a call to DCF. I picked up the toy and sternly told him:
"You can either take this guy or nothing to school. Do you want to take nothing to school?"
"No," he whimpered.
"Then you'll stop screaming. And you will take this toy and get your backpack on. What do you say for yelling like that at me and Ian?"
"Thank you. Now get your backpack on and let's go."
At this point, we were all by the front door, which was wide open. Neighbors waved as they walked to school or got in their cars for work. Birds chirped. Squirrels scampered. The roofers across the street were busy ripping off the old shingles of our neighbor's house. Nolan seemed poised, briefly, for a nice walk on a sunny September morning. Then he remembered:
"I don't want this Venom! I want the other guy!"
At the front door he stood screaming at me. Sean was still patiently waiting to leave, this time on the sidewalk. Ian was on the porch. Nolan had once again morphed into an abysmal four year old. He was shrieking. It's not an exaggeration. I walked over to him and took the toy out of his hands.
"That's it, Nolan. You blew it. It was this guy or nothing, but you screamed at me again, so you get nothing."
"Go," I said to Ian. "Just go to school. Pick him up and go."
My heart broke. They walked up the street, Ian calmly carrying Nolan as he wailed, "Mooooooooooommmmmmmyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy! I want my VENOM!" Sean scuffed along behind Ian. The neighborhood got a show.
I hated the whole thing. It's not that I don't like saying no to my kids. I need to say no, and often I'm quite comfortable with it. But I can't stand knowing that Nolan, for whatever reason befitting a four year old, was just having an absolutely rotten morning. He couldn't keep it together, and he couldn't follow the rules, which were simple: Behave, and you can take a toy to school. Don't behave, and you get nothing.
He's also the second kid, a role typically viewed as more difficult than the first. I don't know if he's more difficult--he's a real sweetheart. I don't like labels like "difficult", and I don't like treating my children or any child as if they are destined to be one way or another because of their birth order or any other irreversible fact about their life. But Nolan sure knows how to push buttons. He'll charm the pants offa ya and flash you a great smile while in the act of doing exactly what you've told him not to do. Sean, meanwhile, dissolves into a heap of tears if I simply look like I'm angry at him for misbehaving. He also finds creative ways to negotiate. He will come back to me a half hour after a discussion about something, because he's found a loophole in the arrangement. It's pretty amusing if frustrating, and I admire his thought process. But Nolan? When Nolan really wants something he can't have, he practically burns down the house--and then spits on it.
At the same time, he's the kid who crawls all over the dogs and hugs them. For all of his swagger and fiesty energy--and he has it in spades--he's an absolute love. He likes to be barefoot in the grass (and just about everywhere else). Sean, meanwhile, always has socks on his feet, and he prefers climate-controlled environments in which he can buy Doritos from a vending machine. But he always gets an extra bag for his screaming, barefoot and dirty little brother who rolls around in a pack of hairy animals. Sean tends toward being quietly thoughtful and considerate. Nolan tends toward being instensely affectionate and hands-on. They are as different as night and day.
And they teach me everything.
I didn't like being firm this morning. Really I just wanted everyone to be happy and not have to deal with any crap from anyone about anything. I just wanted to put on mascara in peace and maybe have an uninterrupted conversation with myself, let alone with someone else. But having children means being firmly rooted in the present moment and responding to the situations at hand, good or bad, while anticipating without anxiety what-comes-next. It's a delicate balance of energy and patience, hence my love-hate relationship with coffee.
My mom always said she wasn't "raising kids", but instead was "raising thinkers, taxpayers and voters." I understand: It's our job to raise our kids to function in the world. Whether or not they are smart is secondary to whether or not they work hard for what they achieve, grades or salary. Whether or not they are popular is less important than whether they treat others kindly and extend that same kindness to themselves and all living beings. Whether or not they are wealthy is far less important than if they are simply fiscally responsible. I just want them to be content with what they have and happy in their own skin while being compassionate, hard working people.
Am I setting them up to fail? Am I asking too much? Maybe I am.
Regardless, you don't get what you want in life by screaming and throwing things and pitching a full-blown hissy fit. I don't care how charming you are or how much I love you, it ain't gonna fly with me if you act like this:
Phew. It's Wednesday.