I was checking my mailbox on Friday when my neighbor pulled up alongside our driveway and rolled down her window. We chatted for a few minutes. L. was in the house and I'd had to walk away, because I was close to snapping point. It had been a rough, tough school pick-up and car ride home--L. was a grouchy mess.
And when I say grouchy, I mean GROUCHY.
I've been doing a lot of walking away lately, and I'm not proud of it. When my kids were younger people used to always tell me how patient I was, although I know for a fact I wasn't always patient. Still, when your kids are babies you tend to roll with things more, I think. You expect your very young children to cry at all hours, to spit their food up all over you, to throw a big tantrum in public, to scribble on freshly painted walls with a Sharpie only one day before your house is due to go on the market. But as your kids get older, I think, too much catches you off-guard. Expectations rise, and often they aren't met. Your older kids are, after all, still children, still growing emotionally as well as physically. But sometimes I forget this--too often, perhaps. L.'s meltdowns and flat-out grouchy spells still catch me off guard, even though we've been dealing with them for years (surely he will grow out of them?). His refusal to eat still throws me into a mental tailspin. T.'s been weepy and clingy lately--taking forever to fall asleep at night, asking for story after story, and hugs and more hugs, and tissues and water and on and on until her bedtime has come and gone twice over. I feel my patience start to crack and I have to walk away. I've always had trouble negotiating that line between being there to help my kids through their troubled times, and giving them the tools they need to get through them on their own.
It was a relief to head out to the driveway for a little (sweltering) air on Friday and to talk with my neighbor. She has two toddlers, very close in age. She's a wonderful mother--kind and careful--but it's hard to have toddlers sometimes. It's hard to have a ten-year old, too, and it's sometimes hard to have a six-year old. It's hard to be a parent, and it's hard to parent.
"You're so patient all the time," my neighbor said to me, as I stood and listened to her talk about her difficulties. My eyes almost welled up with tears. Inside I was thinking back to the ugly scene in the house just moments before, when I had stood close to snapping point, and I'm sure my face, to L., had reflected all the bubbling-under-the-surface impatience I had felt inside.
"I don't know about patient," I said to her, and I told her about the scene and the walking away.
"Oh, I've been there a million times," she said.
I think we all have, really--because our kids keep on changing; it's hard for us to keep up sometimes. But we keep on loving them, and learning to walk away when we have to, and loving them some more, and all the while that love keeps on growing, filling up all the spaces in-between, bringing us back.