Snow days are fun, and I'm always happy to be handed the gift of extra time with my kids. But the snow days this week have made the fine art of juggling kids and work very tricky, though. The kids have been home from school for three days now, and Tuesday, as I raced off from class to scoop them up from Scott's office, I felt both frazzled and grateful: frazzled that I had lost my precious office hour time that day, yet grateful that I had been given a chance to revisit those old days of tag-team parenting from when the kids were very young. I took the kids for pizza lunch on Tuesday and as we sat there, in a booth at our favorite pizza place, I wrapped my arms around the kids and squeezed them close.
"I'm so thankful Mother Nature gave us this chance to have lunch together," I told them.
"You have to thank Father Time, too," L. added.
I thought about that for a minute and realized he was right. Thank you Mother Nature and Father Time. Even though I've done my fair share of grumbling about missed deadlines and too much racing around this week, I am truly grateful for the gift you gave us. Really and truly.
Although I wasn't so sure about that on the car ride over to the pizza place.
My kids love each other, I know they do. But much of the time I'm not sure they like each other. There's a difference, I know. All brothers and sisters fight and squabble--at least most do. But there's a deep, different type of competitiveness that runs through my kids, born from the types of sibling imbalances you find in any family who faces challenges like autism. When my kids are thrown together for prolonged periods of time they simply can't seem to get along. They are all yin and yang--their personalities and approaches to life are vastly different. Their relationship with the other is either intensely loving, or intensely just the opposite; seldom is there an in-between.
When I picked the kids up from Scott's office on Tuesday and told them I was taking them out for lunch as a treat T. asked for pizza, and L. asked for noodles. They were both hungry and tired and the fight that erupted in the van over this dispute was loudly angry (L.) and loudly tearful (T.) and pushed this hungry, frazzled (but still trying to hold onto the being grateful part) mama over the edge. I pulled over and stopped the car.
"Why can't you two EVER get along?" I'm afraid I shouted at them. "Why is it that when one of you says "A" the other says "B?"
Then, feeling like a jerk, I left my kids to ponder that abstract question and drove to the parking lot of the pizza place.
L. let out a wail of anger as we parked. "You're picking pizza because you love T. more," L. yelled to me from the back seat. In the rear view mirror I saw T. smile a watery, triumphant smile.
I was horrified. Did L. really think I picked pizza over noodles because I loved T. more? Did T. think I loved her more because I picked pizza? It seemed ridiculous, yet terrible at the same time. Yet I remember being young and fastening the same type of weighted meaning to my parents' actions and decisions. I wasn't sure how to turn the situation into a salvageable teaching moment; to reassure both L. and T. that the choice had nothing to to do with love, that love wasn't about arbitrary decisions over food, or who got to play with what toy; nor does it vanish like smoke with ugly words or tears, or even on the heels of terrible mistakes made in the flash of anger.
In the end, I'm not sure just how much of a teaching moment it all turned out to be. Pizza was a happy medium, I told the kids--something we all three loved. It was far better to settle for a choice that made three people satisfied and content, then to make a choice that left one person unhappy (T. doesn't like noodle house noodles). We trooped through the cold rain into the pizza place, T. still sniffing back tears, L. with his arms crossed angrily around his chest.
And I was kind of mad, too.
But there in the booth, with the warm smell of the pizza all around us, the kids folded themselves into me, one on each side, and all the ugly words and tears and anger vanished, like a light turned off.
Sometimes I think I worry too much about how every bump in the parenting road I encounter must be made into a big pivotal teachable moment, or else I will have failed my kids; led them astray, let them down, somehow. Sometimes I try to fix things, like my kids' sibling rivalry--things that may not ever be fixed, or might take years to "fix", or really don't need fixing, anyway. Sometimes you just need to be there, in the middle of the moment, just so you can get through it to the other side, together. I have learned, as a parent, that you can't satisfy both kids at once, and sides have to be picked, whether you like it or not. I hope though that my kids do learn that in our house love isn't measured, or bartered, or negotiated, or sold; that it will always be there, unyielding and ever-forgiving, no matter what.
Even if sometimes my kids don't like each other.
Even if I lose my patience and raise my voice.
Even if it's pizza and not noodles.