Sunday was one of those days. After a ridiculously busy week punctuated by a ridiculously busy weekend, we were all cranky and quite frankly, doing our best to be left to our own devices.
When we did have to interact, we were abrupt with one another; patience and tolerance and energy all in short supply, but perhaps mine was the shortest supply of all.
Despite my very lucid understanding that I could change my tone and expectations, I was not always pleasant when interacting with my kids. We would have a good hour, playing Connect Four or reading stories, and then somebody would whine and I would be rigid and the whining whining whining and then my absolute failure to redirect energy and then the tears.
Eventually, after a post-birthday party meltdown, my younger daughter just crashed, her mood afterwards benefitting greatly from an hour’s nap. But my older daughter just got more tired, cranky and whiny as the day wore on.
So did I.
I was preparing an early dinner and the merciful start to the end of this day when my older daughter wandered back into the kitchen, bored and yes, whiny. I told her no more snacking. I suggested things for her to do. I ordered her outside where her sister and father were playing. I shooed her away from the pantry again. I told her she could not watch TV, eat, or stand here whining. I basically told her to get lost.
She got mad and ran to her room, separating us with a fantastic door slam. I heard her crying dramatically. It didn’t bother me.
Eventually I knocked on the door and asked her if I could come in. I don’t believe in shunning children and just wanted to basically say, I know we’re having a bad day. No hard feelings. Instead, she screamed at me to get out. I left. Again, it didn’t really bother me. She’s almost eight years old, entitled to a bit of theatrics.
Soon, dinner was ready, we all joined together at the table and a tenacious peace blanketed the house for the rest of the evening. The kids went to sleep calmly. We were all exhausted and I was ready for a new start to a new day.
And then this morning, as I made my way to the coffee maker, I saw a note taped to my daughter’s door. It was Sharpie on Kleenex and it read:
MOMMY you are not alowd to come into my room ever agan. I don’t think you love me eny more.
I felt my heart crumple.
The girls were leaving for school in five minutes, so that’s how long I had to figure out how to deal with what was becoming the lowest point I had ever experienced as a mother.
“I see you have a new note on your door,” My intention was that I say it with neutrality. She smirked at me, shrugged. I continued, “We can talk about it later, but that note hurts my feelings, so I want you to decide whether or not you want to leave it up today.”
And I walked into my room, where my tears could fall without making her feel guilty.
We had reached a crossroads, my daughter and me.
The words she had written bit into my skin like daggers, and what oozed out was shame, guilt and sadness. I had crossed a threshold, found the limit to what my daughter would tolerate from me; had crossed the line, her line, from Mom, you’re having a bad day but I know it’s not about me, to Mom, you’re having a bad day and you’re taking it out on me and it affects me.
I will remember this, I thought. I will remember that as my children grow up I am the architect of our relationship, and I want it to be a sturdy relationship. I am not always right just because I am the mother and if I was operating with impunity, that time is over. I do not ever want my child to think I don’t love her, even if her last straw was that I wouldn’t let her watch a show.
I washed my face and prepared to see my children off for the day. I glanced at my daughter’s door.
The note was gone.
But I’m sure we will both remember the words she wrote for a long time.