Sunday, January 23, 2011

Work in Progess

Ok, I admit it: sometimes, I am totally and completely HUMILIATED by my own children's behavior. I don't mean just that my cheeks get a little flushed and I laugh nervously (although I do that, too). I mean that I've seriously fantasized about walking away from them in a grocery store and pretending I've never seen these two little boys before, even whispering conspiratorially to a stranger, "Why doesn't someone do something about those children?".

Once, a lifetime ago, I assumed that I would do this child-rearing thing RIGHT, that children who misbehaved were simply a product of poor parenting. I was certain that loving discipline would cure any child of rudeness, tantrums, hitting, whining, or pooping in one's pants beyond the age of two. I had it all figured out.

And then I met my blue-eyed boys.

And while they are generally delightful little human beings, they have some rough moments. They are prone to tearing each other's hair out the moment I sit down to go to the bathroom. Eli has a penchant for electronic destruction that has recently cost us both a DVD player and a car CD player. And Jonah told me a bold-face lie last week about why he didn't receive a reward from the kindergarten "treasure suitcase". It's all enough to make even the most confident mama question whether parental control is just a facade, prone to collapse at the most inopportune moments.

It seems to me that this pathological drive to feel like we are "getting it right" with our kids may be particularly pronounced in those of us who have temporarily left our careers to spend our days changing diapers and driving to soccer practice. We no longer have quarterly or even yearly evaluations from our bosses to let us know how we are doing at our chosen vocation. Our only measure of success in this particular field of work seems often to be our children: Are they happy? Are they well-behaved? Are the "successful" in school or activities? And if they're not, what do we do? We can't be demoted or fired (although Jonah must strongly disagree, since he recently informed me that he planned to go find a "new mom"... ouch). When things are hard at home with our kiddos, we simply drink more coffee, read more frustratingly contradictory parenting books, ask our often equally clueless friends for advice, and try to press on. At times like these, I'd give anything for a written report like the ones I received when I was a high school teacher, extoling my pedagogical virtues even when all my students weren't quite geniuses.

But last week, when Eli refused to share the matchbox cars and Jonah exclaimed, "he never shares!", I heard myself reminding Jonah, "I know sharing is hard for him right now. But he's learning everyday. Can you try to be patient with him while he learns?"

And then it hits me. This is the advice I so badly need myself. These children aren't merely with me for a semester. We have a "forever" kind of thing going on here, and while my boys certainly aren't perfect, they're learning every day. Thursday, Eli made it through a playdate without whacking anyone. Jonah didn't throw a tantrum when we refused to buy him a stuffed shark at the aquarium this morning. It's these kind of little things that often make a huge difference in my day. These boys are works in progress. Beautiful, messy, and complicated... but they're not finished yet.

And thank goodness... neither am I.