When I was in my twenties and single, I had a lot of epiphanies. Mostly they had to do with how not to be single any more.
I liked life on my own. Somewhat. I loved living in an apartment that was all mine–-no one to make a mess but me or my cat. No guilt if I wasn't doing something productive like cleaning. Not a soul breathing in my space.
But, without a doubt, I wanted to meet Mr. Amazing. He didn't seem to exist in Lansing, Michigan, where I lived for a good chunk of my young life. Seattle was better, but still full of guys who were full of themselves.
Then I met J. and in pretty quick order we had two kids.
I don't have epiphanies any more...the lovely dawning of existential understanding that comes over a person. For one thing, I don't sit around thinking about life as much as I used to. I mean, I guess I do. But it's more about balance and identity and parenting and less about how do I live as a single person while being okay with it or how do I meet that special someone who will complete me???
No longer do I spend Saturday mornings sprawled across my bed talking to other single girlfriends on the phone about who we met the night before, who we hope to meet, the world and our place in it.
Claire is six-and-a-half. Going on 15. She has inherited a pair of patent leather boots that are two sizes too big. She wears them anyway, almost everyday. She loves them. Style over function. That's my girl.
I decide to make cookies with her one day after school. She puts on a frilly apron I gave her the Christmas before. She is all little girl, rolling her dough balls in sprinkles and licking the beaters. She's receptive when I show her how to level off the flour and use a rubber spatula. She's adorable.
At breakfast that morning Max reads descriptions to her out of one of the gajillion toy catalogues we get (despite having flagged them all here). "The cheeky new monkey chatimal (approx. 9"H) loves to repeat what you say, but in his own funny voice. Simply squeeze his left paw and then record a short message..." It is childhood and siblinghood embodied. Another moment I want to hold in my hands like a clutch of brightly colored crayons.
But there are bad days, too. So many times when I think I'll go lock myself in the car if I have to hear them fighting or talking over each other to tell me some dumb story I don't give a shit about.
This morning I am walking Claire across the playground to where her class lines up. A special ed teacher approaches me and asks if I'm Max's mom.
She then, essentially, wonders aloud if I teach him any manners.
Ok, let me put that in context. Apparently she's been saying hello to Max for years with no response from my less than social son. Yesterday, she finally called him on it. She inquired why he never says hello back. "Because I don't want to," was his reply.
So the teacher said something along the lines of, "I'm sure your mom teaches you manners at home, right?"
He said, "Not really."
This upsets me because 1. I do try to teach my kids manners. Of course I do. J. and I both talk to Max constantly about responding when someone greets him. About how it feels to be met with silence when you make the effort to say hi. And, 2. I thought we'd made more progress than that.
It is a rainy, windy morning. Weather than causes my eyes to water incessantly. As the teacher talks, tears course down my face. She thinks I'm crying. "No!" I yelp. "It's the wind." But I don't think she believes me.
A couple hours later, I chaperone a field trip to the zoo that Claire has been excited about. And, I dunno, can I say this about my kid? She is obnoxious.
Claire is all kinds of brightness and lightness and empathetic and caring. But today she does not shine. She is a know-it-all, announcing that she already understands every single thing the docent teaches, because she'd been to zoo camp once two years before. She goes up to kids who brought a lunch box and admonishes them for not having brought a sack, as instructed. She makes it her personal mission to enforce the rule of "no picking things up from the ground". And at the end of it all? She tells me it has been the most boring field trip ever.
I'm not sure how much you'd have to pay me to chaperone the next one.
I feel like a big parenting fail right now.
Despite the games of Battleship across the coffee table, the hours of homework help, the baking together and tucking in at night, I'm wondering if I'm doing it wrong. Are my kids just immature, or do I really suck? Am I too distracted? Too uninterested? Can they read on my face that I truly am not fascinated when they put noodles down their pants?
I need an epiphany.