The sound of heavy items being dragged over the wooden floor made a small blip on my consciousness, but no big waves. The kids must be getting into something. What’s new? One thing was for sure, emerging from my warm cocoon of down bedding was not going to improve my peace of mind. I stayed put.
Eventually little giggles were heard at my door, then the bandits broke into my sanctuary. “Let’s jump on her feet!” Milo suggested gleefully.
“No! DON’T get on my bed!” I commanded, kicking my feet vigorously under the covers to discourage boarders.
“Come see what we’ve done! We’re really strong!” Milo boasted.
“Yeah, we’re really strong,” Naomi echoed.
We define normal by what is familiar. Not what is good by some higher standard of truth, but just what we have experienced. That’s one of the things I find the hardest about parenting. How do I know if I’m doing it right? Whether I’ve been strict enough, or too lenient….the very subjectivity makes I impossible to be sure my approach is good. The second-guessing and uncertainty is draining. And besides, I don’t often get the chance to watch other parenting styles in action.
“Hi Molly. Just wondering if you would like to come to ours for a playdate this arvo.” Kyla had texted me one Thursday morning inviting Naomi over to play with her preschool friend Summer.
“Sure, we’d love to, what time suits?” I had responded. I was interested in Kyla. She had had her children a bit later in life than I had mine, and she genuinely seemed to enjoy them. Before kids she had been quite athletic with tennis and biking, but seemed unembittered that those days were over. Despite her career being put on hold with the advent of the kids, she didn’t seem to be resentful. So different from myself.
When we arrived the girls had quickly disappeared into Summer’s bedroom, and I waited for them to emerge dressed to the nines in pink and sparkles. Kyla and I sat sipping some tea, talking about work, our families, and what to make with minced turkey for dinner. Faint noises could be heard from Summer’s room; no squabbling, so things must be going well. A few gentle bumps indicated some activity or another. “I might just go check on the girls,” Kyla murmured, tipping her ear towards the rustling.
She didn’t come back immediately. I glanced around the living room; it was a sparsely decorated house, new and modern with neutral colors. Not very interesting. I decided to go see what was up.
Kyla was just gathering an empty laundry basket and a cardboard box, and heading out the back door. I followed her around the side of the house to a giant pile of bedroom debris heaped under the open window. Blankets and pillows, infant clothes and socks, puzzle pieces and picture books all in a giant mound. Kyla calmly started gathering up handfuls, pushing the bigger items back through the window and scooping the smaller ones into the boxes. I followed suit. “Come on girls, let’s get these things picked up,” she said. The girls just stood there and tittered, obviously revelling in the mess they’d made.
“Naomi, here!” I thrust a pillow into her arms. “Bring that back to Summer’s room…” “…Please.” I added, as an afterthought.
Kyla proceeded without hurry and without any visible annoyance. I glanced at her. Was she on extra good mommy behavior because we were present? Or was she genuinely not incensed that the girls had purposely emptied the entire contents of Summer’s closet out the bedroom window into the rain? I certainly couldn’t get growly with Naomi in the presence of a saint, so I bit my tongue and in pretend calm sorted out at least 10 separate puzzles whose pieces had all been mixed.
The clean-up took the remainder of our visit time, and it was with relief that we departed to collect Milo from school. I needed some time to think.
If Naomi and Milo had pulled that stunt at my house, they would have been told in no uncertain terms how disgusted I was with their behaviour. Every item tossed through the window would have been confiscated, even if it meant that they slept with no pillows or blankets for the next week. There would have been tears and gashing of teeth, because that’s what remorse for such a sinful act should entail….right?
Or did Kyla have it right?
Who was enjoying their motherhood experience more?
Then whose parenting technique was working better?
Perhaps I had better work on chilling out.
“How did the play date with Summer go?” Suzie asked at preschool the next day. It’s one of the fantastic things about the little Montessori preschool the kids attend; the teachers are so good at remembering details.
“Good,” I said automatically, then my memory caught up. “Actually,” I said, conspiratorially, “Naomi and Summer were super naughty. They emptied every item they could reach out of Summer’s closet and dumped it through the window onto the ground outside! They even shook the puzzles out of the boxes!” Suzie’s eyes widened and she drew in her breath. Gemma paused to get an earful of the juicy story. “Kyla didn’t even bat an eye!” I continued, betraying the debate that had been fermenting in my mind. “She just calmly gathered up all the stuff into boxes! If Naomi had done that at MY house I’d have been LIVID! I would have said “NAOMI!” “ I smacked my palms together, indicating vindictive action. Then I asked the snoopy question that had been on my mind: “Is Kyla really that chill?”
“Kyla is the most chilled out person I know,” Suzie admitted. “But don’t feel bad, I would have been as angry as you.” That’s some consolation, I thought. Suzie is still a good preschool teacher.
“Yes, we can’t be who we aren’t,” Gemma added. Not such good consolation. We all have room for improvement. We can reframe our “normal.” Maybe my normal should be more relaxed, slower to anger, quicker to see the humor in a situation. Maybe I’d be happier that way.
“Thanks for the idea of turkey pumpkin soup. It was delicious. Kids loved it J” Kyla texted later that evening.
“Yay, good for you!” I texted back. “Thanks for having us over today, and I’m sorry for the naughtiness the girls got into. That was likely a Naomi move.”
“No worries at all. They are just being kids. Pretty funny. Totally should have taken a photo J”
Yeah…I need to chill out.
So this morning when faced with a tangle of chairs baring my way to the toilet and the teapot, do you know what I did? I chilled out.
“That’s quite a project you’ve been doing, Milo,” I observed. “Why are the chairs in the hallway?”
“We wanted the dining room to be empty so we could play round and round,” he informed me.
“Well, did you find that missing game piece under the rug when you moved it?” I asked, hopefully.
“What game piece?” Milo said. “We were really strong to move all that stuff, weren’t we?”
“Yes, you sure were,” I agreed. “While the floor is clear maybe I’ll vacuum, and we could take the opportunity to rearrange the furniture. But we have to do it before you go to school.”
“Alright, the chairs feel even easier to move on the way back because I’m getting stronger!” Milo announced, all confidence.
The chairs, tables and rugs were moved back with no tears. No gnashing of teeth. No punishments. I still got a cup of tea, and I never sit down to eat my breakfast anyway. Maybe there’s something in this chilled out thing after all.