My kids have been getting into a lot of trouble lately, and it’s exhausting. It seems like most conversations involve bartering and logical banter. I think most parents recognize that the only one walking away feeling foolish after trying to create a syllogism with a child is the adult.
My kids will need to pick up their toys when they’re done with them.
Layla and Zade are my kids.
Therefore, Layla and Zade will need to pick up their toys when they’re done with them.
It’s simple, really. But it doesn’t come out this way (if it comes out at all). Right around when I’m telling the kids they can play with blue play dough if they pack it up and put it away, Zade asks, “Where’s the green truck?” I pause and get back to what I was saying, and Layla, who is wearing a cardigan and faux riding boots like a 17-year old, yells over my throaty words as she defends, “But I didn’t put those Legos there. I told Zade to clean them UP!” I sit there wondering how every simple explanation became such a small battle. As I hand Zade the green truck and assuage Layla’s defense for an issue I wasn’t even thinking about, I try to breathe through my frustration.
There are times I desperately parry with them as their high and higher voices pitch over my rational self. I look like an adult with my bigger body and my title, Mom, but if I were to open up like a new children’s book, one could see a picture of me having a tantrum. I pat myself on the back when I winnow the important stuff, separating the noise from what needs to happen. Mostly, though, I’ve heard the way I sometimes sound to them through the boisterous parroting of my children.
Today while I was cooking, I tuned in. When Layla got mad at Zade, I heard her express, “Zade! What did I tell you? You’re not listening! I just need some quiet time!” Or when they played with their dolls and action figures together, Zade disciplined Spiderman with a long time-out and a lecture. He told me not to let Spiderman out of the room for five minutes because Spiderman hit his sister with the small toy car. Their cathartic role play was quite funny as they tested out an authoritative command with such little voices. I chopped tomatoes for the salad as I listen to them innocently use my models.
If I listen sharply enough, I hear a standard I’m setting with my kids. When I’m just reacting in the best way I can as I put out toddler fires, my kids are unconsciously taking note of my voice inflections, my proud parenting moments, and sometimes (whether I want them to or not) my own interior toddler tantrums. I’m both within and without in these moments, the mom governing and the mom watching from 15 years away.
As the sun went down tonight, the kids played together well again, but soon enough they transitioned to bickering passionately. It wasn’t until they saw that Kal had started the sprinkler outside that they dropped their argument in uniform excitement. They joined forces and forgot their mommy parody. They dolloped on their shoes and funny accessories and ran through the water, liberated. Together they knew that fun was waiting for them and they were going to reach for it together no matter the temperature or the time. I felt relieved to see the kids move back into their own voices, their own way of being.
I reflect on our feelings so often that a reprieve from seeing a magic mirror of my parent self is definitely welcomed. I am warmed, however, thinking about Layla and Zade’s future jokes about my mannerisms and eventual go-to lecture lines. I know my brother and I certainly share our own about our parents. And the inevitable continues, as our present gives fodder for the future.