I crossed the line again tonight. It started with the Hungarian Goulash. Both children used to eat this dish when I prepared it. Then Sam stopped, but Nina continued. The past two times I’ve prepared it, neither child has eaten it. They want only the plain pasta. Every day they want pasta. Tonight, because of my current state of mind, I just couldn’t quite keep my calm about the change in their tastebuds.
“All you eat is pasta. Every day for dinner, all you want is pasta, pasta, pasta, pasta, pasta, PASTA! I am so, so tired of pasta!”
By the end of this my daughter was covering her ears and my son’s bottom lip was quivering. I knew I had lost my temper. But my next move, rather than make things better, made them worse. “I’m sorry. I lost my temper. Mommy is stressed out because Mommy has to deal with some people shortly that Mommy has had a disagreement with, and Mommy is feeling quite anxious about that.”
What? Was that supposed to make things better? I had just disobeyed Parenting Rule #4: “It’s OK to tell your children you lost your temper, but you must never, ever tell them why. You must be a good role model and tell them that it is your very own fault that you lost your temper. You must in particular not drag them into adult Drama.” When I go back and read that Parenting Manual, I discover that every single Rule (and there are so many I haven’t quite gotten through the whole manual, to be honest) contains that critical line: “You must be a good role model.” Why do I think my son finds it difficult to take responsibility for less-than ideal actions on his part? My trouble following Rule #4 definitely springs to mind.
So on the one hand I have the constant awareness of my status as role model. On the other hand is the peculiar sensation of being a doppelganger that comes from having children. When my daughter tells me she has no one to play with on the playground it is nearly impossible for me to stay in the present and not return immediately to the concrete block at the side of the elementary school playground where I would sit and read Tolkein while other children played kickball. When I watch my children practicing for their upcoming ballet show, I remember the feeling of performing music as a child, and the enormous happiness it brought me intensifies the joy I feel watching them dance now. And, to make matters more complicated, my reactions to other people’s children seem to travel through the filter of my childhood as well.
I waited a long time to have children and I am very glad I did. Providing a good role model while having my own childhood strings plucked by my children being children is a tall order. But I continue to hope that if I try to skim the Manual now and then, and mostly, if I love my children beyond any love I previously felt myself capable of, I am doing my part.