“All parents damage their children. It cannot be helped. Youth, like pristine glass, absorbs the prints of its handlers. Some parents smudge, others crack, a few shatter childhood completely into jagged little pieces, beyond repair.” -Mitch Albom, The Five People You Meet in Heaven
That quote has squatted in every crevice of my brain, filled every pore, and hung like a weighted vest on my shoulders ever since I read it. It’s been several weeks since I finished reading The Five People You Meet in Heaven, the book has been returned to the library, other books have been read in an effort to white out that quote, but there it sits! I see the quote, running over and over across my closed eyelids, like my own personal closed captioning narrating my life.
Carson, for the fiftieth time, has pushed Ella or maybe he’s just touched her with his index finger, the exact offense is unimportant. But it’s the fiftieth time that he’s done whatever he’s done and the forty-ninth time that I’ve told him to stop pestering his sister.
I’ve spent all day cleaning, vacuuming, dusting, washing and folding laundry. The children have begged to go outside for most of the day. I finally agree even after looking in defeat outside at the mud, those brown, menacing patches, enemies among the blades of green grass. I make the children swear that they won’t play in the mud, they won’t even look at the mud. Carson and Ella do more than look at the mud, they wallow in it, somehow they’re completely painted in brown in the two seconds that I look away.
After I completely lose my shit, I wonder if this is the outburst that will leave prints on my pristine children, leaving them as broken adults in a therapist’s office retelling the time I screamed at them for getting mud everywhere. When they grow up, are they going to say that they don’t want to be the type of parent their mother had been, because I couldn’t handle that. I just want to be the type of parent my children say they want to be themselves. I imagine Carson and Ella as adults, lying on their pillows facing their spouses in the dark of night talking quietly after their own children have long been asleep. Are they going to describe me as impatient, annoyed, burdened, yelling, or worse?
In a world where nothing is absolute, how can I possibly teach Carson and Ella what they need to know? Watch out for strangers! Strangers are dangerous! But not all strangers, some strangers are nice. Don’t let anyone touch you in your private areas! Except sometimes it’s okay, like when Mommy and Daddy are giving you a bath. Don’t yell at Mommy! Except that you’ve learned yelling from Mommy.
I’m so paranoid about doing it all wrong. I don’t want Carson and Ella to grow up and say that I was too lenient, that they wished I’d pushed them more, or that I was too strict and that they felt like rebelling against me was their only way out. I just want to do it right without leaving them as the casualties of my novice parenting skills.
Carson and I constantly butt heads, not literally, but the figurative is just as bothersome. I don’t want it to be this way. I want to be the type of parent who is patient and usually smiling, less irritated and more amused at his three-year-old antics. I don’t want the majority of what I say to him be weighted, heavily, with the word “no.” My tone of voice when I talk to him is always so stern. Where is the gentle mom that I always imagined myself to be?
Instead of getting angry or yelling, sometimes I’m able to catch myself in those frustrating parenting moments and use humor to diffuse the situation. Both of my children love being tickled, it can be the perfect deterrent.
“If you do that again,” I’ll say in my most serious mom voice, my arms crossed over my chest and my eyebrows raised in stern indignation, “I guess I’ll just have to tickle you. That’s right. You heard me. Better watch out because here come my tickle fingers!!!” The children run screaming and laughing, taunting me to chase them.
“More, Mommy! MORE!” Ella squeals in delight.
“No! Don’t tickle me,” Carson pleads as he inches ever closer to my wiggling fingers. I honor his request and don’t tickle him until he finally breaks and begs for my fingers to dance across his belly.
These are the prints, the dancing fingerprints, that I want to leave as an always learning, always changing, always striving to do better parent. These are the prints that I pray will cover more of my children than the marred prints left by impatience and yelling. These are the prints I can only hope will keep their little lives from becoming shattered, in pieces, and unrepairable.