Night Terrors

Long before we gave birth to our two spunky, lively little humans; long before we were married; long before we could even legally order a beer with dinner, my high school sweetheart broke the news to me.

“I don’t know if I can have children.”

Sure, it sounds like a funny thing for a 17 year-old boy to bring up during a date…but we both had a feeling that this was “it” very early in our relationship, and he was well-aware of my “I want so many children we may have to live in a shoe” dreams.

After the shock wore off, I assured him that whatever medical thing was going on, we could deal with it when it was time, or we could adopt, or we could hire a surrogate, or we could finish our dinner at TGI Fridays and talk about it in ten years…

“No, I just don’t….I don’t know if I’m really cut out to be anyone’s dad. I don’t think I would be a very good father. I don’t…think it’s a good idea. I just needed you to know that, so there aren’t any surprises later, and you can end this and find someone who can give you what you need.”

The heaviness of his gaze met mine and the lightbulb finally flashed in my mind. Of course he didn’t think he could be anyone’s father. His childhood had been full of more pain and hardship than even an adult should have to endure. The only example of fatherhood presented to him was something out of a worst-case scenario manual.

I gave him the “I understand” smile and we finished our cheesy chicken skillets and moved on with our night. But I’ve never forgotten that conversation. I’ve never forgotten the handful of similar conversations he’s initiated over the next several years.

And they all come back to me, loud and clear, on nights like last night.

It was some ungodly hour and we were in Round 3 of the dreaded night terrors. Screaming, wide eyes, hyperventilating- if you’ve never experienced them, I highly recommend it. They’re a hoot.

My singing, cradling, cooing, and kissing were met with nothing but louder screams- until Daddy walked in. I stood by helplessly as Grace reached out and curled herself around his chest.  I saw her little fingers press into his arms and her head drop peacefully onto his shoulder. I watched her take a deep breath, wiggle her toes, and settle into a completely peaceful state as Pat wrapped his arms around her, began to sway, and whispered “You’re ok, my Gracie. You’re ok, Gracie girl. I’m here. It’s ok.”

And a memory popped into my tired, frazzled head: “I don’t think I would be a very good father.”

I left him to do his magic and wandered groggily back to our bedroom, where our 13-year old dachshund, Rocco, was expecting a damn good reason for his 3rd unwanted wake-up call.

Looking at his old, gray face, I thought about a night many years ago- long before we knew what a night terror was- when it was a ruthless stomach bug keeping us up.

I remembered stumbling from the bathroom to the bedroom for the 913th time and finding a sight so strange that I thought I was hallucinating. There was my husband, lying on a sheet on the floor, with our new puppy cradled in his arms.

Pat had looked at me and whispered- so as not to wake the dog- “He threw up on all of his beds and a bunch of sheets, and he was scared and cold, so I’m sleeping on the floor with him so he feels safe.”

……“I don’t know if I’m really cut out to be anyone’s dad.”…..

Long after Pat got back into bed last night, Rocco had settled back into sleep, and they were both snoring gently, I stared at the ceiling and let more memories swirl through my head.

The morning that Vince was too afraid to walk into his school because there were too many “big” kids, so Pat sat on the curb with him for 10 minutes, discussing his feelings and his fears and giving him the courage to walk through the door.

……”I don’t think I have the patience for it.”……

The night Marty came home from her spay surgery, sedated and aching, and Pat put her head on his lap, fed her one piece of food at a time and rubbed her back.

…..”I’m not sure I’d be very good at taking care of a child.”……

The day Rocco went into acute liver failure and Pat climbed down from the bridge he was inspecting, drove an hour to the emergency vet, cradled our almost-lifeless, drooling, bleeding puppy in his arms and assured him that “It’s going to be ok, Buddy, you’re going to make it,” handed him to the vet staff…and walked to the car and sobbed.

…..”I’m not one of those people who shows a ton of emotion.”…..

The night Vince was admitted to the hospital with an unrelenting 106-degree fever and Pat climbed into the hospital bed with him and played the same episode of Mickey Mouse on his phone until the battery died.

The weekend we drove to Brooklyn to visit Pat while he was away for work, and he found someone to cover his night shift so he could fall asleep with his son, his wife and her growing baby bump in his arms.

…..”I’m not great at huge displays of affection.”….

The afternoon that I heard him scolding Vince for throwing a tantrum by saying, “You know, you have no right to yell at us…actually, we have no right to yell at you either. No one should be yelling- sometimes we do because we’re frustrated, but I’ll tell you what. If you can work on your yelling, we’ll work on ours too.”

You know what? You’re right, Pat. You were right all those years ago and you’re still right today. Your patience runs out too quickly sometimes. You have so many rules. You expect a lot. You don’t always know what to say to calm them down. Your dry sense of humor is often lost on them.

You aren’t a very good father. You weren’t cut out for this.

You’re a phenomenal father.

You were MADE for this.

Learning from the best is natural. Figuring it out on your own despite being stuck with arguably the worst of situations? That’s damn near miraculous.

Naturally, all this deep reflection caused me to sleep through my alarm and rush around like a maniac this morning. But in the middle of my frantic apple-washing and sippy-cup filling, I caught a glimpse of Vince zipping up Grace’s favorite “kitty-cat” boots and reminding her, “Keep your mouth open so I can brush your back teeth too, Gracie Girl.” I stood still, forgot about my sleep deprivation, and smiled. Because a thought had just popped into my head.

Our son? Someday, he’s going to be a great father.

He’s learning from the best.

Failing

Do you ever get the feeling you’re just not cut out for something?

I was pondering this as I pulled out of the elementary school parking lot this morning.

The “something” in question?

Parenthood.

It played over and over in my head as my car sped further away from the scene of my sad little epiphany.

I had just abandoned a shaking, sobbing Vince in front of his school, passing him off to a person I didn’t even know.

I had then raced down the school steps back to my car, only to be hit with the realization that I had left Gracie in the backseat with the engine humming and not one, but TWO doors open.

The person I didn’t know was a teacher; Vince cries whenever I can’t walk him all the way to his class; and Gracie was in the middle of a drop-off line 10 feet away from me.

But this was the icing on the dirt cake that has been our daily routine lately. This was the moment that I finally caved in and admitted it.

I’m failing.

I wasn’t always such a disorganized, frazzled mess. I used to be “That Mom.” I was the mom that didn’t yell; if Vince was having a meltdown we sat together, took two deep breaths, and calmly discussed his feelings.

I was the mom whose kids felt completely at ease with her. We had a safe, loud, warm, free, happy little existence.

I was living a completely different existence this morning as I tried to calm the screeching, foot-stomping melee that ensued after I threw away an old Bandaid.

Yes, you read that correctly.

“It was my favorite one! I need it back!”

“Vince, please calm down. We have plenty of-“

“Where is it?!”

“Please stop looking through the garbage, Vince; it’s outside in the trash.”

“No. NOOO!!”

Cue the dramatic collapse to the floor.

I was living this same existence at 2am on Wednesday while a mostly-asleep Grace flailed wildly, cried out incoherent words and kicked me in the face as punishment for rocking her and whispering “It’s ok, Mommy’s here.”

Yes, you read that correctly.

“I need Daddy! I want DADDY!”

“Honey, it was a nightmare. Daddy’s asleep, but Mommy is here. I can make it better-“

“DADDYYYYY!!!”

I stood by helplessly as Daddy swooped in, scooped her into his arms, pressed her against this chest, and, as my (slightly aching) jaw dropped to the ground, she immediately- immediately!- grew silent and serene.

I’m living this existence every single day when Grace responds to “Can you please clean your play doh?” by spitting at me and Vince reacts to “Please put away those Legos” by re-enacting my response to every episode of This Is Us.

I don’t know what happened to my children, but it appears they’ve been replaced by 3-foot tall teenagers with the hormones of several menopausal women.

And somewhere between dropping Vince off and pulling onto the highway, I determined that it’s entirely my fault.

I thought that a patient, understanding approach to parenting was best. But I must be wrong.

The Baby Boomers in my social media feed must be right- I’m not “putting the fear of God in them” like I should be.

But then again…when I yell, Vince shuts down. He refuses to look at me. All of the sparkle in his bright blue eyes fades to gray. I can’t reach him.

When I yell, Grace yells back. She throws herself on the ground. She carries on until she’s completely transformed from a person into a bobcat with a mouse trap on its tail.

So maybe I’m yelling too much? Maybe I’ve gone too far in the other direction? Maybe constantly asking them to “Quiet down, stop running around the table so close to the water cooler, don’t throw that ball by the television, for the last time, the dog is not a pony, get off her!” is too mean?

By the time I pulled up to Grace’s daycare an hour later (my commute is a dream, I tell you. A dream), I had reached the following conclusions:

  1. My children are completely out of control
  2. I am a total failure
  3. I am too lax with them
  4. I am too hard on them
  5. I am too everything
  6. I am not enough of anything
  7. I should just leave and let their father raise them alone

I was knee-deep in mom guilt. I could barely wade through it by the time I got to my desk.

Yes, I read other parent blogs. Actually, a more accurate description is that I devour them as a form of reassurance that I am not alone on this ship called “Raising Kids” that keeps threatening to sink.  I’ve nodded enthusiastically while reading all of the “you are not failing!” blog entries.

But I really am.

I stood in the living room this morning and said… after listening to 5 solid minutes of sobbing because he was upset that I let him sleep late (yes, you read that correctly)… I actually SAID these words to my son.  “Do you want to go live somewhere else? Do you want a different mommy and daddy? Because obviously we aren’t doing it for you, Vince. No matter how hard we try, you’re not happy! So maybe you want different parents. Do you want me to find them for you?”

I’ve completely lost it. I’m a horrible, useless, ineffective, mean, sorry excuse for a-

“Beep.”

I turned to look at my phone and saw an email from Vince’s teacher. My heart sank- no, plummeted- to the floor.

He told her I was giving him away. She was calling the police. Or child services. Or both. She was emailing to give me a stern warning to stop being so hard on him, he was just a little boy. Or she was emailing to tell me he wouldn’t calm down, he was being completely irrational, and I needed to get control of my child.

“Good Morning! Vincent wanted me to let you know that he is having a great day. I tested him and he is on G for Green! Congratulations! All his hard work is paying off. He is thrilled! Have a great weekend!”

I stared at it. Then I read it again. Then I exhaled for what I believe was the first time in 2 hours.

After struggling with reading for months, my little guy had finally reached the coveted “Green” reading level. We had been practicing his 10 words – and laughing until we cried every time he saw a-r-e and declared, “ARRRR!!” And he had done it- he passed! And the first person he wanted to tell, the person he wanted his teacher to email right that second, in the middle of class….was me.

I’m not failing.

So I guess it’s my turn now.

Frazzled, self-imposed guilt-ridden parent who is reading this…you are NOT a failure. Your kids will be ethereally, phenomenally, angelically perfect some days. Some days they will behave like wild animals. Some days you’ll get a little of both.

You’ll be too hard on them. And too lax. You’ll be too everything, and not enough of anything. One day you might snap and tell them you’re selling them to the circus (or in my case, ask them maniacally if they want a parental upgrade).

But you’ll get them to adulthood. And you’ll do it whichever way is right for YOU.

They’ll grow into kind, compassionate, successful, hopefully non-spitting members of society.

We’re not failing…we all just need a reminder sometimes.