There are times in parenthood when you observe the behavior of another child and you are thrilled that they are not YOUR child. As a child melts down in the middle of a store, or goes wild in a restaurant or hits their parents in public, etc. you are thrilled that it's not YOUR child attracting all this attention. There's even a little self congratulatory devil sitting on your shoulder bemoaning the obvious parental shortcomings of the other parent and/or mentally disciplining the poor out-of-control child. The angel on your other shoulder (the one who knows of Karma, cosmic justice and God's wonderful sense of humor) warns you that on another day, that will be you. To exhibit forgiveness and not judgement, patience and not exasperation, and for-God's-sake to control your facial expressions!
Now there are also times in parenthood when you hear or see something with another child and you WISH that were YOUR child. You know, when you hear Competitive Mommy Extraordinaire exclaim, "Little Timmy started reading when he was 3" or "Little Mary potty trained at 18 months" and that devil on your shoulder says, "you should be jealous! what can YOUR kid do?" Meanwhile, the angel is tsk-tsking and reminding you that all kids do their own special things and grow on their own timeline.
Recently, I had the mind-blowing experience of having my kid be THAT kid on the same day. Now perhaps I'm tired, worn-out, slightly crazy or all of the above... but I found my mental capacity completely lacking in how to handle both.
Last Friday, as I was dropping William off at school, his teacher pulled me aside. Uh-oh, I thought, what's this? But she said, "This is my 8th year of teaching and I have to tell you that in my 7 years of teaching so far, I have NEVER had a kid who reads like William. He pulled a book off the shelf and read it today and it's a book most 2nd graders can't read!" She then proceeded to praise his behavior, patience, maturity, etc. and tell me what an absolute pleasure he is to have in class. I was glowing, walking on air, thrilled beyond belief. Here was my little boy, a star in school already and not only that, but socially pleasant as well. "Well!" I told myself, "I must be doing something right!" My child was THAT child today. The one who could stand out in a good way. Insert Fate shaking her head here and proceed to our play date a mere 3 hours later.
We're trying to meet some friends at a park exceedingly close to our house (so as not to be too late) but I find myself in the endless leaving-the-house struggle... and it's NOT with Elizabeth. William is in super-whine mode and is loudly complaining that he didn't get to play with his Legos and wants to be dressed up in his Snake Eyes (from GI Joe) costume. I point out he woke up so dang early that he got to play with his Legos for a WHOLE HOUR before school, that the Snake Eyes costume wasn't going anywhere and the HE was the one who asked for a play date with his friend Gavin (which is awesome because his little sister Dannika is Elizabeth's age, so this particular family is always fun for play dates). We finally manage to make it to the park (we freakin' DRIVE because, although it is totally within walking distance, we are now running late). Luckily, our friend is running later, so I'm calmed down when she arrives.
When our friends arrive and I ask about enjoying our picnic, both of my kids insist they are not hungry (even though they are usually FAMISHED by this time) and run off to play. Not long into the play I see William and Gavin at the top of the slide. Gavin begins to go down first and I see William bodily STOP this larger boy and try to push his way down the slide first. William is currently (along with most 5 year olds I know) in an I-have-to-go-first phase that is making me CRAZY. So I call him down, tell him to apologize to his friend and tell him he has to go last now because of his rude behavior. They play nicely for a while, but hungry grumpies start to set it and William is bitching endlessly that his friend doesn't want to play with him (in truth it's that Gavin doesn't want to play exactly what William is playing, which is apparently a criminal offense in my son's book). I'm hoping this lunch break is what we need for a smoother play date, so we sit and eat. Not long after eating and the return to playing I see William and Gavin with arms entangled and the kind of red, rage-filled faces that precede hitting. So I pull them apart and ask what's up. Gavin says, "he has my shoe!" and I see that William is, in fact, holding Gavin's shoe and not returning it. I turn on my son now and seeing my face he launches into, "I was just playing a game! I wasn't being mean! It's not my fault..." and I hold up THE HAND OF SILENCE.
"Dude," I say. "I am NOT refereeing all day, do you hear me?! EVERY TIME you guys play, you argue (Which is, unfortunately for our girls who get along great, true) What have I said about games? It is not a game if you don't agree to it! I don't think taking your friend's shoe is a good game and he obviously does not think so either! You return it IMMEDIATELY and apologize!"
"He grabbed me!!!" William shouts and I can see parents' heads turning.
They play for not much longer and I think they are at peace on this rope pyramid thingy when Gavin comes over and says to his mom, "William is spitting at me. And then he hit me." Now, I know William didn't hit him because I haven't taken my eyes off of them, but the spitting part gets me.
"Let's go see what's up," I hear Gavin's mom say, but I'm already on my way.
"William! Did you spit at Gavin and hit him?" I ask.
"No! He's lying!" William shouts.
"Well, now I've got his word against yours, what do I do?"
He looks at me and says, "I didn't hit him mom, I promise" and I notice he says nothing about the spitting.
"Did you spit? Why would he say you did?"
"Uummmmm.... I was doing it to myself" (I HATE this answer. He gives this one a lot when he's caught teasing his sister)
"EXCUSE me? I don't think so," I fume, "we DON'T SPIT PERIOD. And there's no such thing as spitting at yourself."
"Well, I was spitting, but he asked me to stop and I did."
"No he didn't!" Gavin interjects... and I'm done. I'm done for the day. After such a wonderful morning, to be dealing with constant refereeing (and the fact that William and Gavin ALWAYS fight when they are together), I. AM. DONE.
"Okay." I breathe, "I'm DONE. We're leaving."
The kids eyes widen as I walk toward our bags and my friend and all the children realize I'm dead serious. Screaming ensues. William is trailing behind me crying-screaming that we can't leave, he's so sorry, he didn't know, this isn't fair, he'll be better, he didn't mean to be so bad today, this is the worst day ever, he was SO good this morning that he's just tired and on, and on, and on. He is attracting a lot of attention at this point.
I'm just trying to fight either tears or the urge to hurt my child in public... I'm not sure which. I'm just impressed that for once I'm not yelling. I am so angry and embarrassed that I'm actually talking in a voice so low and deep, I hardly recognize it as mine. I gather my stuff and instruct William to put on his shoes as I get Elizabeth ready to go. I tell my friend apologetically that I think it's just time for us to leave. I hate to cut the play date short, but I cannot referee today. I just can't. She totally understands and says she agrees it's for the best. William is sobbing so loudly against this tree that people are looking. Gavin is now saying that it's okay if William stays and he knows William is sorry and he wants William to keep playing. I'm torn for a second and then I remember that I TOLD William we would leave. I have to stick to my word. I have to show him I'm serious. And it hurts.
We head home and William is sniffling the whole time. I send him upstairs and get his sister ready for naps and then I go into his room. He's totally apologetic and shame-faced and tear-stained and pulling at my heart strings. I'm remembering my therapists words "remember, he's only 5." But on the way home I had told him that there would be no stories before naps, we just needed to have a chat. He starts quietly crying and apologizing and asking can he "please just have one short story." I know he's truly sorry. I know it was rough and embarrassing for him and I want to fold. But I don't. I give him a hug and a kiss and tell him I love him, but there will be no story. I remind him that today was HIS turn for forgiveness. For recently, when a friend had lost a play date, he got cocky and said his friend was "bad" and I told him, "no, he's having a bad day. We all have good and bad days and we must be loving and forgiving, because sometimes it will be our turn for a bad day and we'll want our friends to forgive us."
"Oh. Yeah." He remembers the conversation. He lies down and thoughtfully looks up at his ceiling and as I'm closing his door says, "well, I hope Gavin forgives me my bad day."
Ouch. Today was my day. Today it was MY kid... the good, the bad, AND the ugly.