On Losing My Cool

Or: Frying an egg on my forehead

I am the mother of two girls, a seven-year-old and a three-and-a-half-year-old. I don't spank. I remind myself I don't spank at least a dozen times a day. Sometimes the reminder doesn't take and I yell, or worse, smack one on the butt. I lose my cool.

Cool is an elusive quality for a mom some days, at least for this one. My cool starts to slip on the days when I can't even answer email for two minutes without the small one hanging upside down from my shoulders, sharp little elbows digging into my sides. The days when the oldest decides making layer cake from an entire loaf of (expensive, health food store) bread and chocolate syrup is a great idea. The days when the two of them are at each other tooth and nail for hours, over everything from who gets to sit closest to the heat vent to who gets which of two identical dolls. Or when they both think that Mama is actually talking to herself when she tells them not to do things like lick electrical outlets.

On these days, my cool can dive deep into hiding. I have no idea where it is and if I can get it back before I smack these two kids senseless. I haven't smacked them senseless yet, so apparently I've been successful. How do I do it? Good question!

Now that I think about it, getting back my cool is just part of the way I've decided to parent, which is as gently as possible. (Note the "as possible." Find me a mom who says she is 100% gentle, 100% of the time, and you've found me Cleopatra, Queen of Denial.) When I was a kid, I knew my parents loved me, and I loved them, but I was also scared to death of them. I'm betting that's true of a lot of you.

My kids aren't afraid of me, which in some ways works against me; I can't rely on that murderous glare or certain tone of voice. But it also means that my kids find me approachable. It means I don't have pretend I'm perfect and always know the right thing to do; I can make a mistake, back up, apologize and try to set things right. It means my kids can (and do) call me on stuff when I'm clearly in the wrong (and vice versa). It means we can work out ways together to get out of our current difficulties. And it means my kids get an honest model of how human relationships are and can be, that people get mad at each other and can forgive and move on, often a dozen times a day. This is what living with other people is about.

I'm not saying it always works, or that I always do this exactly the right way. I'm saying it makes it easier to coax my cool out of its hidey hole. In the end, what I rely on the most is the old advice that longtime married couples have given newlyweds since time out of mind: Don't go to bed mad. We family bed at our house, at least for going to sleep (and sometimes waking up). It's literally impossible for me to go to sleep mad at my kids when they're curled up on either side of me. How can I stay mad at Louisa when she yawns "Night, Mama, I yuv you," even if she's taken scissors to the clothespin bag, dumped out all the Lite Brite pieces and refused to pick them up, and insisted on hanging onto my leg most of the day? How can I stay mad at Josie when she's just sung ME a lullabye, even if she's dumped all the clean laundry out of the basket so she can use it for a ship--over and over and over again?

On the really bad days, when it seems I've yelled myself hoarse and I just haven't been able to remember that I'm the grownup, at the end of the day I rely on that bed. We go to bed early (because usually on those trying days one or more of us is tired and cranky). We read a little story, turn out the light, and snuggle up under our thick down comforter. The last thing we say to each other every night is always, "Good night, sleep tight, I love you." And I've got so much cool I feel that I just might have enough left over for the next day.

TNH Editor Lynn Siprelle is responsible for this whole site.