I was reading a Facebook post by my nephew’s lovely wife. They are devoted parents and are starting the summer of wrangling their lively, idea-fueled children who are gifted with strong personalities.
I always loved the strong personalities of my own young children.
Except when I didn’t.
Except when those qualities led them to foot stomping, eye rolling and the beheading of Barbie’s.
I wanted the children to believe in themselves. I admired them when they were outspoken. But sometimes I just wished for meek compliance.
Sitting here in my quiet kid-free house, I want to share an unexpected lesson from parenting.
My children taught me I am not always calm. I do not always think before I speak. I am not always rational. Through parenting I have seen the deep dark abyss of my soul.
Without my kids, I would never have known what was down there.
I first caught glimpses of it when I realized that three non-sleeping children meant I myself would be endlessly sleep deprived.
The rumblings of my inner darkness would sound while I was climbing the stairs to a child’s bedroom in the middle of the night for the third time.
Understanding began when I was trying to soothe my second child’s colic and realized my first child decided my distraction presented the perfect time to see how many towels he could flush down the toilet.
But the first time I really saw the bottom of the pit was when my children got into a screaming, supermarket cart smashing, fight while I paused in the produce section of my grocery store.
I was considering melon options while making sure my youngest child was not trying to stand up from her seat in the shopping cart. My other two children each had charge of their own child sized shopping carts. We were a little parade of shoppers. I discussed the importance of nutrition and making good food choices with my uncaring kids. I tried not the notice the wide berth around us as other shoppers avoided my troupe. Negative looks were cast in my direction, but I was too tired to react to public shaming.
I just needed some groceries, and I never went anywhere alone.
I was deciding between honeydew and cantaloupe when an argument broke out among the troops.
There was shouting. Crying. And ramming with carts.
Melons rolled from their display. My cart-bound child contributed by screaming like a stabbing victim.
The demilitarized zone surrounding us expanded. Shoppers fled the produce area.
And I reached the deep depths of the dark well of my own personality.
I snatched my youngest child from her seat and turned to my other two children.
My hair whipped around my head like angry snakes.
Flames shot out of my eyes and lightning blasted from my fingertips.
I growled at my children.
Their eyes went wide. They dropped their hands off the cart handles.
I pointed in front of me with my lightning hands and they marched out the door into the Texas heat.
We sweltered on the sidewalk. Sweat dripped down my back as I stood before my beloved offspring. I let them see the monster they had unleashed. Heat pumped off my body. I opened my eyes wide and pinned my children with a laser glance. I addressed them in a deep scary voice I did not know I owned.
“You do not behave like this. You will not try to run each other over. You will not scream and cry. You do not try to kill each other with shopping carts.”
I glared at their immobilized forms. “Do you understand me?”
Heads nodded rapidly.
I took a breath as temporary insanity retreated from my brain and herded my kids back to the car. There was silence in the ranks.
I met scared eyes in the rear view mirror and used my growly voice one more time. “Now we have no food for dinner, so it will be pot luck. And next time we market you will not have carts.”
I pulled out of my parking spot and headed home in the quiet car.
I had found the deepest part of my personality. A part I didn’t know existed until that moment.
I took in the wary atmosphere around me.
And I smiled.