A beautiful retreat and a rough return – a.k.a. kids punish you after a vacation

After a wild two months due to work projects, Dave and I escaped to a quiet cottage on Lake Michigan for a few days of R&R. We read, listened to the waves, slept in (8 AM!) And caught up with each other.

You know when life gets so crazy you decide to stop seeing your house mess, because there’s no chance you’re going to be able to actually address it for weeks to come? Time pretty much stopped in our household. Presents from Sassy sat untouched on the stairs, detritus accumulated on every flat surface, and children started using coasters and candles as toys.

I was crazy, and all of the wonderful adults in our life joined forces to help fill the gaps until things got back to normal. They did an excellent job! But as I’m usually the one who cracks first when things get a little wild around here, things got a little wild around here.

First off, I appear to have decided using an electronic calendar no longer worked for me sometime in August. So we spent the last four days missing or nearly missing every social engagement imaginable. This included a wedding, a baby shower, a double birthday, and umpteen other opportunities to reconnect with people we love.

We also missed a few weeks of swimming. Getting back in the pool with kids who were still readjusting from us being gone in the first place was an interesting experience. They acquitted themselves admirably though. A multitude of parents have watched the kids every Saturday for the last few years, and encouraged us by commenting on their progress.

That said, the combination of swimming fatigue after 2 1/2 hours in the pool, disaster in the house, and umteen “dropped eggs” from the weekend really got to me today. Tess and Remy whined and cried, which started before we even left the swimming pool locker room. This is not unusual, But did go to the extreme today.

On our way out the door, Remy decided to pull a wet noodle routine. He’s so heavy now that picking him up and throwing him over my shoulder is not really an option, without throwing my back out! So I calmly informed him that, as all of the other kids were tired as well and getting in the car right that moment, if he wouldn’t get up and walk I would have to pull him. He wouldn’t. I did.

These school hallways are very wide and the linoleum is very slippery. I knew he would be safe from injury when I grabbed him by the feet and started to pull him down the hallway. Remy has a special way of complaining that is very noticeable. Many parents there are know us and recognize his skill set, but the grandmother waiting in line at the desk did not. She could not have had a more scathing, disgusted look on her face if she had done it intentionally to show her disapproval of my existence in the world.

I pulled him a few feet, and got down close to him to talk. He continued to writhe and scream. I asked him if he was ready to walk. He wasn’t. I pulled him again. I wasn’t angry and didn’t yell, but I did have to take care of my whole family – not just Remy, who likes to slow down every step of our day from eating his yogurt to turning out the light at night.

The look on that woman’s face devastated me. We work so hard to be good parents, only to have our children share our worst parenting moments with the world. Where is my audience when I show extreme patience and come up with wonderful connection opportunities with my kids? Where is the video when I calm a tantrum with a lullaby or redirect a child so deftly they don’t even realize they were ramping up into a tantrum?

But no. It doesn’t matter how many people think I’m a good parent – that lady did not. And for an added layer of flavor, I thought to myself, “from the way she’s looking at me, I bet that lady thinks I am some cruel, unloving abuser of a nonblood relative.”

I don’t think about Remy being black sometimes. Not because I’m colorblind – that’s stupid. Remy is black. But most of the time, he’s just my kid. Seeing us through her eyes though brought tears to mine. Good for her I guess, to condemn me in defense of him in her mind. But her look had a lot more to it than just “what a terrible tantrum!”

True to life experience, the next time I got close with Remy, we talked and hugged and decided to walk to the car together holding hands. She could no longer see us. She didn’t see us buckle him in carefully into his car seat and talk about how we love people even when we get angry on the ride home. She didn’t see our whole family pile out of the car, or how ravenously the kids fell on their lunch. She didn’t see how we build our whole life around these little people, and how much they mean to us and how full they make our hearts. But we never do see all of that when we’re judging someone in the moment. I’m guiltier than most, and will be tucking this in my back pocket for a while.

The kids slept for hours as our house of cards fell around us with multiple calendars snafus. We apologized left and right, and did our meal planning and grocery shopping.

A tornado struck me that evening before dinner. The chaos with suddenly visible, and I couldn’t clean up fast enough. At one point, I totally snapped and yelled at Dave. While standing there feeling like a horrible person (again), I felt a little hand on my leg. When I looked down, I saw Tess hugging my leg with all of her energy. Her princess dress was falling off and her hair was a birdsnest of crazy, and I have never loved her more. She didn’t say anything, but hugged me long and hard. Remy was right behind her and started hugging my other leg. When they felt I had enough love back in my tank, Remy addressed Tess as “princess” and invited her into the dining room. I almost cried, but contained myself and continued putting away placemats.who cares how awful the mess is when our kids can show love like that?! (I still care. I really do. But it helped so much.)

Saturday night, we sat around in a slightly cleaner kitchen. Dave and Tess brought home fresh flowers from the store that looked so much prettier not surrounded by piles of junk on the counter. We ate pizza and laughed with Joy about the insanity and its aftermath. Other than Remy complaining about his pizza falling apart, the kids were great. We had a storybook bedtime, the kind that soothes me more than anything else after a rough day. On days like this, I always say yes to an extra lullaby and an extra hug. I tickle the kids before I tuck them in and kiss them an extra dozen times all over their faces.

In the silence that followed all of them falling asleep within minutes, Dave and I talk quietly about how to avoid the rough days as much as possible. We sat, surrounded by books and superhero capes and princess dresses inside out on the sofa. We took a deep breath, pet the dog, and look forward to a calmer day tomorrow.

That pool lady’s judgment still stings, and reminds me of the few other occasions when another mother has shamed me. I’m always uncomfortable when people say “how do you do it?” How do any of us do it? We all get up the next day and try again. As far as I know, that’s the best we can do. That said, I hope I never make another parent feel the way I felt today. And while I’m at it, I look forward to a much calmer, happier day tomorrow, now that our transition back to our normal routine is complete.

And if you are one of the people we offended by not appearing in the last few days, please except our humble apologies. The chaos window has now closed, and our usual well oiled machine is back in the game! We look forward to seeing you soon.