Ever have one of those days when you feel like you’re not a good enough parent, a day you look back on later and wish you’d handled differently? Saturday was one such day.
All three of my boys, ages 9, 7 and 5, were invited to a bowling birthday party. This was a treat because they’re not usually all invited to the same party. I knew my older two would behave themselves, but I did give my 5-year-old son a pre-party reminder to follow directions.
Once the bowling was underway, I realized he would be squiggling and jiggling a lot while waiting for his turn, since there were six kids bowling on each side. He was the youngest there and if squiggling was all he did, I understood. But when it was time to sit at the birthday table for cake, he refused to sit in the only chair left because it wasn’t next to one of his brothers. I told him that was the only place to sit. While everyone else was singing, he was being stubborn and crying. He drew up his legs, turning himself into a little ball there on the bowling couch.
This is where I should have been very calm and just said, “It’s your choice, but you’re missing out on the cupcakes and ice cream.” And I should have left it at that. Instead, I began whispering furiously for him to behave and I reminded him that he had another birthday party to attend the next day. If he didn’t behave here, I told him, he wasn’t going to that one. I ought to know better than to confuse two things. I was just letting my temper get the best of me. I should have focused on the problem at hand, but I started to think about other parties and gatherings we’d been to, and how it felt like we’d had so many of these instances.
Finally all the other kids were done and my middle son offered to sit with his little brother while he ate his cupcake. My little guy sat in a chair, poked at the frosting, took one bite and got up. “I don’t want it,” he said, and went to watch the presents being opened. He was over it, but I sat there with my blood boiling. Why couldn’t we ever attend a party stress-free?
When we got home, I told my husband I needed a minute and went out to pick up a coffee. I was frustrated with myself for getting so angry at my son. He was misbehaving, true. But I needed to remind myself that staying calm and quietly letting him know what was expected of him was all I needed to do.
On Monday, this same boy had to take the bus to elementary school alone for the first time. Usually he sits with his brothers, all three of them squished into one seat. But the older boys had dentist appointments.
“I need you to take the bus on your own tomorrow, okay?” I said Sunday night, worried about his reaction.
In the morning, while he was playing with his brothers, I said, “Are you nervous to ride the bus alone or is it fine with you?”
“Oh, it’s fine.”
And it was. He waited at the end of the driveway with me, let his sister kiss him good-bye, and climbed aboard. He waved out the window, a huge smile on his face.
Sometimes you want them to act just a little older, to stop having meltdowns when things don’t go their way. Then there are other moments when you want to freeze time and preserve that sweet smile as it moves further down the street, away from you.