One Day I Will Rule the World

World Domination, Babies and Middle Eastern Dance

September 14, 2010


Ethan and Rachel are at each other’s throats. The more Rachel tries to gain the upper hand, the more Ethan settles, smugly, into his superior, smart-ass, provoking air. The more she fights for fair treatment, the more pleasure he takes in denying it just to see what buttons it pushes. And oh how it pushes buttons.

I want to say, “we should let her act out. We should let her scream. The way that he’s treating her is the way adult abusive men treat women. I would be crying in hysterical rage if Ian spoke that way to me. I lose it sometimes when Ethan speaks that way to me. She should be learning now that she is allowed to stand up for herself and won’t be told that she automatically loses the fight for respect just because she fought it the wrong way.”

But I feel trapped. She is always screaming, pushing, shoving, shrieking. She stays in these arguments until she is at her wits end and then she screams indigantly, rushes at him trying to shove him down, hits him, throws things and we are left with the typical parent lines, “I don’t care if he was sitting there making smug, provoking statements over and over. You don’t resort to violence. You were the one who made it physical, you go to your room.”

Tonight they both got sent to their rooms. On their way, I don’t know what he said, but he just couldn’t resist some more smug, provocation. She ran into her room and slammed her door, opened it again, slammed it again. I was running upstairs to tell her, “WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU. IAN IS PUTTING HANNAH TO BED RIGHT NEXT TO YOUR DOOR SLAMMING HIGHNESS.” And as I was coming up the stairs, she pushed too hard against the door, slipped on the shiny new floor that we just put down and went down against the wall. And then she shrieked – shrieked – not what sounded pained to me, but outraged.

What am I supposed to say? I don’t want to raise my daughters with their self-defense mechanisms beaten out of them.

But also, I am so fucking exhausted right now. I manage to keep my shit together at work, but as soon as I set foot in my house I am out of resources and all I want is to curl up in an unresponsive ball and cry all evening. Instead I’m spending evenings with children screaming in both ears, mediating fights, stepping around the corner to do some silent crying while I wrap up leftovers or go pay a bill. Some day all she will remember is that she fell and hurt herself and I grabbed her by the shoulders and yelled, “what is wrong with you!? You can’t throw a giant door-slamming fit until you hurt yourself and then expect sympathy and after tonight I don’t have any left for you.”

I survey my friends about their relationships with their parents, asking, “what made you okay with that in the long run?” I’m looking for the secret ingredient to a healthy childhood. I fuck it up so often and so heavily and I fret about losing their regard. When Rachel tells me I’m the best mom in the world, I smile wryly because I am thinking, “but you don’t know yet what stockholme syndrome is. My dear, let’s see if I can not screw up enough that you will still love me when your survival doesn’t depend on me.” And tonight when she told me she hates me, I was probably too calm and just said, “yes, that’s probably reasonable.”

But I know there are a lot of people whose childhoods were nonidyllic – and yet, who came out of it not just okay with their lives, but okay with their upbringing.

I feel like the answer is that kids can forgive you for just about any neurosis, for various failures of parenting, so long as they always (or mostly) get basic compassion.

I guess it’s like any relationship. Ian and I can fight about pretty much anything – so long as we have the little ways of remembering (and reminding each other) that we still consider the other person part of our team, we come out of it okay.

But how can you know? To kids, naturally self-centered and with no outside experience to provide defenses against your worldview – any hurt, slight or neglect is an obvious failure of compassion.

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