It’s day three of back-to-school and my daughter is happy to be back in her Grade One classroom after the holiday break. She loves school and is thrilled to be seeing all of her friends. When I pick her up after school she’s all hugs and smiles.
She’s beyond patient as my almost-four-year-old son goes through his current end-of-day shenanigans. The witching hours between after school and dinner. He’s tired, he wants this NO he wants THAT he wants it ALL. RIGHT. NOW. And he also wants his sister to do exactly as he says. She deflects and is patient and we make it through dinner. And then. I ask her to start getting ready for bed, and some other person takes over. She’s rude, she’s talking back, she’s nasty, wearing the attitude and facial expressions of a rebellious teenager. It’s a complete 180-degree turn from the sweet little girl I picked up from school.
I’m impatient with her. I tell her to go to her room, get into her pajamas, brush her teeth, and have some quiet time to calm down and think about how she’s been talking to me. I also tell her that I need some time to calm down as well. Because I realize I’ve been mirroring her tone.
After a half-hour of bedtime mayhem with the almost-four-year old, he settles, and I climb into bed beside my daughter.
“I’m sorry, mummy,” she says. We talk about the way she was talking and acting, and that it’s not okay to be disrespectful. I apologize for getting impatient with her. We end up lying there for another 45 minutes, chatting about her day, about school, about her friends. And in that time, the important things spill out. She’s really frustrated with herself because she’s not getting her schoolwork done as fast and as neatly as she wants to. She’s hurt because a girl she doesn’t know very well told her on the playground that she didn’t like her. She’s worried that at her new gymnastics class tomorrow she won’t be able to do some of the things.
We talk some more and giggle and I ask her questions, and her stuffy asks her some more very silly questions. I reaffirm that our love doesn’t change for her whether she does her work perfectly or not, that we love her just the same if she has one friend or fifty, and that the main focus of her gymnastics class is that she has fun. We talk some more. About feelings and that they’re all normal, but that they come out in different ways. We also talk about lavender, and goldfish crackers, and how her brother is growing up and learning every day. We talk about going to bed thinking about the good things in our lives. And we hug, and I kiss her goodnight about a million times.
I step out of her bedroom and fight back tears. Because I almost sent her straight to bed for being so rude. I almost gave her a hug and a good night kiss and left her room after her apology to me. I almost missed hearing the feelings behind her behaviour because I was tired and had spent so much energy managing her brother. I almost missed a beautiful, vulnerable, funny and honest talk with my sensitive, perfectionist, strong-willed, and loving daughter. And I am reminded that it is these times, the challenging ones, the acting-out moments, these are the times we need to listen most.
Want to know what else has surprised me about motherhood? Read about the moments that I was unprepared for.