“What do you think the girls will remember about their childhood,” I asked Sean. We were on the couch and I’d been staring up at the wall, remembering the story behind each piece of wood. I thought about the nights I would work on it long after the girls had gone to bed, their favorite pieces painstakingly arranged for me to install. This wall has become our mark on this house and I wondered if it would stay with the girls.
“The boat,” he said without hesitation. “I think they’ll remember the boat.” He stared off; I imagined he was thinking about the different memories of Lake George, some from his own childhood. Along the wall there are shelves, I looked at one with a photo of Finley and me along the water’s edge.
I nodded. Of course, the lake. Still, lately the girls, the older two in particular, have been different. It takes me back to the days of older friends saying, “Oh, sure, the witching hour. Babies just cry inexplicably, it’s not you, it’s the witching hour.” I remember thinking that it all sounds like a big pat on the back and a finger pressed to the lips conspiratorially so, don’t make them feel incompetent, call it the witching hour. Cresting those hours of fussiness, tight shoulders and neck, weary eyes, and a crushed heart, was exhausting—the relief. The terrifying thoughts of having made it through without cracking, only to begin fearing when the next one might hit and whether or not there’d be enough in the tank to cope. It isn’t crying now, it’s lying, talking back, or something that is a mix between not listening and not caring.
This new witching has no hour, no warning, although it feels like it comes at points in the day when I am at my most vulnerable, Sean too. It’s on our way out the door, minutes already pressing up against commitments, or in the evening, the homework clock ticking. I wish it was just my arms that needed to work to the point of fatigue, but the part of me working each day to traverse this space is my mind.
Can I stay a step or two ahead?
Can I make this a teachable moment or am I going to snap and just say something that will make it worse?
And what the hell is a teachable moment anyway?
It is a new kind of exhaustion, compounded shamefully with the echoes of more experienced parents who said, “It only gets harder, enjoy this time.”
I try to stay calm enough to follow my instinct, emotional and situational arithmetic clicking away in my head.
Be firm, but don’t attack.
Allow her to speak, but stay on track.
Don’t belabor the point, don’t gloss over.
Just as I did years ago, I am making it up as I go, trying to understand the why enough to be able to get to the how. My panic now isn’t that they’ll never stop this behavior, it’s that their only memory will be of my shrill flailing. Back in the original witching hour days I really only had one baby at a time, Briar, so eager to please and addicted to laughter and love, would watch, crestfallen as her sister cried. She never added to the chaos. When it was Finley’s turn as the littlest, Briar and Avery never fought when she fussed, “Mama, does she want a toy?” and “Do you want to put her in her chair to swing?” they’d ask.
Now it’s all changed, an argument will erupt upstairs as I face down the third lie of the night in the kitchen. I silently acknowledge the scuffle upstairs and catalog it as a time when I am allowing them to work something out on their own, don’t helicopter, Amanda. I look at Ave, “I just need to understand why you said what you did. It wasn’t true.”
I feel petulant, I’ve already gone through so much in this day and I didn’t save the stamina for this.
Shrieks, “Mom, she hit me! She hit me in my throat!”
“No, I didn’t. You deserved it.”
Deep breath. “Are you going to answer me?”
She crumples her face conjuring tears. Silence.
“Please answer me,” I am angry and we both know it.
“I don’t know,” she says. We talk; through ragged breaths she tells me she is scared. I am calm, explaining that the really great thing is that this can all change immediately, that she can decide not to lie anymore. My words come out slower than the other thoughts in my head, which run like this, “Please, please just stop lying. Please don’t make this keep going. I am out of ideas.” I am so tired and I just want this phase to be over.
“Mawwwwwwwm, Briar isn’t sharing!” the ceiling above me thunders as she stomps away from the top of the stairs.
“No, I’m not. I just don’t want to play with you,” a door slams.
Avery looks at me, huge blue eyes shimmering with tears, “I’m not going to lie anymore. I am going to try and not lie ever again.” I watch her, her face crumples again and she whispers, “I’m sorry if I do, though. Is that ok?” I hug her, tears streaming down my own face. “We’re both just going to try, deal?” She nods into my shoulder.
“Mom, can you bring us a snack. Briar and I are going to watch a movie together.”
And just like that it’s over, until the next time. My shoulders release as I exhale and send up a wish that they do remember the lake more than the struggle.
Tagged: daughters, family, working mom
This pulls at me, because I know it so well.
We are all just making it up as we go. And every stage is as horrible and beautiful as the one before and the one to come.
Your children will remember that you loved them and that you are not perfect, but you tried really hard to be what they needed. That is my prediction. That is what I see.
You want to be so perfect, or at least I do. Trying to embrace that my foibles help them to know they don’t have to be perfect. Frustrating that I expect perfection from myself, but not in anyone else.
Oh, YES. The witching hour. It’s the same thing, I think, that I’ve been trying to describe – a different season, a new, more demanding dance … and petulant is a good word for how I feel, a lot of the time. Exhausted, mad at both myself for not being able to better cope and at life itself for turning this corner I’ve so long dreaded. Sigh.
Every time you visit and nod or weep with me, I am lifted. Thanks, friend.
You’ve nailed it. The frustration, the exhaustion, the feelings of inadequacy. Only now they’re not babies – they’re kids, big kids, who take notice of us at our best and our worst. We’re all in this together, friend. (Go Sox!)
Seems like the fair thing would be for our energy to increase to better keep pace, no? And yes, Go Sox!
So grateful for you, Sarah.
I know the witching hour well. My son had horrific colic as a baby. The screams would cut me to my soul. Now that he’s 2.5 he often has several “witching hours” for no discernible reason. And he doesn’t even have a sibling (yet?). As I think I’ve told you, I grew up on Lake George. (My dad’s family had a house right on the lake and when that was sold, we moved to Thurman, outside of Warrensburg.) Trust me. They WILL remember the lake. Nearly every image and memory of my childhood is about water, boats, mountains, and the woods.
It’s a good foundation. I suppose in some respects, so too is the act of working through the struggle. Thank you.
I can not begin to tell you how much I needed to read this today. I love how you are able to tell a story that describes a shared battle, but you do it in a way and with words that make the “we are all in this too” part seem like an even softer sigh. And, for what it is worth — I have no doubt they will remember the wall and the lake.
It’s a worth a lot, Kristin, a whole lot! xo
Seriously. I cannot believe we still haven’t seen one.
I had one of these moments this morning. So hard to navigate and what works one time may never work again. I hear ya.
Thank you, because man, in those moments do you feel completely alone or what?
I am especially susceptible to those Witching Hour moments when I’m feeling too confident in my mothering skills. It’s pretty much inevitable that I will congratulate myself on working out one of my daughter’s tantrums only to turn around and find the boys rolling across the living room, seemingly hell-bent on destroying each other. There’s no rest for the weary in this parenting gig, huh?
Not that I have found…yet 😉
See, I knew the witching hours weren’t gone. They never go. They just morph into a different sort of witching…
Not just you feeling petulant, worn out, trying not to helicopter.
All the self talk we do. Ugh.
Love you back, sweet friend. Thank you for always being around. Always.
well. It’s my very first time here and I find that most of the blogger/writers I love are your commenters.:) That tells me that it’s no fluke your words cut deep into my heart, to that knowing place that says yes, there is the place I go as well. As they get bigger I want to be better – I was more able to give myself a pass in the exhausting infant years. Now I see them watch me, and I break my heart again and again, so disappointed in myself for not finding a way to be what I want to be for them. Sigh. This was really lovely. And they will remember the lake. It’s a guarantee.
I bet they will remember the lake more than the struggle. I love that last statement. And the picture is priceless. The four of you girls certainly look like a matched set.
God, I know. I wonder it all the time. Will they remember the lake more than the struggle? I’d like to think so.
I flinch whenever I snap at my kid, thinking, “Will this be the memory he’ll remember several years from now?” I just have to tell myself that even if he does, I’m betting he has more positive ones to drown it out.
I worry that all they will remember of me is the yelling. Is being mad. Is snapping at them. I keep telling myself next time I will stay calm. Next time I will take deep breaths. And sometimes I do and I’m completely calm and other times I can’t. And I don’t know if it’s just a matter of the wrong thing at the wrong time. I was already hungry or tired or irritated at something else. But I have to find some balance to working and home because I really haven’t figured it out yet.
This! This is my every day. I worry that all they’ll remember is their fighting and whining and my getting frustrated and losing it.
But then I breath… and think of the things I remember from my childhood.
Both the post and the photos are beautiful. Your feelings ring true for all of us parents who are consumed with the day to day and without much time to step back. We are sharing stories like these over at Great Moments in Parenting, an open blog to celebrate the agony and ecstasy of life with kids. We’d be honored if you submitted an essay like this, a parenting “moment” or a photo, and we are happy to link back to your site. Here is the link to submit: http://greatmomentsinparenting.com/log-in/. Thanks in advance for considering it!