The other day I was talking to someone I had just met about a family that we both know. This new person said to me, in a very warm and heartfelt way, “I really love them – they are such a nice family.”
I agreed, because they really are very, very nice. Their kids are so sweet, kind, gentle, and polite. The parents are thoughtful, considerate, soft-spoken. They’re all talented and smart and accomplished and generous. They enjoy charity work and calling their grandmothers on Sunday. They are seriously, SO nice.
But of course, because it’s all about me, I started to wonder if anyone out there would deliver such a spontaneous, gushing review of my own family. I have to think not. What do outsiders see when our family approaches? A harried, tired-looking mom? Whiny children? A thumb-sucker, a nose-picker, and a third having a meltdown? Kids who are too loud, too mean, too unfamiliar with the concept of personal space?
There’s a great scene in the movie Parenthood between Rick Moranis and his sister-in-law (in the film), Mary Steenburgen. Rick is talking about getting his hyper-articulate, brilliant daughter into a gifted program. Meanwhile, Mary’s youngest son has put a bucket over his head and is repeatedly running into the wall. Mary gives Rick an apologetic smile and says, “He likes to butt things with his head.”
Oh Mary, how well I understand you.
It’s getting into the doldrums of summer, and I’m melancholy. We’ve had some really good times this summer, been to some fun places, done lots of interesting activities. And yet. Day in, day out, it seems I say the same things, do the same things. I feel like I could easily be replaced with a lifetime supply of pre-boiled hot dogs and my voice on a tape-recorded loop, saying:
Leave your sister alone.
That is NOT funny.
No one is getting any candy, so STOP ASKING.
Hands and feet to yourselves!
That was his first, DO NOT SNATCH, USE YOUR WORDS.
We are NOT buying anything for you today, and STOP CRYING.
The next person to say the word “butt” or “poop” is going to their room.
And so on. Are other homes like this, where we alternate between love fests and hating each other? Or are the nice families having nice times playing board games and appreciating each other’s inherent value and respecting everyone’s opinions and thoughts?
This morning I told the kids it was grocery shopping day, and the Captain said to me, “Why does it always have to be about what YOU want to do, and you NEVER do anything for your kids?” And that really, really hurt my feelings. Does he really not notice the cooking, the cleaning, the laundry? Does he really not remember the day trips, the visits to the library, the little special treats they get almost every day in the summer? Does he really think that grocery shopping with three kids is what I WANT to be doing with my time? Does he really not understand what being part of a family and part of a household means?
I guess I’m just not a nice mother.
If Sir Monkeypants had been home, he would have punished the Captain for talking to me that way, which would not have been unjustified, but I was so deflated I didn’t have the heart for it. It would be one more thing to yell at them about, one more thing to fight over, one more battle that they’ll “appreciate someday.” Instead, I told him that he’d be spending some time every day this week making a book of all the stuff we did over the summer. I hope he will see (and value) the great things we did.
How do the nice families do it? How do they make kids that are empathetic? How do they take trips to the grocery store without everyone asking for something, someone having a meltdown, and everyone whining that their lives are just SO BORING?
Today, I feel like I’m doing something wrong. Today, I’m looking forward to school starting.
Today, I’m feeling like we’re not a nice family, no, not at all.