I walked into the playroom yesterday morning to find the mess that you see in the featured photo. Little grains of rice were spread all over one side of the room and were being used as part of the boy’s imaginative play. Sometimes they were thrown to represent rain and/or snow. Sometimes they were brushed this way or that to create a path for the Matchbox cars to roam. I thank God I’d had move coffee before I’d seen the sight.
The Husband had been gone all weekend and most of the week. Yesterday morning, the boys woke up to a brand new set of 10 Matchbox cars that The Husband had picked up at the airport for them. I’d told my husband about how well the boys had behaved while he was gone, especially over the challenging long weekend. They had earned a little gift, I’d told him.
I guess I should have looked in the playroom before I told him that.
Standing over the two boys who were now frozen in their play, I asked the standard Mom Question: “What the…? How did…? How could this have…?”
The boys looked at each other and then looked at the mess. “Oops,” Major said.
“How did the rice get out of the bottles!?” I asked.
The bottles in question were these adorable glass bottles filled with rice and symbols that the boys had made in Sunday School. Candles, little sheep, a precious pearl and other objects could be seen in the bottles when the boys spun and shook them. The bottles were well sealed and, though they were glass, I let the boys keep them in the playroom because, well… I’m an idiot, I guess. If you were going to ask me what could go wrong, I would have told you that the glass would break and I’d been vacuuming shards forever. Instead, what I got was this:
The two little sons of an engineer had somehow figured out how to pry open the things. I mean really. Really? They pried the suckers open. My 5- and 6-year-olds! When I wasn’t looking! My Lord!
“So, how did this happen?” I asked again.
“We don’t know,” Major said. “We don’t know what happened.”
“Oh really? That just magically happened all by itself?” I asked.
Major sighed. “I just… we just… we don’t know how it happened. It was just like that when we walked in.”
“Maybe it happened during that party… a few weeks ago?” Minor suggested.
This is when I became furious. It came hot and it came quick.
“You need to tell me the truth right now, little boys. I need to know how this happened!”
What then took place was a series of excuses and nonsense that got progressively more ridiculous and made me exponentially more angry. I admonished them for not telling me the truth of what happened, asking for it over and over again. Suddenly I was repeating all the things my parents used to say: “Is the word ‘stupid’ written across my forehead?” “Do you think I was born yesterday?” “You honestly think I’m not that bright, do you?” The boys would wilt and then they would dig in.
“Gentlemen, to be clear,” I stated more than a few times. “I’m not excited about the rice all over the place. I’m not delighted to clean up your mess. But the reason why I’m furious right now is because you are lying to me and I simply cannot stand it!”
We were going to be late to school, so I issued one good dark and ominous warning. The nuclear option of mothering boys: “If I don’t get the truth by the time we drop [Minor] off at school, I’m going to get every single little car and I’m going throw them in the trash.”
They gasped in unison. Tears welled up. They marched out of the playroom with sulking faces. My heart pounded but I didn’t have time to relent. This I cannot abide. They put on their little shoes, their little hats, their backpacks still too big for their little backs. They sulked out the front door, traversed the yard and climbed into the van. I took a few breaths, put my coffee in a thermos, slammed the door and locked it. When I got to the car, the boys were both in tears… but buckled in.
“You still have the opportunity to tell me the truth. You don’t have to lose your cars if you simply tell me the truth.”
That’s when Major said this to me: “I feel like you hate me right now!”
It made me flinch. I winced, for sure. But then I channeled my anger. Shondra Rhimes and Olivia Pope would be so proud of me:
“[Ursa Major], I could never hate you! I love you so much and that’s why I’m angry with you. I’m angry with you because you are lying to my over something stupid and that’s unacceptable. It’s ridiculous that you are choosing not to tell me the truth. I am not here for your lies. I’m not raising you to lie to me. I’m raising gentlemen and leaders and good men. Good men and leaders tell the truth, even when it’s hard, even when they think they might get in trouble. They tell the truth because it’s the right thing to do. Always. Always!”
There was more. So much more, as we did our little drive from home to school. We had to talk about love and what it means. We had to talk about expectations and what it means to be them and what it means to be me.
And that’s where my Quiet Thoughts come from today. That moment of uncompromising, passionate, powerful mothering love. It was a moment that I couldn’t let slip away, a time when I had to be everything a mother is and absolutely no less. I had to pierce through his emotional response with my unyielding expectation: my two boys must learn to speak with honesty, and they must learn to do it even when they are afraid of the consequences. Today, it’s merely a messy playroom. Tomorrow, it will be so much more.
It didn’t take long after that for them to tell me what I already knew: while playing over the weekend, one of the boys noticed a small hole in one of the bottle tops and started pulling at it. When they successfully opened one, they immediately needed to open the other. The rice was a happy accident, the fuel for lots of fun. Their confession was all I needed. They were told, of course, that they would need to help me clean up the mess.
Motherhood is not easy. Childhood isn’t either. I know that I ask a lot of my two boys. I know that they will be constantly pushed and pulled by my ridiculous expectations, the environment in which they live and their own hopes and dreams. I really do my best to see them for the children they are, giving them the space necessary to be in the world and make mistakes necessary to grow and be.
If I have one absolute duty in my life, it’s to do the work and set the boundaries that will get them to adulthood in a safe, respectful, kind and wise way. When motherhood ends and they leave this place to live the lives they are meant to be, if I can say that I have done these things, then I will be satisfied.
It is a breathtaking Massachusetts Friday. The sun is still out, the sky is still blue, the breeze blows and the world is lushly filled in. These are the days we live for. These are the days that remind us why we live here. Everyone is outside playing. Can you spot our newest neighbor in this photo?
On a Friday like this, I’m full of wishes. I wish you the joy of a breezy day under the sunny sky this weekend, Dear Reader. You’ve worked hard and you totally deserve a little time to breathe and be without hurry or bother. I wish you a bit of morning time with just you, your coffee and the rising sun. Have you watched a sunrise this year, Dear Reader? Take a bit of time to appreciate the promise of a new day. I wish you food prepared by loving hands, indulgent and filling. I wish you excellent company for laughter, a good story and maybe a lesson or two. I wish you a warm hand to hold, a kiss on your cheek, a whispered secret meant only for you.
If you remember anything this weekend, remember that you are loved profoundly and passionately. Know that someone out there loves you so much that your actions can move them to tears or even anger, but can also make that person sigh with respectful understanding or fly with joy. There are people who think of you, cheer for you, hold you in their hearts and will never let you go. What a wonderful thing. Be sure to share some of how that feels with someone else this weekend.
Until Monday, be good to this planet, plant a tree, raise your voice, save some energy, sign a petition, patron a company that chooses to lead, make something beautiful out of something lovingly used, sing with your whole heart, laugh with your full belly, shine your brightest against the darkness, and take care.