insane bitch mom
As kids, we quickly learn which neighborhood moms are the cool moms. The ones who will sneak you a cookie an hour before dinnertime, the ones who will let you watch TV and build forts under their dining room table. Growing up, my mom was a cool mom because she looked young and wore cool clothes and cooked delicious snacks.
Now that I have kids and live on a street with other kids, I am eager to be “Cool Mom,” or at the very least, “Nice Mom,” but what I’m quickly becoming is “Mean Mom.” I mean, sometimes it seems like I have a goddamned gift for it. It’s not all my fault. I blame a lot of it on the fact that of the families on our block, I am the only one with a 3-year old. A 3-year old who desperately wants to hang out with his brother and the other older boys on the block. A 3-year old who has yet to develop 1) a sense of self-preservation and 2) a conscience.
Now that summer is here, parenting has basically boiled down to one thing, and that is to prevent Tate from escaping the house. But no matter how often we close the doors, he slips out. Sometimes we think he’s inside and then I’ll look outside a window and see him standing in the middle of the street, shoeless, swinging a large branch that I have to hope he didn’t break off a neighbor’s tree. Sometimes we think he’s inside, and he is, only it’s someone else’s house. Tate walks in and out of my neighbor Chrissy’s house with impunity, picking up her son’s Nerf guns and transporting them to his own room. Anyway, I spend a lot of time running around the perimeter of my house with a panicked look, muttering “Where’s Tate?” If I see a kid around, I’ll grill them about Tate’s whereabouts, as if it’s their responsibility to keep an eye on my kid. So right off, I’m that mom, the annoying, harassing mom who can’t keep tabs on her own kids.
But where I really excel is in getting involved in neighborhood kid conflicts. I can’t help it. I have a strong sense of justice and a short temper. When I see injustice being rendered on one of my own children, my eyes essentially start dripping blood and my hands and feet turn into cloven hooves. Last week I watched as Finn waited patiently outside Chrissy’s trampoline as three other kids bounced inside for what seemed like hours. I heard him ask to have a turn. I heard the kids inside refuse. And that’s when I turned into IBM, otherwise known as Insane Bitch Mom.
I stormed into Chrissy’s yard. “Get out. Everyone needs to have a turn.” The kids inside stopped bouncing, and looked unsure. I mean, it wasn’t even my fucking trampoline. I could see the oldest kid looking hesitant, as if he meant to call me out on it. Best to nip that shit in the bud. “I mean it. GET. OUT. Or figure out a way to include everyone.” Finn, who had initially looked happy at finally getting a turn, was starting to look embarrassed. Chrissy had stepped outside to see what the commotion was about. But no going back now. “Everyone needs to have a turn. You guys have been jumping for a long time and Finn’s been waiting.” The boys climbed out, looking chagrined. Punks.
I walked back to my house and looked over the fence in a few minutes to see Chrissy, timing the kids’ turns on a timer. By then the anger had burned off and I felt remorseful. Especially for Chrissy. She’d already given a lot in taking on the beast—the neighborhood trampoline! There was no way I was getting one, because, hello, I took Torts in law school. And I had returned her generosity by going AWOL on her kid. Now, she felt compelled to TIME them, probably because of IBM. I resolved to do better.
So last night, when Finn ran sobbing into the house complaining about being pushed to the concrete, I held him and talked quietly about how things can get rough when people play, and told him to take some calming breaths. I breathed calmly, to encourage him. But then I saw blood on his ankle. And IBM was back, just like that. BLOOD!! What the fuck, was this a neighborhood or was it Lord of the Flies? Wait a second. Was my kid Piggy?? My kid wasn’t going to be anyone’s fucking Piggy. I grabbed Finn’s hand and pulled him down the street to where the crew of kids had gathered, replaying the highlights of the melee. “You guys, he’s BLEEDING. What happened?” I could feel Finn pulling on my hand, because he wanted no part of the denouement. And I quickly learned why.
“They pushed each other!,” the kids cried out, in a chorus. I looked at Finn and felt like a stooge. “Did you push your friend?,” I asked. Finn nodded, guiltily. Shit. I laid down a mini-lecture to all the kids about not getting rough on concrete, and then I looked around at all their adorable faces. I saw there what I tend to forget in my moments of helicopter parenting. That kids have a strong sense of right and wrong, and even the most stubborn ones know deep down when an injustice has been wrought. I felt a moment of gratitude and relief that my kids would get to grow up on this street, with this crew. There would be fights, there would be scuffles. But that’s where they’d learn how to figure it out. How to win, how to lose. How to belong.
I feel ashamed to have forgotten the immigrant lesson I learned early on. I came to America when I was five. Didn’t speak English, and was poor. I remember my mom, who fought like a cougar for me when I was picked on. But she wouldn’t always pick me up. And so I learned how to cope, and how to fight. How will my kids learn to fight, if I don’t let them feel hurt or fear?
IBM may have some thoughts on that. I’ll have to ask her, the next time she’s in town.