This morning, I walked into Andy's bathroom to find him brushing his teeth while wedged into a corner, facing out semi-bravely while scanning the tiny room and both doorways to check for predators. "What's going on in here?" I asked, strolling in and still managing to startle my six year old despite his stature of high alert. "Are you... are you scared?"
"You know I don't like being up here by myself," he replied, dislodging the glob of toothpaste that had become stuck fearfully in his throat. It's true that Andy has developed a fear of being upstairs alone. Emily, however, at 18 months, relishes the thought of getting upstairs alone, as she will clamber up the stairs, into the boys' bedroom, and straight up the bunk bed ladder onto the top bunk at the very first opportunity of parental neglect. Alex, he's always been pretty fearless, but I guess I can understand how Andy feels, since my heart pounds at the thought of going down into the basement alone ever since I found a fricking chipmunk down there. Chip. Munk. Aw. Ful.
Despite the lack of visible wild life upstairs, Andy doesn't even like sleeping in his room, and he will burrow himself deep under his comforter in order to feel safe. This is despite Alex's reassuring snores from the lower bunk. After Andy gets out of the bath, he doesn't like me to leave him alone to get dressed- he hurries so that he can hold my hand to go downstairs for stories and nighttime iPadding. In the morning, after breakfast during our third (of five) ten minute segment- in which I am usually mopping up spilled milk on Emily's high chair tray or arguing about crust on toast with Alex or looking at Andy's poorly composed lunch of cheese sandwich, yogurt, and chocolate milk and wondering if I'm maybe missing a food group or two- Andy usually insists that I go upstairs with him while he gets dressed. This morning, we were running out of ten minute segments, and since I knew we'd eat up at least half of one putting on all of our winter gear, I snapped at Andy to just go upstairs by himself.
I've been snapping a lot lately. I snap because the boys are constantly running around or fighting or breaking things or talking about private parts. I snap because Andy was whipping around headphones and tore a hole into the screen of our year old TV and because Alex threw the tablet at the wall and put a dent in it. I snap because I don't want a six year old hitting me on the butt when I bend over, and because Alex's constant snacking after not eating any actual meals means the pantry door is always open and yesterday Emily consumed eight bags of fruit snacks because she's always in there now, too. I snap because what starts as a well meaning game of ring around the rosy between siblings ends with Emily's head getting bashed into the coffee table. I snap because I can't have nice things, because I can't hear myself think, because you give them an inch and they take a mile, and every other mom cliche there is. I recently became friends with another mom who is a counselor, and she started talking about her patients with anxiety. Trying to keep it cool and suppress my excitement at some potentially free therapy, I casually asked what she tells the mom patients who are always snapping and getting mad. "We talk about expectations," she replied. I guess what she's saying is that you have to expect a shit show. This sounds like disappointing advice, to be honest with you, and I'm not sure I want to continue this friendship.
We were at Hobby Lobby last week, me and the three kids, which I should have expected not to go well according to my new friend/ free therapist. Emily was satisfied with sitting in the cart for exactly the length of time it takes to consume one fruit snack bag, and then she was out with the boys, free in the world and ready to cause havoc. Alex got excited about glitter glue and ran off to find some before I could stop him. Andy immediately asked for ten different art project sets, and Emily looked up, calculated the directions that everyone else was heading, and promptly hauled ass to the opposite end of the store. While I tried to quickly pick out the things I needed while attempting to rein in the kids, Alex managed to snap an arm off of a $20 Nutcracker, which I chose to ignore in favor of resigning myself to buying the pack of Sour Patch Kids Emily had torn into. By the end of our shopping trip, I was teetering on the brink of sanity, barking at the boys to stay next to me and stuffing Emily under my arm like some kind of Sour Patch Kids chomping football.
On the way home, I gave them the talk. The talk about staying next to Mommy at the store and behaving because sometimes bad things happen. Kids get kidnapped, which sounds ludicrous even to my own ears. Who wants to kidnap somebody else's kids? Don't they realize how much it costs to feed these buggers? "That's why we stay together at Hobby Lobby," I finished up. "Because you might get kidnapped."
"Mommy, did you ever know anyone who got kidnapped?" Andy asked soberly.
"Yes, as a matter of fact," I replied, and then I launched into the Jaclyn Dowaliby story. "She was another Jaclyn JUST LIKE ME and she lived IN MY NEIGHBORHOOD when I was a kid. She was kidnapped and they still don't know who did it! Thirty years later! Do you believe that?"
"Was she taken at Hobby Lobby?" Alex asked.
"Nope, she was kidnapped out of her bedroom while she was sleeping," I nonchalantly replied before realizing my critical mistake. Oh crap. Oh man. I looked into the rear view mirror in time to see Andy's face go white.
"But actually, that was a very special case and most kids aren't taken from their house," I back pedaled, feeling the quick sand pulling me down as I pictured a decade of hand-holding Andy around the upstairs of our house, of standing over him while he brushed his teeth as a fifteen year old trembling about cold case kidnappings.
Andy had a hard time going to sleep that night, shockingly. He told me that I had really scared him, and even though he managed to let me tuck him into his bed and leave the room, he was thoroughly cocooned in his blankets when I checked on him an hour later, balled up tensely with his head touching his knees. I'm such a bad mom, I thought to myself. Then- this will teach 'em. Maybe they'll stay closer to me next time we shop. Maybe this crippling fear will somehow translate into less rowdiness around the house.
No such luck, of course. They are wild children through and through, which I have to accept (and expect). Yet the fear is still there in Andy, upstairs alone, standing in the corner listening to his heart beating frantically in the quiet while he thinks of strangers popping into the window to take him. I forget about it sometimes in all my snapping, in my parental anger of broken things and crying babies and wasted dinners. They are still little kids even if they seem part animal. They are scared of things and need reassurances and to feel safe. But really, boys, Mommy would be much better at that part of mothering if only I wasn't so busy spackling the living room wall and watching my shows around the TV's broken white spot.