I have a bad habit of telling the girls that we will do something and then when time runs out or I have to get dinner started or someone spills apple juice down the front of her clothes just as we are about to walk out the door for school, I have to go back on my word and say, “You know what, we can’t do it now.”
As a mother, I try to not to say “No” or speak in negatives. I don’t want to disappoint my girls, but I want to keep them safe and healthy and growing towards fully functioning, well adjusted adults. Sometimes a firm no, followed by a “Because I said so”is needed. Lately, it’s felt to my own ears that I’m always saying no. No is my factory preset. And interestingly enough, no is never easy. I mean, by saying no, I’m leaving the window open for a swarm of tears, tantrums, foot stomping, and fists balled up at rigid sides. Every time that happens, that critical inner voice wraps her arm around my shoulder, points to the maelstrom of misbehavior happening in front of us and says, “This could have totally be avoided if you had just said yes, like most other mothers do. You know, mothers who aren’t so uptight and anal retentive.”
The thing is, though, sometimes no is needed because it will save on disappointment in the long run. The more I say “yes” and then backpedal to a “no”, I’m forming a pattern that my children will internalize. Get your hopes up, get your hopes dashed.
Our morning routine exists in a finite sphere of time. We have 75 minutes to get three bodies up, dressed, fed, and packed up for school. An hour and 15 minutes sound like a lot of time, but it’s really not. The girls like to have breakfast in the morning, but they don’t like to have the same breakfast every morning.
Choosing between Cheerios and Cinnamon Toast Crunch takes time. Choosing between toast and bagels takes time. Don’t get me started on the OJ vs. apple juice vs. cranberry juice debacle. Breakfast preparation and consumption eats up the majority of the 75 minutes. They’re dressed in 15, they can wash their faces, brush their teeth, pack their bags, and still find time to plop down on the couch with a book before we have to load up the car at 7:30. Between 6:30 and 7:00am, though, we’re totally moving in slow motion.
“Stop giving them options, Hilary with one L,” I hear you say.
“Make them get ready the night before,” I hear you say.
“Set a timer. Put their shoes by the door. Give them a chore chart.” Yes, I have done all of the things prescribed by parenting mags, mommy bloggers, and my own mother, but we’re still not firing on all cylinders.
Blessedly, we have eliminated one time suck that used to cripple our forward progress to being out of the door on time — hair. The girls get their hair braided every few weeks which means, there aren’t any heads to do in the morning (all the awards go to Regina at Tiny textures). When we are in between appointments, especially when the girls’ styles are looking a little more worn that I’d like, I have them unbraid one another. If you see them rocking two puffs or a high puff, chances are a new appointment is on the horizon.
This is where we find ourselves today. M’s braids had to come out; she looked as though she had been sweeping the floor with her head. C’s braids had to come out; hers looked as though she mopped up whatever M had swept up. My plan was to unbraid, wash, detangle, and throw their curls into a high puff. Easy peasy. The girls had other plans.
“I want to wear my hair in an Afro. Like you.” M announced as she finger detangled apart sections of her hair.
“Me, too!” C piped up, her curls winging around her face, wavy and free.
I don’t know if it’s ironic or hypocritical or what, but despite everything I know and love about natural hair, having my girls wear their hair in afros is a pain my can.
I’m a horrible teacher. Teaching M and C, both of whom have completely different curl patterns, lengths, porosity, and degree of tender headedness from me (and each other), how to care for and appropriately style their hair makes my hair go straight.
They want to learn. I want them to learn. I just don’t have the patience to do it. Mostly it’s because when they’re ready to wear their hair loose, we’re trying to get out the door.
Thankfully, they can wash, condition, and separate their own hair into two pigtails. The two strand twisting, pineappling, and bantu knotting has yet to be mastered. I’ve explained to them that in order to wear their hair loose on a Tuesday, they’re going to have to prep their hair on Monday night. We’re talking time management. When the siren song of a new book or friends playing outside or screen time or dessert penetrates the airwaves, any thoughts of hair evaporate.
M and C both said they wanted to wear their hair loose. The night before, they had washed and parted their hair. C slathered gel onto her edges before she braided (yay!) but in such copious amounts, the take down in the morning was destined to fail. Before bed, I (mistakenly) told her that if there was time in the morning, I’d look at it and see if we could work it into a loose style. I know full well there is no time in the morning! I knew it as the words were coming out of my mouth, but I couldn’t gobble them back up. She heard me and took that for bond.
The next morning, M’s hair had dried misshapenly to her scalp. I had to rinse her out in order to bring the shape back to life. The whole while, I had one eye on the clock and one ear cocked to the kitchen to make sure V hadn’t set anything on fire. C, who had already reminded me several times of what I had said the night before, was standing in doorway, eyes wide. “What about my hair?” might as well have been in a thought bubble above her head.
We didn’t have time.
We didn’t have time for me to be fooling with M’s hair to the extent that I was, but I was.
We didn’t have time for me to honor what I’d told C, but I did.
We didn’t have time, but I acted like we did and then got mad when things didn’t work out the way I wanted.
I got mad because I KNEW we didn’t have time, but I pushed through. I wanted to do this for my girls because they want to wear their hair flying free. They love their hair. I want them to love their hair and if I say, “No, you can’t wear it in an afro”, what the hell kind of message is that?
So I say “yes”, even though we don’t have time, which means M gets her afro big and her curls popping, but the back of her shirt is wet.
I say “yes”, even though we don’t have time, which means I’m pulling C’s pigtails down, trying to break up the gel that has her hair cemented to her scalp like Magic Shell. I’m sticking her head under the faucet, vigorously washing and finger detangling. Here comes V, ambling into the bathroom asking for apple juice.
I say “yes”, even though we don’t have time, and finally realize, SHIT, WE DON’T HAVE TIME. So I part C’s hair and give her two afro puffs, each one bigger than her face.
Her face, her beautiful face, that crumples into frustrated tears because this is NOT what she wanted. Through hiccuping sobs, she uses my own words against me, reminding me that I said. I said she could wear it loose (let the record reflect, I said, “if there was time in the morning, I’d look at it and see if we could work it into a loose style”).
And the combination of her tears, my rapidly cooling coffee just a fingertip out of reach on the counter, and the fact that it is now 7:20 and NO one has washed their teeth, brushed their face, packed their shoes, or put on their bag hits me like a bag full of angry cats.
So I do what any mother trying to be SuperMom does.
I start to over explain. I try to back pedal without going back 100%. I justify. I get mad at myself for being in this situation of trying to be Supermom and getting thwarted. I’m Atlas holding up the world and here comes Life skipping on by to sweep my legs out from under me. And that inner voice clears her throat to inform me, “If you’d said no, like moms who have their shit together, you could have avoided this.”
Here’s the thing. I have always maintained that if I’m wondering whether or not I’m doing a good job at this parenting thing, I probably am. No bad parent is going to worry if they’re a bad parent, right?
I’m doing my best at changing what doesn’t work for us into practices and family rules that do. I’m finding the balance between “yes”, “no”, and “maybe”. It’s easy to say “yes” when they ask for one more story. It’s easy to say “no” when they’re trying to see who can shove the most number of goldfish in their mouth without dropping any. It’s easy to say “maybe” when then ask me if I’ll tell them where babies come from.
Eleven years in, three kids later, and I’m still figuring out this parenting thing. Will I always get it right? No (obviously). Will I go crazy in the process? Maybe. Will I keep trying? Yes, yes, a thousand times yes.
Got any parenting tips or tricks? Tell me about it in the comments.
Also published on Medium.