I awoke—once around four, then again at six—to the purple-tinged darkness that is a snowstorm in action in the night. The snow is laying down a soft blanket (before the threatened sleet and ice and rain later on). It was exceedingly quiet, even muffled and although I didn’t go downstairs to check the computer and confirm the snow day, the quiet told me, no school (the computer just made it official).
Generally, I detest snow days. As a parent, I consider this one of my major failings (and believe me, there are many). From the kids’ perspective, snow days are such fun, and the happier way to weather (pun intended) snow days for a parent is to see the wonder of the unexpected gift, the beauty of the snow, and the spontaneous fun made possible by the serendipitous confluence of white stuff falling from sky and snowplows slow to push away the bounty in time for school and work. As Saskia would say, “That sounds good.” So often, though, I feel trampled upon, overwhelmed by my overexcited kids, a little cabin fever, and a desire for the quieter experience that is my kids in school and me at work.
Today, fortunately, the snow day falls on a half-day (oh, save for the eldest child whose middle school is closed but still has math class—upper school—smack dab in the middle of the morning and it’s our day to drive to school) and Saskia’s off on Wednesdays, anyway. In other words, I am not losing much quiet at all, or any work time.
For whatever reason—and I have no idea, actually—the question swirling in my head when I woke up was this one: does love actually mean never having to say you’re sorry? (Is that from a movie? Song?) I think the answer is a big, fat NO. I’d go further: one of the best parts of parenting (for me) has everything to do with sorry; it’s how often we get to relearn and redo. It’s not a constant series of new beginnings, really, it’s more like we get to figure out the toughest things through a lot of practice.
I was reminded of this twice just yesterday. The morning started off, as it often does, with my seven year-old, Remy, coming downstairs—earliest is me, next is him—and per usual, he was grumpy. The combination of low blood sugar and the refrain of I-don’t-want-to-go-to-school often informs our initial interaction and it’s kind of a race to get food (well regarded for its mood enhancement properties) into him before he (and I) go crazy. Quite often, by the time his mood improves (around eight, as we are walking out the door), I’ve been tussling with the other two brothers for a while (get up, put your dirty laundry into the hamper, turn the light off, brush your teeth…) and so, honestly, racing to get out the door in time to make it to school at the appointed hour, my mood isn’t so great. Note: Remy often does apologize for his difficult behavior after the fact, when he realizes, usually upon seeing someone else be so taxing, that he is, as well.
Yesterday morning wasn’t too bad until after four reminders to Lucien that he hadn’t taken his lunch from his backpack the afternoon before and that he needed to take it out and put it on the counter so I could put the new lunch into the bag, he looked incredulous and pissed that—late (and we were by then late)—I still expected him to remove the sac from the backpack. He squealed, “I won’t have lunch then, and it’ll be your fault!” I pulled the sac out and told him to start walking (pushover, I know). When I finally caught up to him, close to school, having walked with now-cheery Remy only up until then, the first thing I said was this: “I’d really like it if you apologized to me for snarling like that. I know that I snarl, too, sometimes, and we both know that life is better when we don’t. So, sorry, and let’s try again.” He mumbled sorry (and believe me, that’s a huge improvement upon an earlier point in his life), and more importantly, we were friends once more for the last block before school.
That’s the thing with these cycles of grouchiness and rapprochement; we get to experience how we affect one another. Clearly, if my household is any indicator, this is not a lesson learned just once and mastered. This lesson is more of the sea variety, a wave that must crash and ebb, crash and ebb. Repetition is so integral to human relations and yet so often that truth is ignored.
The second reminder came later. My friends, Gina-Louise and Bill, have a six-month old, the perfect dumpling baby, Laz (also known as she who would not sleep and would not nap for long stretches). Enter, Ferber. The result was improved sleep for all. My scrappy, determined toddler, Saskia, fourth child, naps often neglected in the hubbub of daily life chasing after three other, older non-napping kids, barely naps. A long nap might be forty-five minutes or an hour, most often in the stroller or the car seat or on the couch. Somewhere in there, I just forgot that toddlers need naps. And I also forgot that I could enforce the nap (you know, because I’m the grown-up).
So, Monday, once we’d had the after school bottle and story—and she hadn’t quite fallen asleep, although she seemed tired—I did something radical (thank you GL and Bill), I brought her upstairs to her crib, where she proceeded to cry for about eight minutes and then sleep for about two hours. Dear hubby had to come home with a sandwich and some work so I could get the other child at school, but still… a nap. Bravo, Saskia. Bravo, me. And the next day, I put a not-yet-asleep Saskia in her crib (oh, the tears!) and she cried for about five minutes and slept for a solid hour before I had to wake her up and take her to school to get the brothers.
Along with the beautiful lesson of the do-over came another beautiful reminder: you can always learn something (new, more, or again).
The middle brothers have been outside for a good while clearing off the cars and shoveling and there are phone calls beginning about who might play where and when and the parent-teacher conference will have to be rescheduled and I may need to try to buy some more mittens seeing how many single mitts are in the pile and the snow is cascading still against the puffy white on buildings and the swollen grey sky (I’m trying not to think about the sleet and rain and ice promised for later on today). I’m not panicked and I’m not frustrated about the snow day (a little annoyed, sure, but barely so). I am happily surprised by my December (when there should not be any snow days) mellowness (talk to me in February, the story will be very different, guaranteed) I can hardly believe it. But after all these years in New England, I’ve finally started to grasp that winter is part and parcel of living here and the thing to do is—to the best of my abilities—embrace it. Sorry is the same way, best accepted and best embraced; like the snow, like the do-over and the relearning and the learning anew—you can teach old dogs new tricks, perhaps—it is ultimately forgiving.