The morning light hadn’t quite made its way into my daughter’s room yet. Instead, her green bug nightlight cast a soft glow across her pink fuzzy rug. I stepped carefully, to avoid being impaled by a stray Lego or a doll earring that had escaped her tidying up efforts. I crept closer to her loft and whispered up to her. “Jane.” Only soft snores in reply. She lay hidden somewhere underneath her unicorn dream tent and her fluffy comforter. “Jane!” I stage whispered, gently touching what was likely her foot. Could have been a stuffed bunny, though. These things become difficult to decipher from 2 feet below the edge of her bed.
Finally, she stirred. A little groan escaped from underneath the covers. “Good morning,” I chirped, and immediately regretted my overt chiperness. Nobody needs to be bowled down by cheer on a Monday morning before they’ve even opened their eyes. I toned it down and tried again. “Morning, bear. It’s 6:30. Want to get up and make your lunch?”
My uncannily self-sufficient seven year old makes her own lunch every day. I’ve ceased being amazed by this (although I didn’t make my own lunch until high school). It’s just who she is. She enjoys independence. And she’s proven herself responsible enough that I don’t need to hover over her. Sure, occasionally she’s headed off to school without a fruit or a vegetable gracing her lunchbox. But that’s not the norm. Typically, she at least attempts nutritional balance. Her hatred of the cafeteria’s food fuels her motivation. But, if she doesn’t get up early enough to make lunch, well it’s cafeteria mystery food for her.
When I didn’t hear a response from the top of the loft, I started backing slowly out of her room. Typically, Jane pops out of bed. She loves mornings. She’s one of those kids that wakes up at 6 a.m. even on the weekend. But not the past week or so. Twice last week, she ran into school just as the tardy bell rang. Being late makes her grumpy. In this way, and so many others if I’m honest, she’s just like me. This child is incapable of being rushed. Truly, the faster I try to coax her to move, the more I swear time begins to move backward. It was an effort to avoid this unpleasantness that drove me into her room at 6:30 in the morning in the first place. But when she didn’t exclaim, “Mommy! Good morning!” first thing, I knew my morning was about to go really wrong.
I made it back out to the dining room table, sat down with my book, and was sipping coffee before Captain Gloom appeared in the doorway. My face almost melted off from the heat of her scowl.
“Hey, buddy. What’s up?”
More scowling. “WHY did someone turn off my white noise?”
I looked at my kid, hair looking like something might still be nesting in it, eyes narrowed to slits in a combination of sleepiness and grumpiness, and I knew I needed to tread lightly. In my most neutral, yet comforting voice—well, the best one I could muster before I’d even finished my first cup of coffee—I tried reason, “I don’t think anyone turned it off love, I think…”
Apparently, thinking was a big mistake. Because my thinking made her stomp past me and into the kitchen. Now it was my turn to practice some deep breathing. I looked down at my book, willing myself to concentrate. But all the yelling that I wanted to do about her bad attitude was bouncing around in my head, crowding out the words on the page.
We’ve entered the season of snark with Jane. And, dear God, it is wearing me down.
Jane usually feels things intensely and lets them go. She can be happy, sad, then happy again in the time it takes me to finish a latte. But lately she’s been broodier. She rolls her eyes so hard that I feel sure they’re going to get stuck somewhere up in her head. She stomps off. And she holds on to these moods for a while, picking at her feelings, crying about things that are over and done—or at least they would’ve been over and done a few weeks ago. But now, we brood.
As I tried to maintain my composure in the dining room, I heard muffled sobs coming from the kitchen. I walked over, accompanied by the dog who looked confused, too. “Buddy, what is wrong?” Through tears, she shared her exquisite agony over awaking to the absence of white noise.
Look, I try to be understanding. And I’m sure that her tears were not actually about white noise. Maybe she felt disrespected because she thought we’d touched her things. Maybe she felt out-of-control because her morning didn’t start precisely the way she thought it would. Kids are super-complex little beings. I totally get that. But I get that a lot more once I’ve had enough caffeine to function.
“Jane, you’re going to have to let go of the white noise thing. Okay?”
“Can I have a hug?” she responded, her voice small and muffled through tears and all that hair that was still a wild mess atop her head.
I pulled her into a hug. I felt her relax a little. “Can you come in here with me while I make my lunch?” she asked.
I felt my heart catch a little. “No,” I said, quietly. “I got up early to take care of some things. I’m going to do those things now.”
Even as I was claiming my right to my own personhood, to be able to control the outcome of my morning even in the face of her meltdown, I felt guilty. Maybe I should drop everything to be there for whatever it was she was struggling through. But that isn’t really love. That’s servitude. There are times my world stops for her. But part of my job as her mother is to teach her what she can reasonably expect from people she loves. She can expect grace. We’ve been known to completely call a do-over on our morning and start again from scratch. She can expect understanding. Everyone has a bad day. Everyone gets grumpy. But she can’t expect people she loves to be her emotional punching bag. Being Jane’s mom uniquely qualifies me to be her safe space. But for that to work, like any relationship, we have to have boundaries. By not rearranging my morning for her grumpitude, I set my boundaries. Clearly.
And the world did not end. She dried her tears. She made her lunch, just like always. She even found time to snuggle with the dog (in the dog’s crate—but that’s another story for another day). By the time we left to walk to school, Jane was talking and laughing, anticipating her day ahead.
Parenting is about love, boundaries, messy hair, and redeemed mornings. And about a helluva lot of grace.