My sister-in-law hates Chiff Chaffs.  These little migratory birds arrive in the UK in April or May, perching in the tops of trees, calling out a repetitive CHIFF CHAFF CHIFF CHAFF sound that seems to go on and on.  She says that the call is incessantly annoying.  I’d never thought of it that way: to me it’s a welcome sign of spring, and I delight when I hear my first Chiff Chaff of the year.  It makes me feel as though all is right with the world: in spite of everything that’s happened in the year, the migrants have returned.  The Earth continues to turn.  It’s reassuring.

A few days ago I was gardening, trying to eradicate those ferocious weeds that grow up between the pavers behind the house.  It’s hot, unhappy work.  Glancing up to draw the back of my hand across my forehead, I saw the children playing with the running hosepipe.  It was fun water play.  I turned my back, and when I turned again and walked toward the house I saw something that made me drop everything and run.  The hose had been trailed in through the back door and water was running all over the kitchen.

 

Throwing down my hoe and dashing to the flood, I called for towels.  Mopping it up I shouted for the children, asking them in turn who’d brought the hosepipe into the house.  It was the usual culprits, Not Me and I Didn’t.

I used every towel in the house to soak up that water.  I stood at the sink, wringing them out with shaking hands.  I felt cross that there was no one to blame.  I wanted to shout at someone, to make them clean it up, to teach them a lesson!  I got all my anger out on those towels, and threw them into the washing machine, slamming the door.

It is a hard truth to swallow but I admit that I simply wanted to blame someone because I was mad.  I wasn’t thinking about grasping that teaching moment.  At that point discipline equalled punishment, not teaching.   No.  I was in a rage.  Dinner was ready, now growing cold.  In my mind I was the victim: I’d been interrupted yet again by someone being inconsiderate.  I was on my hands and knees, cleaning up yet another mess that I didn’t create.  No one helped.  No one said sorry.  No one even cares, I told myself.  In self-pity and desperation, the hot tears sprang to my eyes as I silently screamed, “This is not why I was put on this earth!”

Prior to becoming a mother I had little idea of how much control over my life I would have to release.  I cannot just decide to weed the garden then walk calmly indoors to serve dinner.  Maybe some mothers’ lives are like that, but in the whirlwind of chaos that is mine, no such reality exists.  An interruption like a flood is the norm.

And yet it still makes me angry.  I still sometimes feel trapped.  I still wallow in victim-hood and wonder why the stars are crossed against me.  I still keep my hands clenched tightly on the idea that I can be in control and in charge, and when I’m not, the anger follows.

The flood scenario is not unique.  In the past two weeks my toddler has peed in several shoes (not his own, notably), poured oats all over the floor, overflowed the bathroom sink, spread toothpaste on the floor, drawn on the new hall wallpaper and climbed on the kitchen countertops to reach inside the cupboards for whatever goodies he could find.  His curious little fingers unravel my knitting when I’m not looking, rip up pages of newspapers I haven’t read yet, dip into the butter dish to scoop out a blob then make a bee-line to his mouth then his hair (his wiping surface of choice).  He spends most of his time wearing a monkey suit and wellies, and the outfit is appropriate to his busy, cheeky nature.

photo

It’s a blessing that my hair is less than 1cm in length, or I’d be pulling it out when I grasp it and tug in frustration several times a day.

This week my husband and I were discussing all of the extra jobs this little one creates for us.  We’ve been feeling cross that we’ve had so much to do.  What little free time we have is spent tidying up whatever mayhem he’s created.  But my memory is long, and I can remember that my other children were like this, and they eventually grew out of it.  I can’t be too angry for too long at this small person, for part of the reason he does these things is due to my own (inevitable) inability to give every child all of the attention s/he needs every day.  So while I’m doing his sister’s hair, he scrawls across the wall.  When I’m helping the other with her violin practice, he’s busy emptying the marble box across the floor.  It’s curiosity, it’s attention-seeking, it’s experimentation.  Others might call him naughty.  But I, as his mother, see these behaviours as attempts to communicate.  I know his motivations and I see his potential.  I stroke his chin and know one day there will be stubble.  I hold his hand and know that soon it will be larger than mine.  I look down to him and know that one day I will be looking up to him.  And inside, his goodness, his essence, is unchanging.

I’ve been wondering if it’s a bit like my sister-in-law and those Chiff Chaffs.  One person’s annoyance is another person’s sign of spring.  Maybe these ‘extra jobs’ we have to do because of our youngest child’s curiosity are actually just The Work of Parenting.  Parenting’s not just about reading bedtime stories and sharing butterfly kisses.  The Work of Parenting includes cleaning up flooded kitchen floors, scraping concrete-like dried Weetabix off the table, waiting while a little one chatters away on a café toilet while your coffee is getting cold.  The Work of Parenting is moderating the arguments of older children, putting a load of laundry in several times a day only to have the clothes soiled within minutes, packing lunches that hardly get eaten.  The Work of Parenting is sewing up holes in a monkey suit while the three year old is still wearing it.  The Work of Parenting is shining a torch down a child’s throat so you can see where it’s sore, just because she wants you to.  The Work of Parenting is holding the sick bowl and rubbing a small child’s back in the middle of the night.  The Work of Parenting is mopping up flooded kitchen floors.

It’s not always wonderful.  It’s not always fun.  For me, how I choose to respond to it makes all the difference.   I could see all these things as annoyances like the Chiff Chaff or I could see them as just The Work of Parenting.  Another sign that all is right with the world.  I might even allow myself to be reassured.  The Earth continues to turn.

Words and photos ©Lisa Hassan Scott 2013.

 

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24 thoughts on “The Work of Parenting

  • 10/05/2013 at 8:59 pm
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    Oh this is so good. The Work of Parenting…yes indeed!

    “how I choose to respond to it makes all the difference.” This is so very true, and something that crosses my mind at least a couple of times of day 🙂

    Enjoy your weekend.

    • 10/05/2013 at 9:05 pm
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      Thank you Kim for your kind words. Isn’t in incredible how thoughts can have such a big effect on how we go through the day?

      My weekend should include campervan shenanigans, hiking and power kites. A good mix. Hope yours is good too!
      Love,
      Lisa

  • 10/05/2013 at 9:57 pm
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    Oh Lisa – this had me chuckling all the way through. My 3yo is in exactly the same space. No matter how hard I try to retrieve the pencils that 6yo doesn’t put away, she finds them. I’ve lost count of the books, walls etc she’s drawn on and yet like you I don’t have the heart to shout (although I do remind her that if she wants to draw, ask for paper), I know that’s just where she is and she’s exploring.
    I’ve had a rough couple of days and once again your words have reminded me what really matters – my children. Thank you 🙂

    • 11/05/2013 at 9:19 pm
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      Hi Louise,

      Sorry to hear you’ve had a rough couple of days and thank you for sharing your perspective. Writing these blog posts helps me as much as I hope it helps other people. Just writing it down and making sense of it myself– then reading the comments here to find out that you all are there in the thick of it too, and what I feel has resonated with you. That helps me so much. So I really appreciate it when people take the time to share like this.

      Also, I love your avatar!
      Thanks for stopping by,
      Lisa

  • 10/05/2013 at 10:00 pm
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    Lisa,

    It’s funny isn’t it, some days I find the mess and destruction amusing whereas other days its the end of the world…. I used to spend most of the day picking up after one or other of them ( hubby included !) … I recently decided to embrace it, the little grow up so quickly, far too quickly. i only havr to look at my big ones to know that. Before we know it life will be easy again ( she says in hope ) … I sometimes wonder how our life would’ve been if the little ones didnt surprise us and come along. Imagine how boring it would be. You should’ve chased them with the hose on full!

    • 11/05/2013 at 9:16 pm
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      Hi Laura,
      Ah yes, the hosing-them-down method of parenting. I’ll blog about that next! LOL! 🙂

      As other people have commented here, the long view makes such a difference. When you’re in the middle of it, it seems like a truism to say that they grow up too fast and these days are fleeting… but they are, and you know that from having a the age gap you’ve got with your children. Your two lovely little surprises are so cherished, and it’s wonderful that you’re getting a chance to really savour mothering little ones again!

      Than you for taking the time to comment,
      Lisa x

  • 10/05/2013 at 10:07 pm
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    Well, that is so funny, I say the exact same thing……………” I wasn’t put on this earth to just ……………..(insert mundane repetitive task)”.

    Tip for the Mums of future artists……at the age of 14 I drew all over my bedroom walls in anger, with purple marker pen. My mother didn’t react, I never bothered again. If you get a really big bit of cardboard and hang it up at monkey height and put some crayons near it , it might provide a controlled expressive area?

    Hugs xxx

    • 11/05/2013 at 9:12 pm
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      Hi Ang,
      I think that phrase is inserted with a few others (“Do you think I’m made of money?!” and “Careful!”) at childbirth.

      🙂 Thanks for commenting and for sharing your purple marker story!
      Lisa

  • 10/05/2013 at 10:56 pm
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    Thank you, thank you. Again just what I needed to read. Especially to hear another talk of feeling trapped and wallowing in victimhood.

    • 11/05/2013 at 9:10 pm
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      Argh! Yes, I can be such a victim! I am glad to hear it’s not just me Charlotte.

      Thanks for reading and commenting,
      Lisa

  • 10/05/2013 at 11:04 pm
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    ‘I’ve been wondering if it’s a bit like my sister-in-law and those Chiff Chaffs. One person’s annoyance is another person’s sign of spring.’

    oh my goodness me! lightbulb moment! Yes, this!

    I also have a 3yo, also in this phase. Knowing its a phase doesn’t mean it isn’t tough at times, goodness me no!

    • 11/05/2013 at 9:10 pm
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      Hello Mamacrow,
      It’s a relief to hear that you have a similar three year old! Yes, it is tough, but it does help to have the long view, doesn’t it?

      I am overjoyed to hear that you had a lightbulb moment. Every time I hear a Chiff Chaff I think about this point.
      Lisa xo

  • 10/05/2013 at 11:19 pm
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    Absolutely beautiful, Lisa. Thank you for taking the time to put these truths into words for the rest of us to read.

    • 11/05/2013 at 9:08 pm
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      Thanks Amy, thinking of you this week.
      Lisa

  • 11/05/2013 at 7:35 am
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    Lovely post, thank you! I can definitely relate to it having had a week of trying to get to grips with looking after a changing toddler and changing baby as they both seem to be developing so much so quickly at the moment.

    • 11/05/2013 at 9:08 pm
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      Yes, Ruth, the only thing that’s constant with children is change! It’s definitely a skill of parenthood to be able to cope with so much change at once as our little ones grow.

      Thank you for taking the time to read and comment,
      Lisa

  • 11/05/2013 at 12:50 pm
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    Your life sounds very similar to mine, Lisa! Some days I feel as though I never have a second to myself and that I’m constantly listening or picking up or redirecting or mopping up a flood or calming a rage. But then I remember that this is the work of parenting, and that it’s the job I’ve always wanted. And that it’s the best, most rewarding job I’ll ever have! Thank you for reminding me of that. Sometimes it seems, though, as though everyone else is in total control and that their days aren’t like this. So thank you too for reminding me that I’m not alone!

    • 11/05/2013 at 9:07 pm
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      Hi Kirsten,
      Thank you for making the point that this is the job you’ve always wanted: it’s the best and most rewarding job you’ll ever have. That’s such a salient point, and something that I would like to have at the forefront of my mind!

      Love,
      Lisa

  • 11/05/2013 at 1:47 pm
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    lovely. 🙂 what a great thing to read this morning!

    • 11/05/2013 at 9:05 pm
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      Thank you Lori. xo

  • 13/05/2013 at 2:04 pm
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    Hi Lisa, lovely post! As my mother always says when I relay a frustrating incident like that, “Ah, the joys of motherhood”. That phrase is a recognition of the frustrations inherent in mothering, and yet has a glimpse of the wisdom of hindsight kind of built in. From her 80 year old perspective, I believe she recognizes these events from a global perspective and that the good, the bad and the ugly together make up the whole mothering experience. I think it’s the yin and yang, the light and the dark that enable us to recognize the magical moments – those exquisite moments of motherhood that seem so fleeting, but may not be as recognizable without those irritating ones. Sending love to you and all your brood. Miss you. xx

    • 14/05/2013 at 8:56 pm
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      Hello Sione,

      I’m so glad you caught the post in time before comments closed! 🙂 I can just hear your mother saying that– thanks for reminding me. I love what you say about the dark moments making the bright ones shine just that little bit brighter. Balance. Thank you– that adds so much to the discussion.

      Love,
      Lisa

  • 13/05/2013 at 9:03 pm
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    Yes, Yes, Yes!! I think I will take the “Work of Parenting” my new mantra. When my two year old has just written in pen all over the couch of our vacation rental I will say to myself, yes my work is to show her that is must be cleaned and how to clean it and that this is my work.

    I might be mad, scratch that furious but it is true I signed up for this of my own free will so for now it is my work. I might as well do a good job.

    • 14/05/2013 at 8:55 pm
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      Thank you KC for your inspiring words and for taking the time to share. Yes, the free will part is essential. As others here have said, it’s so easy to slip into victimhood… when actually, we want to be here. Maybe not cleaning pee up from the inside of an Ugg boot (which seems to be my current fate!)… but nevertheless this is exactly where I want to be!
      Love,
      Lisa

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