My kids don’t think I’m mean!
And yet, I am — at least, by my definition, which is that this whole long-haul-parenting gig is hard, in large part because it’s so darned repetitive. You don’t get to say things one time. If you believe it, you have to stick to it. Like exercise: Just once, and you’re simply sore. Not at all, and you’re just flabby. But to be firm? It’s over, and over. And over and over. And over.
But back to the kids: The other night, I read from Mean Moms Rule and signed copies for 60 to 65 (at my husband’s enthusiastic count) attendees at an event at a local indie bookstore, the Book Revue. Here’s a picture taken during the Q&A portion, when the boys migrated over to stand near me (to make sure I didn’t say anything embarrassing? To pull on the back of my skirt in a distracting way? Both?):
One lighthearted question, right at the end, was this: Do your sons think you’re mean?
And I hesitated just long enough for my younger boy, James, to pipe up: No!
Everyone laughed, and then I retired to a table to sign copies.
I bring this up because what I think I can take away from James’ answer is this: He gets it. Well, maybe-kinda-sorta. He gets (as does his brother) what I mean by, well, mean. I’m not grrrrr mean, I’m Mean-Mom mean. And that’s just the way it is.
But a good part of “the way it is” involves seemingly endless repetition of the same rules and reminders over and over again. Each time — or maybe every other time — I wonder: Is this too much? Do they really have to clear their plates tonight when it would be easier for me to do it? Do I want to send him back to his room to finish his half-assed version of fixing the bed? So what if he hasn’t yet written a thank-you to the generous neighbors who always give them a surprise late holiday gift?
And I usually decide it is worth it. It definitely renders me Madam Repeat-Yourself, but so be it. I guess that’s the small-picture part of being mean.
Yesterday, thanks to a day off for Martin Luther King Day and the fact that their dad worked late, it was just me and the boys, all day. Which gave me loads of time to take note of how often I say, well, the same thing, over and over. Oh, how I wish I could transmit this stuff in some sort of stickier way in their brains and hearts. But this is the best approach I’ve got in my arsenal. So I’mma gonna keep at stuff like this:
1. Sit up while you eat.
2. This is a fork. This is the part you hold it with, and this end stabs the food. Try.
3. Did you fix your bed? Go back and fix your bed. For real.
4. Take away your plate. Take away your plate. Take away … yes, and the cup.
5. Take off your shoes, empty your backpack, wash your hands (this is like a mantra repeated in a cluster in the 10 minutes after they burst through the door on school days).
6. Go say goodbye and thank you to your grandparents/cousins/aunt and uncle.
7. No more screens! Yes, now.
8. Lower your voice, tie your shoes, zip your bag, bring home your hat (and if you forgot? You check in the lost-and-found).
9. You ask the teacher/the librarian/the waiter.
10. Yep, it’s true: The dishwasher needs emptying again!
11. Shut the lights when you leave the room. And that other room.
12. [After I hear the toilet flush] Wash your hands! Yes for “just pee,” too.
13. Hang up your towel.
14. Piano. [This only needs the one word]
10. Lights out. Lights out. Lights out.
What puts you on repeat?