For years, I've dreaded the time I spend with my daughters at the bottom of our stairs that lead to our front door. It's the space where we keep our boots, where we put on our coats. We keep our umbrellas there and our mitts. And we fight there. That 10-foot-by-4-foot spot has been the scene of dozens of my worst parenting moments, the kind of moments where I raise my voice to a level unimaginable without the frustration and anger that comes with parenting young children. We're never there for more than 10 minutes, but it's never easy.
I dread it at night. I hate those 10 minutes.
There's something about putting on boots that my daughters don't like and there's something about them not liking it that turns me from a piggyback-ride-offering, reading-in-bed, writing-stories dad into one who can't hold his temper for more than three minutes. It's a culmination of not getting enough sleep, wondering how the day at work will go, thinking about what's for dinner that night, lamenting that I didn't go for a longer run that morning... and it's about young children doing what young children do -- spending time in their own hyper-creative world. It's frustrating for me, as I'm sure it is for them.
Too often, these put-on-your-boots-please exchanges turn into, "We'll leave you here, then," exchanges or, "I don't care if you wear mitts, then, just get in the car," exchanges. It's easy to change the tone of a conversation with a raised voice, but the three seconds of frustration turns into a day's worth of regret as I spend the drive to school drop-off trying to cool down and then sharing my I Love Yous before we part for the day. I have the sense in me not to have a shouting match be my last interaction with my kids before dropping them off.
And so we leave one another with a kiss, or a hug, or with one of our patented jump hugs.
But it never ends there, because we're parents and parents overanalyze everything.
So, the rest of the day is made up of:
"What if she gets bullied and remembers her dad yelled at her, too?"
"What if I scared her so much she doesn't want to talk to me?"
"What if she cries at school and I'm not there?"
"What if today's the day they need to use their emergency procedures and all she can think of is me yelling?"
"What if I get into an accident and all I can think of is her thinking of me screaming?"
The hardest moments for me as a parent are the moments that may never happen. I can deal with sick children and I can deal with screaming ones. I can deal with food being spilled over my new shirt and I can deal with them using my back as a trampoline. I can't deal with the moments my mind imagines might happen in the 30 minutes that proceed from me yelling at my child.
This isn't a story about regret or failure. I raise my voice because I do a lot as a parent, because there's a lot going on. We all have a lot going on. And kids don't listen all the time, nor should they be expected to.
So it isn't an apology, and I'm not asking for forgiveness or reassurances that I'm still doing OK, because I know I am. I know most of the time, in every other corner of our house and all the inches outside of it, I'm a supportive parent who loves his kids and does his best. I'm incredibly fallible, and my children know that.
But I don't always recognize that we all are. We're sharing pictures in a time when it's easy to share pictures. I see all of you out there having happy family vacations, opening gifts at Christmas, getting chocolate ice cream all over your shirts. I see you smile and I see you share tender moments with your family. That's what you see of me, too.
We rarely share our meltdowns; we don't always share our tears. I don't need to reassure you that you're doing just fine even though you hate your 10 minutes by [insert your dreaded spot], too. But I want to share it anyway, because we don't always have to be smiling; there's always room for worry when you're raising kids, because we screw up and we lament it. We dwell on it until we have little arms wrapped around us again.
I hate those 10 minutes at the bottom of those hated stairs. But girl, oh girl, do I love those kids.