Breakfast time: “I need more milk!” my 6-year-old exclaims. “I can get it!” She says as I instinctively rise from my seat. I slowly sit back down and watch her run into the kitchen with her cup. With all her might she heaves the refrigerator open, knocking over the salad dressing. My grip tightens on the table and my toes curl.
She arches her back and with two hands pulls out the nearly full gallon — it seems to weigh as much as she does. I take deep breaths and channel all the parenting books that stress the importance of letting kids do as much as they can themselves. It teaches them. What does it teach them, exactly? I can’t remember. My eyebrow starts to twitch. I can’t focus on anything but her tipping the gallon oh so slowly toward her little plastic cup. My butthole is clenched so tight it could crack a walnut. Suddenly the milk comes cascading out in a rush, sending the cup to the floor with a ping! as a white waterfall explodes into every available crevice.
“Oops!” she says, slowly setting the carton upright, milk still slopping out of the top.
“It’s OK,” I say through clenched teeth, forcing a smile and handing her the mop. “Accidents happen!”
My kids leave for school and I go to great lengths to avoid their bedrooms. They make their beds the best they can, and I know to most moms it would be good enough. But I’m not most moms. I’m a recovering control freak. Eventually I have to go upstairs for something, and I cup my hands around the sides of my eyes, sort of like those blinders they put on horses in parades so they don’t freak out and stomp the bystanders to death.
“It’s fine, it’s fine, it’s fine,” I sing under my breath, though I know the sheets are most likely balled up under the comforter, part of which is probably touching the floor.
The urge to do everything myself goes way beyond the milk and the beds. I bite my tongue when my daughter comes downstairs with a glob of hair missing from her ponytail. I sit on my hands as they slowly assemble a puzzle — my stomach churning as they slowly try each piece before finally finding the right one. The urge to grab the brush, or the puzzle piece, or the milk carton, and just do it myself is almost overwhelming.
Up until now, being a control freak has had its benefits. When I was working, things got done and they got done right. My bosses knew they could count on me, even if my co-workers didn’t love me breathing down their necks. My life was a well-oiled machine. My credit score was impeccable, and my sheets were never balled up. The only drawback so far has been that flying makes me very uncomfortable; I hate being kept out of the cockpit.
“You know you’re going to have to change your ways once the baby comes,” my friends would say to me when I was first pregnant, usually as I was organizing their utensil drawer. “This kid is going to rock your world.”
“Yeah, whatever. Hey do you happen to have a tape measure and a circular saw? I can make you something awesome for this.”
They were right.
And I’m doing my best to change my ways, but old habits die hard. I know that kids have to try and fail (most times repeatedly) to learn. Natural consequences are a good thing — you have to fall if you’re going to learn how to walk. The sheet balled up under the comforter isn’t going to hurt anyone. Say it with me: The sheet balled up under the comforter isn’t going to hurt anyone.
My kids are learning perseverance; they’re learning grit. And judging by the extremely exaggerated twitch in my eyebrow as it takes them 20 minutes to tie their shoes every morning, I’m learning it right along with them.