4:45 pm in the Northeast, mid November. Darkness is looming, and the temperature is beyond brisk when I arrive for pick up at aftercare. My son waltzes in from the playground, waving and smiling at me with an ungloved hand. He’s also sans jacket.
“Hi Mommy, how was your day?” (How can you get mad at a kid who starts every afternoon with that sentence?)
“My day was pretty fun, thanks for asking. I’d love to know about yours, but first, I need to know wh–”
“I know what you’re going to say.” He points a gloveless finger at me. “I am NOT cold. My gloves are in my backpack.”
“Great,” I reply, “but where’s your jacket?”
“Ummmmmmmmmm. I’m prrreeeety sure it’s in Mrs. Nelson’s room.”
Mrs. Nelson is not his teacher.
“Who is Mrs. Nelson? And why would your jacket be in her room?”
“She’s the lady whose room I wait in for the bus to take me here. It’s gotta be there.”
Let’s not go into the litany of reminders I begin rattling off to him, including that he already lost one jacket last week, the one his grandmother bought him, and no way could we lose this one too, it’s expensive, and it’s 34 degrees outside!
“Here’s Mommy, Charlee,” a voice interrupts my grade a lecture. “I told you she was coming.”
I spin around to see my daughter, holding hands with one of her aftercare counselors. She’s doing the sniff and shoulder shrug thing she does when she’s upset.
“Chachi!” I default to her nickname, kneel, and stretch out my arms. “What’s the matter?”
She buries her head on my shoulder.
“I don’t feel good.” Sniff. “I want you.” Shrug. “I didn’t eat lunch or snack.” Sob. “Please don’t take me to the doctor – I don’t want a shot!! What if I starve to death?!”” She’s full on wailing now. I feel a hand on my back. Joey.
“Don’t worry, Mommy. It’ll be okay. She’s pretty dramatic.”
I pull away from Charlee and look at them with a wry smile. One thought floats through my brain: They are me.
It’s humorous and sobering when you realize your children have inherited your least desirable character traits. Joe and I don’t even pretend to blame one another when Joey or Charlee exhibit our objectionable temperaments. We own it. Joey has inherited my forgetfulness, a problematic f word. I was the kid who left any/all belongings on the bus, in my locker, on my desk, you name it. Something was, and still is, always somewhere; I just don’t remember where. In middle school, I even threw out my glasses with my brown paper lunch bag. (This may have subconsciously been on purpose; in 1987, my glasses transformed me into Uncle Junior from The Sopranos.) Fortunately, Joey also inherited my desire to make people feel good, hence the backrub. He also thinks like my husband – with reason, logic, and common sense. Thank goodness.
Chachi is all emotion. She dances, sings, hugs, jumps for joy, expresses her love, and her discontent. From the day she was born, Joe said she was smart. I said she was fun. She also cries – a lot. She worries, dramatizes events we see as small setbacks, and when in the throes of emotion, is unable to see beyond what’s happening in her five year old world. She speaks before she truly understands what she’s about to say. Yes, that is all me. This one is tougher to write about because I’m aware of how my emotions and quick reactions have affected my ability to make decisions. (Just ask my twenties.) I’m tons of fun, but I also create tons of worry that is unnecessary. I often say things before thinking about how it will affect those around me. (Just ask my husband.) Figuring out how to coach Charlee through this will require patience and self reflection.
Someone once told me, “No one likes to look at themselves.” Having children forces you to do that – literally and figuratively. Because we share their character traits, Joe and I may or may not react well to the flaws of Joey and Charlee. Our children having some of me, some of Joe, and a whole lot of themselves sprinkled into their human nature makes parenting a wild and reflective ride. They are us, and they are also each their own unique little person; we have to honor and accept that.
This day, I lift Chachi in my arms and tousle Joey’s hair. “Chachi,” I begin, “I guarantee you won’t starve to death. And I don’t know yet if you need to go to the doctor. Joey, we may have to tie a string or something around your finger so you remember your jacket tomorrow. Now let’s go home.”