We Come Up Short

August 26, 2013

Last week was the first full week of school for the girls. Why is it that I never remember how bone-tired they are after (and during) that week? But always, I forget. By dinnertime, neither girl has much of an appetite.  They don’t want to share the details of their days. They do not feel like answering any question, for that matter, and they swat at my queries like I’m a pesky fly. They grow increasingly short-fused as the week goes on, snapping at each other and anyone in their path. Snappish, peevish, tired.

Three out of five days last week, Miss M. begged to stay home. She feigned illness, shed tears, pouted, and on one particularly stubborn morning, refused to get out of the car. Point-blank refused in the Hug-and-Go Lane, where you are expected to hug your kid, fling her outside and get the fuck outta there. I was not popular with the other parents in the Hug-and-Go-Lane. They leaned on horns and made twitchy little gestures in the air and called me God knows what.

Post-school day, I was greeted with totally different children.  M., who was glum and inconsolable in the morning, came home all smiles. Miss D., who left chatty and giddy every morning, returned quiet and unreadable. It was a merry dance being Mommy this week. I bounced from child to child, moment to moment, trying to gauge the Minxes’ emotional temperature and make the proper adjustments.

I realized how often I rely on that sixth sense–the emotional thermometer–and how so many of my parenting decisions are made by degrees of Fahrenheit. I rely on my ability to gauge their ET to keep our family running, and when the girls are in flux, I’m in the weeds. I couldn’t read them worth shizzle this past week. I tried very hard to do so–which was perhaps the dumbest decision of all.  I counted on measuring things in Fahrenheit when what I needed was Richter scale.

Last week, I was c-minus Mommy.

I phoned Mama and howled and bemoaned and kvetched, and bless her, she listened. She offered few suggestions, just listened. And when she was hesitant to come for Sunday lunch this week, I didn’t listen. I didn’t. I thought the routine of Sunday lunch would ground us.  I looked forward to something stable and normal in this week of shitstorms. I thought it would do the same for the girls.

I am not smart.

Miss M. was a Gorgon at Sunday lunch.

She refused hugs, neglected to say thank-you, didn’t answer questions about school, refused to play board games, wouldn’t smile. She did not want to go out on the swing with grandpa. She did not want to do puzzles. She was too tired, she said, for any of that. She wanted to be left alone.

Her behavior made my stomach clench, because in my formative years, I never would have gotten away with antics like that. No. Way.

I corrected her on the manners and the tone of voice, but gave in to her wish for isolation–who wanted her around like that, anyways–and went on with the day.

Later, I got an email from Daddy-o, expressing concern. What was going on with Miss M.? Why was she so cold and defiant? No hugs? Where was that smile and dimple–that heady laugh? What had they done? What should they change in the future to make visits special again?


My kid was a snot and my parents blamed themselves.

“Of course,” they reasoned.

“As you age, little kids lose interest in you.”

“It’s inevitable.”


I won’t tell you how I handled that email, because I didn’t handle it well.

OK, I  lied. I’ll spill. My first reaction was defensive. My kid was a stinker. Rotten kid=Shitty Mother. I took that email as an assault.

My second reaction to the email–after I’d really digested it–is that we humans are so very fragile. We are so afraid to love and not be loved back.

We are so afraid that people will find us a burden. We are afraid that we don’t deserve the kindness of others. We are afraid that the blessings we have are fleeting. We are afraid that we try so hard and come up short.

We are so afraid that we come up short–that we are not enough: as mothers, as parents, as grandparents, as daughters.


I talked to Mama today and she told me about a bush she has in the front yard, one that bears juicy red flowers in late summer. When she opens the front door to retrieve the morning paper, she scares this little hummingbird who hovers around the bush, seeking nectar. She watches him startle and scatter, and feels guilty and a little wistful, wanting him to stay. He flaps his wings a mile a minute and bolts into the morning sky. She wishes he’d stay just a little bit longer.



{ 31 comments… read them below or add one }

Mary Lee August 27, 2013 at 4:50 am

Two of our three kids hated going to first grade. Our youngest daughter cried every day–SCREAMED when I took her into the classroom. Her teacher was an earnest, bearded farmer/teacher–she’d never even met a bearded guy before–and when I went to the principal about having her moved, he told me that he would, but I should know that most parents asked for that teacher. I left her in the class by (I hate to admit this) handing my screaming daughter off to the teacher, then slamming the door. Within two weeks, she couldn’t wait to get to school and always remembered him as her favorite teacher.

Our son, on the other hand, hated his first grade classroom so much that he’d get physically sick. The school nurse would call and tell me he was running a fever, but by the time I’d get him home, it was gone. I talked to a child psychologist whose son was also in the class, having similar symptoms. She advised me to leave him in the classroom. I did and it turned out to be a horrible, horrible mistake which had a negative effect on him for years. Your C- would have been a dream grade for me that year.

In our house, the nasties were allowed, just had to be enjoyed in one’s own room. Not nearly as much fun for them, but it did keep mommy out of prison.


TKW August 27, 2013 at 5:40 am

Mary Lee,

I adore you. Thank you for the kind words and the support, Otha Motha. *smooch*


Wendi @ Bon Appetit Hon August 27, 2013 at 5:53 am

We are so afraid to love and not be loved back….amen. I wish understanding that made it easier.


Kim Jorgensen Gane August 27, 2013 at 6:47 am

Poetic, beautiful and succinctly puts into words what so many parents feel. You are beautiful and perfect. xo


Annette August 27, 2013 at 8:14 am

Such a lovely piece! Ah, that closing paragraph!


Jennifer August 27, 2013 at 11:39 am

See I would have read the email to her, or saved it for when she was in a better mood to read to her, and used the guilt to the nth degree. What does that make me? D-minus mother?


Shannon August 27, 2013 at 12:27 pm

Ahhh, yes. I battle with the “enoughs” too. Sometimes it is hard to fill the role of both mother and daughter at the same time., and to do them both well.
Another beautiful post, Dana.


Katybeth August 27, 2013 at 3:45 pm

Miss M was tired, crabby and out of sorts. So? Why is this someone fault? Yes, I get why “as the Mom” this made you feel like crap, but isn’t that something we need to work on (I’m not leaving myself out of the equation) after all Miss M was clear about how she felt. Surely your parents would be the first to say that parents today need to practice more benign neglect and not hang on their kids every word. Bad mood, get over it or go sit in the car and sulk. Later explain, she hurt her grandparents feelings and let her sit with it. I bet she finds away to make up.
School. I would ask her dad to take her for a week—you’ve done your work by making sure you stay in contact with the teacher, and reassured her that you are confident she is fine. Bribes always worked well for me, but I’m pretty sure you have thought of that one. If she is still unhappy by Christmas, it might be time for a change.
Why are we afraid? I’m often afraid because I don’t want to look bad in front of other people. My kid is a reflection on me. I’m afraid I will miss something important, and I am afraid because when my kid is sad or unhappy–I hurt. I want my kid to be happy so I can be happy, and to me that is ultimate fail. So that is my mothering work separating my feelings from my child’s. I’m not there, yet.

P.S. I don’t do school that way ^ but you have chosen a more traditional route than I have and I switching parents did work for me in another parent area.


Velva August 27, 2013 at 3:47 pm

This happened during my son’s first year in high school. He came home each day just wicked and exhausted. He was impossible to deal with sulking and irritable. It does indeed pass…I promise. Offer hugs and validation, and then leave them to themselves and they will work it out.



Tiffany August 27, 2013 at 7:17 pm

C- is pretty good for the first week of school. Also? Can your parents adopt me??


TKW August 29, 2013 at 4:03 pm


I will share them, but only if you come visit. xo


Lisa @ The Meaning of Me August 27, 2013 at 8:33 pm

Hm. I think you and I are similar creatures. OK, first I would have taken the e-mail from Daddy-o as an assault, too. Why? Because I do that. I take the world personally. Some dude in Madagascar has a yak accident, and I’m pretty sure that I will be blamed for it. I think you nailed it when you said we are so afraid to love and not be loved back. Of course.

The emotional temperature thing? The first week of school mood swings and exhaustion? I am really of no use here from the mom perspective, because my little one is only starting Kindergarten. Totally new territory. However. I can tell you this – MY first few days back have been hellacious. I am so exhausted physically I actually asked my BFF and my Hub if I am always this tired the first week or if it’s just me. I’m a crabby asshole when I get home. I am just totally wrecked in every way. And it’s not the person I want to be. A few minutes alone to shake it off does help. School (or substitute life here) is scary shit for kids. It’s scary for grownups, too.

You’re great at momming your girls – you’ll know what’s right to do. Just try not to make yourself crazy wondering if it’s right. :)


TKW August 29, 2013 at 8:21 pm


Even a half day of Kindy is enough to shake up a kid. Mine were wrecked.

I think so many people don’t understand how hard it is to re-enter the school realm. We are still having hard-ass evenings and this is their second full week of school.

ps: Hang in there. AND the comment about Madagascar made me laugh so hard.


Jamie August 27, 2013 at 9:09 pm

So thinking of you this week. Starting up school again is rough business…for kids, parents, grandparents, and teachers! It’s such a huge change. For the record, I don’t think you dip below A+ mommy, never ever!


TKW August 29, 2013 at 8:24 pm


Keep on thinking that, mmmkay? Sorry, just was watching South Park.

Truly, I am not even b-minus mommy but I will take what I can get. xo


Gappa Guy August 27, 2013 at 9:26 pm

Don’t be too hard on “daddy-o”, he was just tryin to make it better for him and mommy-o, with grandkid relations. And wondering what to do. Not at all your “fault”. Being a grandfather myself, The relations with those two boys, we are worlds apart. We still love them as our own.
And just hate to see them all moody and shit. They will grow out of it. just take it day by day, and this too will pass.
And Rebecca, please don’t be mad at your mom and dad, we still love you.


TKW August 29, 2013 at 3:58 pm


Daddy-o is completely forgiven, and all is well. It was just my knee-jerk reaction that surprised me.

Moody and shit sucks.


Kate August 28, 2013 at 6:47 pm

Oh god. Yes. We’re in the middle of week one mania here. But next week is also week one for the younger and the youngest is teething or some crap. No sleep, no emotional reserves.
This weekend we’re supposed to celebrate my dad’s very big birthday. How can I take these whirling storms of shrieking? Oh. Life.


TKW August 29, 2013 at 3:56 pm


Valium salt lick? ((hugs))


amanda August 28, 2013 at 7:39 pm

oh this. this i know. and i know that this too shall pass. stay strong, mama!


Elaine A. August 28, 2013 at 8:09 pm

I cannot STAND the Hug-and-Go lane!! I had a couple of times like that last year with my little Kindergarten guy!

And you know, while I was reading this I trying to remember what it was like to be that age. It’s just so hard sometimes… but then it’s also hard to remember too… ;)



TKW August 29, 2013 at 3:55 pm


Alas, I was the carbon copy of Miss M., torturing my Mama with pleas to stay home. Needless to say, it has come back to bite me.


Privilege of Parenting August 28, 2013 at 9:38 pm

Hey KW,

Just saying that I hear you, and so I send hugs (but expect them back as I need them, as you point out, just a much). My growing hope/hunch is that we can compensate for our own unfailing feelings of inadequacy by just loving everyone else as best as we can and leaving the love of ourselves to the kindness, not of strangers exactly, but to all those who seem to love us. Why should we doubt them? They probably know better than we do anyway :)



TKW August 29, 2013 at 3:54 pm


Love is the answer. And you know that for sure.


elizabeth August 29, 2013 at 4:49 am

I can’t speak as a parent, but I can as an aunt, and frankly if my nephews are feeling a little fussy when they come over to visit my parents when we’re there? I don’t take it personally and chalk it up to them, you know, being people.

Hugs to you, lady. Hope things improve soon.


TKW August 29, 2013 at 3:53 pm


I think that’s what struck me–she was being a little turd–but my parents are so afraid of losing the love and the interest of those girls that fear takes over.


Arnebya August 29, 2013 at 6:06 am

It is a beautifully ugly dance, this growing up thing. When my oldest does this to my dad, the selfish leave me alone or one word answers or shrugs and I see his face fall, that wonder of what did I do wrong — it hurts. And I tell her either right then, quietly, or later. But I tell him right away that it’s not him; it’s her. Probably it’s me too but it’s more her. We can’t condone bad behavior, like outright rudeness, but look at how we were raised: we had no options. You did what you were told. Now we’re all control your body, you’re in control of yourself, your body, your emotions, peace and love be with you. My father doesn’t understand that and maybe yours doesn’t either — there’s no reason not to hug unless you’re a snotty shit who doesn’t know better whose mama isn’t teaching you better (is what I think my dad thinks). And so it’s a reflection on me. But when we really think about it…it’s the kid. It’s not us. No amount of teaching will have them act the way we want them to when we want them to. And to be honest, they’re changing, they’re growing. And we have to let them do it even if the path they seem to be taking is filled with bullshit non-hugs and attitude.


TKW August 29, 2013 at 3:52 pm


So much here, in this comment. Be on the lookout for a email, okay? Love you.


Katrina Kenison August 29, 2013 at 10:01 am

Oh you, please take a long deep breath and promise me you will never give yourself a mothering grade again! Never. Life is messy and kids act out their feelings and we parents think it’s our job to keep the world spinning on its axis. Really, I think our main task is just to keep finding SOMETHING good in each of our children, and to keep on loving that. Sometimes, we have to dig pretty deep to find that beautiful thing and bring it out into the light. But as long as we keep showing up, looking and seeing and loving, and letting our children know they are already enough, then we’re enough, too. Don’t you think??


TKW August 29, 2013 at 3:51 pm


Thank you. I do worry, though, because I neverever think I’m enough, have never thought I was enough, so how will I convince my girls that they are? Alas, this crap line of thinking keeps me up at night.



Alexandra Rosas May 3, 2016 at 4:35 pm



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