Last week as we attended Oktoberfest (or whatever the spelling is that reflects beer, brats and lots of inflatable kiddie stuff) in downtown Greeley, I ran into one of my running friends. He, like many of them, is mellow, happy and generally one of the nicer guys I've met. He is, in fact, pretty much the opposite of me. He's also one of the guys I try to emulate in my own personality, but most of the time I fail miserably.
He's also one of the few runners I know who has young children, just like me, and so I enjoy talking to him because he can actually relate to what it's like to feel as if your energy is constantly being squeezed like water out of a washcloth.
As we waited in line with my kids for their turn on the big inflatable slide, I was hoping my girls or Jayden would remain in the calm, satisfied state we were currently enjoying. They seem to have trouble holding this serene state for longer than three minutes, but nonetheless, I prayed they would keep it up.
No one, after all, enjoys dealing with a whinefest in front of your friends, and I'm as guilty as anyone about wondering what others must think of my skills as a parent. I don't lay awake at night worrying about that - I'm far too tired for that - but I do get embarrassed when my child, or children, as it usually goes, throws a fit in front of people. Especially in front of my friends. Especially in front of said friends who are typically easy-going, mellow, nice people who surely don't have the same problems with their children.
Only I was surprised, even shocked, when his boy, who was probably 6 or 7, kept whistling. It was a shrill, high-pitched call, if you will. It was annoying. It was exactly the kind of thing my kids would do, if they knew how to whistle.
"Don't you hate it," my friend said, obviously embarrassed, "when your kid is in a funk all day and you can't do anything about it?"
Um, yes, I do. That seems to happen just about every day, actually.
And then it hit me.
All parents go through what I go through.
I'm not alone.
And I'm sorry to say, it felt good to know that.
• • •
What is it about misery that makes us want others to go through it?
Well, if you're a parent, the biggest fear, other than your child getting hurt, some strange illness or maybe getting eaten by crocodiles, is fucking them up. It's easy to constantly question what you're doing as a parent. What TV show are you letting them watch? What are you feeding them? When do they go to bed? What are they wearing? What tantrums do you acknowledge, and how do you deal with them?
These days, it's much easier to question yourself, too, because of all the damn advice other parents love to offer on places like Facebook, Twitter and those hundreds of self-help Web sites, not to mention Dr. Phil and Oprah and social circles with real, live friends you talk to without typing in something on your cell phone.
It seems like parents trip over each other to talk about how perfect they are.
No one has made me question our own happy home than the twins turning 3.
3 is a hellish number. The holy trinity seems to be the only good thing associated with that number, and that's certainly true when you talk about the age of your toddlers. We hear all about the terrible twos, but that, I think, is a result of clever alliteration more than the truth. The terrible twos really aren't all that terrible. But 3? 3, my friend, sucks.
I can't remember a morning when we weren't dealing with at least one fit, probably because they can't find their Barbie or car or shoes, and if they can't find them, they're fighting over them. Or maybe it's that they want juice. Or a certain kind of cereal. Or they're just in a crappy mood and want to assert themselves, which is 93.2 percent of the time. Nighttime generally is the same way. Hush, you, on telling me they're probably tired. I know. That doesn't make the screaming any easier to take.
These tantrums are multiplied with twins, and they're even tripled, I'd say, because at least a third of their tantrums are a direct result of each other. One has a toy that the other is convinced is hers. One is wearing a blue shirt and the other one wanted to wear it. One wants to sit with Mommy while the other is forced, horrors upon horrors, to sit with Daddy.
To be blunt, I'm so, so burned out on it all, and it's by far my biggest challenge as a parent. Because not only do the tantrums make you feel constantly exhausted, they make you feel walked upon. Trampled upon, actually, like a desperate high school student in need of a date for homecoming.
I wish it weren't so, because 3 is also such a cute, cute age. It's uber cute, actually. Every day they say something that makes me laugh, and laugh hard, as cracked-corny as that sounds.
But to watch all that cuteness get warped and eventually possessed by a demon makes you want to stop it, and that means picking your battles and, many times, giving in. You don't want milk? OK, I'll get juice, because you just don't want to put up with 45 minutes of hellish screaming otherwise.
So you worry. You worry if you are raising spoiled brats. You wonder if other, more controlled, more thoughtful parents who let things roll off their backs could calmly explain why milk is important, and their 3-year-olds look at them with doe eyes and stop crying, drink their milk and then go on to become doctors and win pulitzer prizes while you picture your girls becoming, say, Paris Hilton.
At least I worry.
So maybe that's all I need is confirmation. I don't need to know I'm doing a good job. I need to know others, even the ones who seem perfect, really aren't.
Maybe that's shallow of me. But I'll worry about that in a couple years, when my girls are well past 3, and I have the energy.