Parenting Power Struggles

“Knock knock,” she says sweetly.

There’s barely a pause before she repeats it, loudly, as if I haven’t heard her the last twelve times.

“Who’s there?” I ask, sweeping the blue sponge across the kitchen table.

“Interrupting cow,” she says, the delight dancing in her little girl voice.

Stacking the syrupy plates, I feign ignorance as I open my mouth to play her game. “Int–”

She cuts me off. “Mooooooooooo!” she bellows proudly, bursting into hysterics.

The television is blaring, an episode of Olivia we’ve already seen an embarrassing number of times.

Barbies, books, blankets and puzzle pieces litter the living room floor. I can see the spot where the dog vomited yesterday, now dried and crusty, darker than the rest of the carpet.

“Knock knock,” comes the little girl voice again. I can almost hear her impish grin. I sigh, rubbing my temples absently.

“Knock knock I said, Mommy!”

My mouth stays set in a firm line. I’m frozen at the sink, staring at the same dirty princess plates, the same mess of toys, listening to the same cartoony noise and suddenly I’m painfully aware of the magnitude of it all. Staring.

“Mommy?”

My jaw is clenched. I pinch the bridge of my nose with my thumb and index finger and squeeze my eyes shut.

We’re out of milk, bread and Life cereal. I forgot to drop off D’s drycleaning. Last night’s dinner was a total debacle and I felt my failure keenly as I stuffed food down the disposal. The dog has a huge mat on his left ear and desperately needs a bath. There are three loads of laundry waiting to be folded and put away, all wrinkled now from waiting. A hideous mountain of muddy boots, hats, mittens, and scarves grows by the back door. And the icing on the cake: I wrecked my car yesterday as I slipped on the icy driveway. Slammed right into the garage door.

“MAH. MEEE!” her voice scratches me, tearing at my skin.

I can’t do this. Not today. My eyes gloss over with tears. Exhaustion suddenly consumes me. I lean over the sink and supress the urge to wretch as water swirls down the drain.

“Mommy, she hit me!” comes the familiar cry, and I look up to see the same hands on hips, the same guilty glance, the same…everything. The same daily dance we do, like a cd player on repeat.

“Mommy, you need to put her in time out! You always say that but you never do it!”

She’s right. I don’t follow through, I’m not consistent. Still haven’t cracked Susan Stiffelman’s Parenting Without Power Struggles. I don’t want to read parenting books. I want to read novels, poetry, prose and kick-ass blogs and even mindless chick lit sometimes.

“Mommy, she took my Ariel doll! Make her give it back!”

I can’t think and I can’t stop the tears, they’re coming faster now. I’m blubbering and boiling over, yelling at them to be quiet. Izzy clamps her hands over her ears, scared. Abby’s face crumples. But their fighting stops, perhaps only because they see me wiping my nose on my sleeve.

For a minute it’s as if we’re frozen. I inhale slowly, walk over to my daughters and kneel down. I gather them into my arms, breathing in their scent–Play Doh and Crayolas, strawberry shampoo and peanut butter—and I hold them tightly.

“Mommy’s sorry,” I murmur into their hair. “Mommy is so, so sorry.” My tears mingle with theirs and then I realize motherhood is full of these moments. Moments I can work hard to turn around.