Layla: Jackson Stop!
Jackson: DA! DA! DA!
Layla: Oh my God. You are so annoying
Jackson and Cece fight pretty often. I am used to their fights. They usually start with food or toys. Jackson has it, she wants it, and he won’t share. She, now quick and agile, manages to outsmart him and get it. He screams. I grab it and hand it back. She throws herself on the ground in defeat. I split the food or find another toy and they calm down only to repeat this scenario five minutes later. My day is filled with meltdowns. Trying to be one of those moms that limit their kids’ TV time to a responsible eight hours, I have had enough of fire fighting dogs and high-pitched mice, and I turn it off. Meltdown. Jackson yells “NOOO my Paw Patrol. My TV.” “NO! Paw-po-tay!” Cece echoes as they turn the meltdown toward me.
Layla and Liv fight pretty often. I am used to their fights. It usually starts with “she is hurting my feelings” or “she won’t talk to me.” It turns into hushed hissing at each other and sometimes full out wrestling. I am often a character in their bickering. “Look you hurt Mom’s feelings” like I am some delicate little flower that can’t handle their little spats. (Some days I am). Honestly, all I really want is for them to unload the dishwasher. When they aren’t fighting they are really weird and giggly. Like they have a million inside jokes that I just don’t get. They are sitting on the couch, laughing, and watching some YouTube video. They are talking back and forth so much and so fast I can barely understand a word they are saying. Are they talking about people at school? Or a show they watch. “She has had like four ex boyfriends since the beginning of the year. But he is a pure child. I was starting to like them, and ship them but…” gibberish to me. Jackson and CeCe are playing on the floor. They have a little game of looking at each other and yelling “DA” followed by hysterical laughter. I sit in my recliner, the perch of motherhood, smiling at the chaotic life that I created.
Jackson jumps on the couch interrupting the sisterly YouTube bonding moment. He mashes his face into Layla’s shirt and I look at my shirt. Stains of dried snot outlining the plaid pattern on the shoulder. Tis the season for sick babies – and my shirt is one giant snot rag. I follow them around with tissues and suction their noses. But yet they are always slimy. I pick of them up and they bury their face into my shoulder then look up at me with a snot free nose, impressed with the task. Damn. I think. Wipe nose first, then pick up baby. When their little arms reach for me with that look of desperation, I am temporary blinded to the slime coming out of their noses. I am used to this now too. “Are you serious?!” Layla yells. “That is so gross. He got snot on me!” I want to point out that she has been wearing that shirt for two days but “sorry” was all I could think of.
Having teenagers and toddlers is both entertaining and terrifying, and often requires the same parenting techniques. Jackson completely melts down over not being able to get to the Ipad connected to Wi-Fi while we are on the road (it can’t). Layla melts down over not being able to load some computer program. Toddler meltdown: child kicks, throws them self down and pounds fists into the floor. Teenage meltdown: deep sigh, followed by eye roll, followed by deep sigh/ eye roll combo. Voice gets exasperated, eyes get sad. I ask for help from the toddler. “Jackson, can you bring Mommy your empty cup?” He ignores me. I ask for help from the teenager. Layla, can you please put away your basket of clean laundry?” she ignores me. I often think that my voice is like one of those secret ink markers, only visible in certain situations or with water. I am the mom, I am always asking for stuff. I cause the following reactions in my children: eye rolling, deep sighs, punching, kicking, screaming, exasperation and, of course, ignorance.
Jackson and Cece are now piled on the couch with Layla and Liv. All of my children, crammed into one little corner. It is that last few minutes before bedtime and I am reading the last installment of “Peek a Boo Barn” but no one is listening. Cece eventually crawls back into my lap just in time for her favorite character to make an appearance. “Moo! Moo!” she squeals. “Look Ma, Moo!” her legs are fluttering in delight as she leans over and gives the cow a kiss. “Night Night animals.” I conclude. “One more time!” Jackson yells from the couch, suddenly concerned the story is over. “No. I said last time after the last time” I say, nowhere near confident he understands. He flops off the couch, resisting, and runs around the room in and anger lap. Cece starts laughing and his mood immediately changes from anger to show off. He stops and leans in for a close look at her. They are nose to nose. “DA!” he yells. She is belly laughing. He runs over to Layla and Olivia. “DA!” he yells. They snicker while gently shooing him away. “DA!” he yells again even though he is still not getting adequate attention.
Layla: Go away
Layla: you are so annoying. Go away.
She pushes him slightly, and he throws himself back to exaggerate the effect of the push.
Jackson: No Layla
Layla: go away
He jumps on the couch and starts bouncing on top of her.
Layla: Jackson, get down.
He jumps up and hits her on the face. Layla hits him back. He throws himself off the couch and cries in an extra high pitched tone. He runs another disgust lap then settles in between the girls again.
Layla: oh my GOD!
She grabs a pillow and throws it at him as he is running away. It hits him square in the back and suddenly his body turns to pudding.
Layla. He hit me first
Me: Jackson- tell Layla you’re sorry.
Jackson: I sorry LaLa.
He gives her an exaggeratedly sweet smile and she roles her eyes. This sequence repeats about three or four times, each meltdown getting more intense. “Sorry” I keep explaining, “he is really tired. Almost bedtime” After the last slap exchange; I once again make him apologize.
Jackson: Sorry LaLa
He reaches in to give her a hug and wipes his nose on her arm.
Layla: Jackson, gross.
Jackson responds by body bumping into her.
Layla (looking at me) aren’t you going to yell at him?
Me: he is three.
Here’s the thing: I had no idea which one to side with. Yes he was being a giant asshole, but for him – a toddler minutes from bedtime- it was more like asshole lite. I was annoyed Layla kept instigating him. It is like poking the beehive then getting mad when you get stung. She ignores his cry for attention; she hits him back and throws pillows at him. I just sat in my chair and watched this whole situation in sheer confusion about what to do. I sympathize with my girls all the time. I would never want to be twelve and fourteen again. The complex emotions, the mood swings the feeling like every moment is a world-ending problem. “I’m tired” was all I could say. She huffs off the couch and stomps upstairs. “I am tired,” I repeat.
My teens are truly amazing. They are so talented and hard working that I always give them the benefit of the doubt, or maybe spoil them. They are open about their lives to me. (At least I think). Then there is the babysitting and being little mommies to their sister and brother. Most nights we sit around and chat and laugh at Jackson and Cece. Most nights we are all ok. Then there are the nights where they are teenage toddlers- loud, demanding, and full of attitude.