My six year old daughter Izzy and her friend were playing at our house after dinner last night. Izzy ran up to me and asked if they could have a snack. I will admit, I am kind of strict about not having snacks after dinner, unless it is a special occasion. We’ve found that if we allow snacks after meals, the kids don’t eat worth a shit at dinnertime. So, naturally, I said no and went upstairs to change my toddler into her pajamas.
I immediately heard Izzy’s raised voice downstairs, “My mom is not mean!” she yelled at her friend.
Oh, crap. I realized that Izzy’s pal must not have reacted favorably when she heard the news that I had put the kibosh on their snack idea. For a moment, I felt proud of my daughter.
Then I heard mumbled voices, followed by, “…you just need to shut your mouth!”
“Izzy!” I hollered down the stairs. “Did you just tell Penny to shut her mouth?” My daughter, skilled master of deception that she is, vehemently denied these charges, but my husband confirmed that he had heard the exact same thing.
In an even voice, I informed the girls that their playdate was over. Izzy walked Penny home. This gave my husband and me a few minutes to figure out our next course of action. We debated whether to just drop the incident, letting the fact that the playdate was cut short serve as the unspoken consequence, or press Izzy for more details. Thanks to my lifelong commitment to emotional processing, I decided we should talk things over with her and find out exactly what happened.
When Izzy returned home, I very calmly told her that both Daddy and I had heard exactly what she said, and we wanted to understand more about it.
“I didn’t say that!” she insisted. “I just said please be quiet!”
“We heard you with our ears,” I told her gently, “And you’re not in trouble, we just want to talk about it.”
Izzy started crying. “But Penny said you were mean!” she sobbed. “And that’s not true! You’re not mean!”
I felt knocked down by emotion. I was so touched by my daughter’s loyalty, her ferocious love and protection of me, her very flawed mother. I was proud of her character, and the fact that she stood up to her friend to defend her snack-stingy mother.
Sophie was very upset by her sister’s sudden outburst, and toddled over to hug her, which made the whole scene even more moving. I pulled Izzy into my lap and told her how proud I was that she would stand up for Mommy like that. I asked her how it felt to hear someone say something like that about Mommy. “Horrible!” she bawled. We talked about some things she could say to someone if that ever happened again.
I thought about all the moments I have felt like a Mean Mommy, like the worst mommy on the planet. I realized that despite my F-word dropping when we missed the bus, despite my irritability, hotheadedness, and tendency to overreact, despite my lack of enthusiasm for playing pretend games, my daughter doesn’t think I am a Mean Mommy. This confirmation meant the world to me. No matter how clueless we think we are, how many mistakes we think we have made as parents, no matter how sluggish, cranky, and unimaginative we think we are, our kids adore us. They will forgive us for nearly anything. Not only is this humbling, but it feels like a call to try to do even better. It’s a big pedestal, but I’m going to try to stand as tall as I can on it.
One more thing! The latest HerStories essay is up on Jessica’s site. It is from one of my favorite bloggers, Christine, and this story is absolutely fantastic. Please go read it here!
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