How many times have you sat across from a teacher and listened to them describe a child who bears no resemblance to your own, to the point of wondering what the odds are that there’s another student with the same unwieldy hyphenated last name as yours?
How many times have you picked your kid up from a play date and been regaled with tales of their politeness, their manners, the very pleasure they exuded, like some sort of air freshener, in someone else’s home?
How many times have you stood there and scratched your head and wondered how come everyone else seems to get the best of your kid and you’re left with the sludge at the bottom of the coffee pot? How come everyone else gets the cream off the top and you get the sediment that’s settled to the bottom of the wine bottle?
Trickle Down Home Economics.
I’ve had days when I’ve picked up my kids at school, a smiling welcome on my face, arms held out to lovingly embrace them and they have taken one look at me, hurled their backpacks at my feet and berated me for some imagined slight. I’ve had weekends when I’ve made sure the football kit was clean and gotten my own hungover ass out of bed to referee the distribution of cocoa pops only to be met with tears and foot stomping. I’ve gone out of my way to plan something fun, to arrange schedules, to coordinate friends only to be met with sulking and whining and Oscar-worthy histrionics.
If the old adage that shit flows downhill is true, as a parent, a lot of time you find yourself standing in a cesspool of sewerage trying to get the stink off your shoes.
Apparently my kids use up all their pleasantness at school. They use up all their listening energy, their compromising skills, their angelic smiles and their good behavior so that when they are finally released into my care they often melt down spectacularly. And who is there to clean up the stinky puddle left behind? Give you one guess.
It’s not just the children. When my kids were really young there were plenty of days where I hurled an screaming child at my husband like a Hail Mary pass as soon as he crossed the threshold, my patience worn down by the seemingly non-stop demands of a baby. There have been days when my husband, fed up with resources of the human variety he deals with at work has come home and been….less than pleasant. There are times when I have behaved like a ranting, raving lunatic because the pork was overcooked. There are times we haven’t spoken for two days because someone didn’t squeeze the toothpaste tube the right way.
All that crap-tastic behavior trickles down until it hits the bottom. The sludge, the dregs, the impurities…all of that flows to the lowest point, where it settles. The lowest point being home. We put on our Sunday best for everyone else, shine our shoes and smile wide, yet as soon as we’re in the confines of our own home among our own family we stop sucking in our stomachs and let it all hang out. We pick our noses, scratch our asses and yell at one another simply because they are the person standing next to you. Ain’t love grand?
The people who write books about this sort of thing assure me this behavior, this saving the worst for the people you love the best, is normal. Good, even. If your kids are well-behaved outside of your reach and subsequently lose it when they’re with you, it means they feel safe enough to let their real selves out. Of course I want them to feel safe around us, but at the same time, do their real selves have to be so whiny, so demanding, so prone to dramatics? I’m ok with putting the real selves back in the box every now and again.
Most of the time it’s ok. You mop up the muck that filters down with a shirt sleeve. You clean the glop with the back of a hand. You dry the tears or procure a snack or come up with a plan. You wipe the gunk off your shoes and try to remember that it’s normal. Good even. You keep telling yourself that. Over and over.
Last year I instituted a rule that at the end of the day my kids had to say a minimum of “hello” to me before they threw their backpacks down and demanded a snack or begged for a play date or tried to wheedle additional screen time out of me. It was nice while it lasted, which was all of four days.
I think I will reinstate the rule. It’d be nice to get the cream sometimes, not just the dregs, not just the sediment. It would be nice to get the best and not just the crud that trickles down.