Mama, what does compatible mean? My 5-year-old daughter asked me this while we were reading together at bedtime.
Compatible, hmm? That’s a good question. I was thinking of how compatible she and I were just then, snuggled together in our jammies. It was a particularly pleasant evening, so I let her stay up while we read two extra chapters. I fumbled for a definition. Compatible means –well, when it’s easy for two people to get along, or to spend time together, you could say they are compatible.
Oh, like how me and Dada are compatible, and you and me are not?
Sweetie, why would you say that? We love each other so much!
Yeah, but you’re always mad.
No I’m not! I tried to say it softly, so as not to prove her right.
I wanted to remind her how much fun I am. How I let her eat ice cream before dinner. (Her dad never lets her do that!) How I take her to the aquarium and to birthday parties, and the playground. But I didn’t, because I knew she wasn’t talking about those things. She was talking about morning routine, carpool, dinner, bedtime.
The hurry-up, lets-go, rush, rush, rush of our daily lives.
I like to think of myself as a loving parent who is patient to a point, but then does what she has to so things get done. Being patient is not always compatible with getting things done. She was right. I do get mad. I do raise my voice. I prompt, nag, negotiate, and yell through gritted teeth, just to make it through the demands of our day.
Let’s consider morning routine. Getting two kids to school, and two adults to work by 8:30am involves a never ending list of necessary tasks. Most mornings I start in a chipper voice full of love and patience, which slowly (sometimes not so slowly) escalates into a shrill, full-throated scream. A typical morning may go something like this:
Good morning sweetie, time to get up.
Five minutes tick by. I wait patiently. Ten more minutes. Don’t nag, don’t nag. She’ll be down soon.
Honey, really, you need to get up now. I know you’re tired, but we need to get moving. Please get dressed and come downstairs for breakfast. What? Sure, you can have scrambled eggs.
Five more minutes pass. She slinks down the stairs, stopping halfway to stare into space.
Good morning, honey! Great, you’re dressed. Oh, but you need a shirt and also your shoes and socks. Yes, you do. Mm-hmm, yes. Put your shoes and socks on please. What? Yes, honey, you do need socks. Remember your blisters? Okay, fine, no socks, but put on some shoes and come to the table for breakfast. Yes, I am making scrambled eggs. Yes, the way you like them.
She walks to her room at a speed a tree sloth could best, but returns with shirt and footwear. Great!
Oh, but sweetie, remember you’re not allowed to wear tap shoes to school? Um, I don’t really know why. Please eat your breakfast. Sweetie, I don’t make the rules, but your teacher emailed me and said you’re not allowed to wear tap shoes to school anymore. Let’s just eat breakfast and then get a different pair, okay? How about your new light up sneakers? No? Ok, well, sweetie, just eat your breakfast and then we’ll find a different pair. What? But you specifically asked for scrambled eggs. Like, just 10 minutes ago! That’s what you asked to make. They ARE the way you like them. What do you mean that’s not how daddy makes them?
EAT THE FUCKING EGGS YOU SPECIFICALLY ASKED ME TO MAKE! EAT THEM NOW AND THEN PUT SOME REGULAR SHOES ON!
It is at this point of mental undoing when I remind myself I’m a trained child psychologist. I get paid to consult with parents and teachers about how to get kids to behave. And, here’s the best part: I teach them how to do this without yelling. What’s more, I’m actually pretty good at it! People have sent me thank you notes for making their lives easier!
I’M REALLY GOOD AT TEACHING PEOPLE NOT TO SCREAM AT THEIR KIDS!
Ahem, I mean, I’m really good at teaching people not to scream at their kids.
Not every morning looks like a scene from Mommy Dearest, but I see the difference she describes between her dad and me. Don’t tell him I said so, but I do. Her dad jokes with her . He listens to her (very long) stories. He finds humor despite all the rushing, and remains calm in the face of extreme, 5-year-old stubbornness. He may not get the dishes done, or remember to start the laundry, but he makes her laugh. They are truly compatible.
Here’s the definition: Two things able to exist together in harmony and without conflict. This makes me think of a song. My daughter is the melody, sometimes a very strong melody. Her dad is the harmony. He lets her take the lead and blends in around her.
I want to join their song.
I want to be compatible, too, so I’m working to listen more and rush less. It takes a LOT of patience. When I harmonize we don’t always get out the door on time. I’m trying to be okay with that, and remind myself that singing is much more fun than screaming.