Somewhere recently I heard the term “The Facebook Lie”, which refers to the lies we tell on Facebook about our lives: the glowing portraits of a healthily functioning family at play, the hilarious things that we say to each other on a daily basis, the delicious meals, the serene setting in which we live. It’s not that those things individually are not true, but the overall picture we paint is a false one. Our lives are not living Norman Rockwell or Thomas Kinkade paintings. Where are the arguments, the tears, the yelling, the mess? It’s one sided. I’ve thought more than once that maybe I should record some of those messy, ugly times with stylized Instagram photos and gritty Facebook statuses. I haven’t done that yet, except in what follows I guess.
I went to bed quite late last night. I knew it was a bad idea and all that prevented me from going to sleep was mindless browsing of the internet and hitting “refresh.” My body was tired, but I just didn’t want to go to sleep yet. I guess I did eventually watch a movie, but still, not a good reason to stay up these days.
Dixie was in Calgary for the week and I chatted with her a bit toward the end of the evening. I said, “I shouldn’t have stayed up so late. Now I’ll be grumpy with the kids tomorrow and generally useless.”
And so it was.
I turned my light off at about 12:15 or 12:30, about two hours later than we normally do. There was no school today, so I let the kids stay up a little later on the assumption that they would sleep in. They did a little, but not much. I was woken up at 7:39 by Olivia’s tapping on the railing of her bunk bed. That’s about 40 minutes later than I normally get up, it wasn’t enough to make up for the late night and I couldn’t get back to sleep.
Until about mid-afternoon, it was one of those days in which I repeatedly wished I had a “RESTART” button I could press to have a second (or third or fourth) go at the day. I was tired and didn’t feel like doing what the kids wanted to do (“The Game of Life”? Really?) and I was edgy. I’d snap at the kids, show them very little mercy (in other words: wouldn’t let them be kids), raised my voice in irritation and anger. Of course, they were the problem. My day would be much better if they would just stop…being them.
Later on the day I reflected on this. The problem wasn’t the kids. I mean, they had their moments of fighting, loudness, rudeness, disobedience and poor listening, but that’s not unusual. They’re kids, after all. The problem was me. I was cranky, I was on edge, I was impatient, which meant that I reacted where I didn’t need to react and, worse, I would set both them and myself up for further failure. One of them does something that isn’t wrong in itself, but it really bugs me because I’m tired, so I tell that one to stop it. They do it again and so I get angry with them for disobeying me. And things escalate. My crankiness leads me to set up unreasonable and unnecessary expectations for my children, which leads to further crankiness when those expectations are inevitably not met.
I attempted a couple of restarts today. I walked the few hundred yards to the mailbox and back, in hopes that the blue skies and fresh winter air would brighten my mood. It only worked for a couple of minutes. I tried napping after lunch but was woken twice by the kids right at that moment of transition between wakefulness and sleep. Then I just laid there restlessly for a while, unable to get back to that transition point. Later, at Madeline’s request, we went out for a walk. Luke and Olivia didn’t want to go outside initially, but pretty soon they were having some fun sliding down some piles of snow-covered dirt in the yard. They wanted to stay outside, but none of us (except Olivia) were dressed properly and I, being grumpy and the attempt at revival failing miserably, wanted to go back inside.
I hate those kinds of days. I loathe myself as a father on those days. And that loathing feeds my crankiness. I feel much regret on those days, cycling through failure and regret, failure and regret, failure and regret. And then I experience low levels of anxiety about alienating my kids, so I give them big hugs and tell them I love them and that I sometimes have grumpy days and that today is one of them. Moments later I’m likely to be Unreasonably Grumpy Dad again. Failure, regret, reconciliation attempt, failure, regret…
But you know what’s crazy (and this is perhaps what I should really take away from the day)? The kids are unfazed. They know their dad. They know I have grumpy days, and they are always forgiving. At lunch I apologized for my grumpiness. I asked them if they would forgive me. Luke said, “I’ll always forgive you, dad!”
What a gift! What a gift! It encourages me and it shames me.
It’s difficult to forgive myself on these days, to do that thing that seems to come so naturally to my own children. Is it possible give ourselves as parents the room to be who we are on these days without also justifying the way we are? Our kids seem to give us that room, but we are left only with regret.
Jesus seemed to think we had quite a lot to learn from children. I think he was onto something.
The afternoon was salvaged with pop, a big bowl of popcorn, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and the kids with me on the couch, Luke snuggled up under my arm.