“What do you think the girls will remember about their childhood,” I asked Sean. We were on the couch and I’d been staring up at the wall, remembering the story behind each piece of wood. I thought about the nights I would work on it long after the girls had gone to bed, their favorite pieces painstakingly arranged for me to install. This wall has become our mark on this house and I wondered if it would stay with the girls.
“The boat,” he said without hesitation. “I think they’ll remember the boat.” He stared off; I imagined he was thinking about the different memories of Lake George, some from his own childhood. Along the wall there are shelves, I looked at one with a photo of Finley and me along the water’s edge.
I nodded, of course, the lake. Still, lately the girls, the older two in particular, have been different. It takes me back to the days of older friends saying, “Oh, sure, the witching hour. Babies just cry inexplicably, it’s not you, it’s the witching hour.” I remember thinking that it all sounds like a big pat on the back and a finger pressed to the lips conspiratorially so, don’t make them feel incompetent, call it the witching hour. Cresting those hours of fussiness, tight shoulders and neck, weary eyes, and a crushed heart, was exhausting—the relief. The terrifying thoughts of having made it through without cracking, only to begin fearing when the next one might hit and whether or not there’d be enough in the tank to cope. It isn’t crying now, it’s lying, talking back, or something that is a mix between not listening and not caring.
This new witching has no hour, no warning, although it feels like it comes at points in the day when I am at my most vulnerable, Sean too. It’s on our way out the door, minutes already pressing up against commitments, or in the evening, the homework clock ticking. I wish it was just my arms that needed to work to the point of fatigue, but the part of me working each day to traverse this space is my mind.
Can I stay a step or two ahead?
Can I make this a teachable moment or am I going to snap and just say something that will make it worse?
And what the hell is a teachable moment anyway?
It is a new kind of exhaustion, compounded shamefully with the echoes of more experienced parents who said, “It only gets harder, enjoy this time.”
I try to stay calm enough to follow my instinct, emotional and situational arithmetic clicking away in my head.
Be firm, but don’t attack.
Allow her to speak, but stay on track.
Don’t belabor the point, don’t gloss over.
Just as I did years ago, I am making it up as I go, trying to understand the why enough to be able to get to the how. My panic now isn’t that they’ll never stop this behavior, it’s that their only memory will be of my shrill flailing. Back in the original witching hour days I really only had one baby at a time, Briar, so eager to please and addicted to laughter and love, would watch, crestfallen as her sister cried. She never added to the chaos. When it was Finley’s turn as the littlest, Briar and Avery never fought when she fussed, “Mama, does she want a toy?” and “Do you want to put her in her chair to swing?” they’d ask.
Now it’s all changed, an argument will erupt upstairs as I face down the third lie of the night in the kitchen. I silently acknowledge the scuffle upstairs and catalog it as a time when I am allowing them to work something out on their own, don’t helicopter, Amanda. I look at Ave, “I just need to understand why you said what you did. It wasn’t true.”
I feel petulant, I’ve already gone through so much in this day and I didn’t save the stamina for this.
Shrieks, “Mom, she hit me! She hit me in my throat!”
“No, I didn’t. You deserved it.”
Deep breath, “Are you going to answer me?”
She crumples her face conjuring tears. Silence.
“Please answer me,” I am angry and we both know it.
“I don’t know,” she says. We talk; through ragged breaths she tells me she is scared. I am calm, explaining that the really great thing is that this can all change immediately, that she can decide not to lie anymore. My words come out slower than the other thoughts in my head, which run like this, “Please, please just stop lying. Please don’t make this keep going. I am out of ideas.” I am so tired and I just want this phase to be over.
“Mawwwwwwwm, Briar isn’t sharing!” the ceiling above me thunders as she stomps away from the top of the stairs.
“No, I’m not. I just don’t want to play with you,” a door slams.
Avery looks at me, huge blue eyes shimmering with tears, “I’m not going to lie anymore. I am going to try and not lie ever again.” I watch her, her face crumples again and she whispers, “I’m sorry if I do, though. Is that ok?” I hug her, tears streaming down my own face. “We’re both just going to try, deal?” She nods into my shoulder.
“Mom, can you bring us a snack. Briar and I are going to watch a movie together.”
And just like that it’s over, until the next time. My shoulders release as I exhale and send up a wish that they do remember the lake more than the struggle.