“I wish you would put on your socks,” I said to my son one morning as he sat dressed but barefoot on the couch.
As a matter of fact, he replied “Your wish is not coming true.”
I laughed. I sighed. I then chased him around the house, wrestled him to the floor, and forcibly enveloped his 5-year-old feet in cotton. Maybe it was a cotton blend.
I don’t remember.
It is hard to keep the details straight because though this particular incident happened a couple of years ago, a version of the episode plays out every virtually every morning as we scramble to get out the door for school. I generally don’t have to tackle him anymore but I am always bracing for a struggle.
On any given day he complains that the socks will be “too tight, too loose, too long, too short, or they will turn my feet black.” Invariably, on the days the socks go on easily, he will walk through a puddle of milk on his way to put on his shoes. I usually end up yelling a little too loudly, and a little too incoherently, and we both start the day feeling like we have done something wrong.
I’ve realized that I have a lot to learn from the sock struggle. It pretty much encapsulates how I operate as a mother and highlights what I do wrong.
For one, it illustrates how I can be consumed by unimportant struggles. My kids are healthy, we have enough money, and my husband hasn't yet fully become a Republican. I have nothing real to worry about. Why do I scream and pull my hair out over something so silly as socks?
It never occurred to me that my kids wouldn’t just do what I asked them to do. I always listened to my parents. Sure, some of my earliest memories are of my unwillingness to wear itchy tights and I didn’t voluntarily wear a dress until the fourth grade, but socks? I always wore socks.
It also never occurred to me that my son would do something (or refuse do to something) just to get a rise out of me. How I failed to realize this is stunning, especially since “getting a rise out of one’s parents” is known to be the only motivator more compelling than “getting to go to Chuck E. Cheese.”
Thinking about this problem, I also see the futility of “wishing” for something. Until my son pointed it out to me, I did not realize how often I phrase my requests as wishes. I wish you would put on your socks. I wish you would clean up your room. I wish you would do your homework. Maybe it's mere semantics, but by phrasing requests like this I am putting my son in the role of “genie” who may or may not grant my wish. Likewise, I am casting myself as a passive observer and setting myself up for disappointment. I have seen my kitchen sink: I should know better than to think of my life as a fairy tale. If I want something to happen I have to do something more than wish for it.
This isn't about putting on socks so much as it is about demonstrating who has the power in a given situation. Interestingly, we don't fight about this issue on the weekends when we are not pressed for time and when my son can can choose to put on his socks himself. Granted, the socks stay off until 10:30am or so but if he knows he does not have to do something in a particular time frame he is more willing to do it. Nothing makes him slow down more than being told he should be in a rush. (Which reminds me, oh right I did have children with his father.)
But when we have a deadline and when missing a deadline means missing the school bus well…isn't that a leading cause of psychotic breakdowns?
What would be so wrong with letting him go to school barefoot? Surely, if he walked out of the apartment barefoot those shoes and socks would be on his feet by the time he got on the bus. But then my neighbors would know I was the type of person who let her kid run around without socks, or worse the type of parent who couldn’t convince her kid to put on socks. Better that I, behind closed doors, lose my temper and scream obscenities to compel his compliance. This way he will leave the apartment properly shod and no one will think I am an unfit mother.
Except maybe my son?
I wonder how many other issues will I allow to become so important that I will compromise the quality of my relationship with my child to adhere to some idea of what a “good mother” should be able to accomplish? Would I scream to get him to eat broccoli? To write neatly? To finish his homework before midnight? (Um. Does the 5th amendment protect me here?)
More important than being able to convince a child to put on socks, is the ability to get through the morning without having to check into a mental hospital.
The real feat of mothering should have nothing to do with feet.
With that in mind, I am even more grateful for the arrival of June and flip-flop weather.