I was an epic failure of a mother today.  And my kid was a pain in the butt.

“Max, I need you to be a good listener in the bookstore.  You can play in the playhouse, or at the train table.  If you start to run around the store, that tells me you’re ready to leave.”

I ended up grabbing him by the arm, somewhere between the monkey books and the robot toys.  He was running through the maze of aisles.  He wouldn’t walk to the bathroom.  He wanted to wash his hands before and after he went potty, but he wanted to cover the faucet with his palm so that the water sprayed everywhere.  He threw his paper towels on the floor.  He tried to open the door while 7 months pregnant Mommy was still peeing.  “Max, please stop.” turned into “Please listen to Mommy.” turned into “You’re DONE washing hands.” turned into “STOP it Max.  I need you to use your listening ears.  That’s ENOUGH water.” turned into “That’s IT.  We’re LEAVING.”

I asked Sean if the other moms could hear me yelling at Max in the bathroom.  I was the one struggling not to drop my screaming 3 year old as I left the store.  I was the one with red cheeks, and a little boy bouncing off of my pregnant belly as he tried to wriggle away.

” I WILL be a listener Mommy!  I WILL!” he screamed.  Tears and snot covering his face in an angry rushing river.

He sat between Sean and I on a bench outside.  I was hoping that the cool spring air would cool our tempers.  He kept screaming.  Kicking.  Trying to run away, back to the bookstore.  “You can sit here and calm your body down, or we can go back to the car” I snarled, as I grabbed his shoulders in a way that I’m not proud of.  As I wiped tears from behind my round sunglasses.

7 months pregnant me, and Sean with a broken wrist, trying to calm him down and keep him from tearing into the street.

“Don’t worry, at some point they grow up!” an older mother shouted cheerfully from across the sidewalk.  Really?  Mid-tantrum, lady?  Shut the fuck up.

I’m angry with him over and over throughout the day.  I’m angry with myself.  I feel like I’ve let him down, because I am rarely the calm, collected, understanding mother that I want to be.  I know how to do this.  I mean, I’ve taught parenting workshops for gods sakes.  I’ve worked with kids who have certified, diagnosed behavior disorders.  I’ve worked with criminals in the fucking police department.  I give compassionate, educated, attachment-based support to other moms in real life and on the Internet.   And yet I’m completely losing my shit with my three year old?

But I also wonder if some of my methods have backfired.  We haven’t raised our voices at Max (until now).  We haven’t set strict limits (until now).  We believe that a child’s behavior is a reflection of their environment, and that they are too young to have great self-regulation of their emotions.  Kids act out when they’re hungry, or tired, or scared, or feel like no one is listening to them.  I know this.  I know this, in my heart.

In my heart, I know that maybe I am the one who isn’t being a good listener.

I am tired.  I am frustrated.  According to the bitch who rang up my groceries today, I look like I am “due any day now”, though I actually have 12 weeks to go.

We just moved.  I am limited with what I can do with Max (and for Max) because of the baby that I am growing in my belly….a baby that will create even more chaos in Max’s life, and change the dynamic of our family forever.  I am trying to get through every day with fewer contractions, fewer times of getting up from the floor, fewer moments of frustration between me and the sweet, beautiful boy who my world revolves around.


But holy hell, I am so tired.  And three years old is so hard.

We need to say “yes” more.  Like today, when we looked up from an afternoon movie to see that 2 ducks had landed on our pool cover.  “Let’s go out and say hi to them!” I offered.  And Max’s eyes lit up.  “Let’s give them names!” Sean said, and Max’s smile got wider.  We fed them bread, and Max yelled some welcoming words.  Like “Eat my bread, ducks!” and “Come HERE!”.  It felt good to say yes.  It felt good to let go.  It felt good to know that even though these damn ducks would probably return and poop in our pool all summer, it was worth it, for this beautiful moment of playfulness and calm.

When Max is calm, I memorize the shadow that his eyelashes make against his cheek.  I run my hands through his soft hair and cup his little boy feet in my palms.  I kiss his ears, and his eyes, and silently apologize to him, over and over, as his tiny hand finds mine.


Tomorrow will be better.  Tomorrow, I will be a better listener.  Tomorrow, I will play more.  Tomorrow, I will try harder.  Tomorrow, I will sing you a song about brushing your teeth, instead of yelling a stern “1, 2, 3…you’re done” when you suck all of the toothpaste off of the brush and then try to run out of the bathroom.

You are three.  But you are only three.  You are testing, and trying, and fighting, and questioning.  You are Batman, and Buzz Lightyear, and a friend of the ducks.


You are ours, and you are perfect, and you are maddening, all at the same time.  This morning you crept into our room with a smile on your face, your cheek red and warm from where you had been snuggling against your blankets.  You walked down the hallway and into our room, carrying your pillow, and you climbed into our bed and nestled between us.  It was perfect.  You are the best part of every day.

And now, finally, you are sleeping.  And tomorrow we begin again.



8 Replies to “A Good Listener”

  1. It really is all about the tomorrows, isn’t it? I don’t need to tell you to give yourself a break. I know that, you know that. But I will tell you anyway because nice words work and they help when we quesiton ourselves. THREE IS HARD AS SHIT! You’ve also perfectly stated that it’s actually “only three.” It’s knowing we aren’t perfect, knowing we’ll try harder tomorrow, knowing where we went wrong today. It’s acknowledging that we can get it wrong a lot of the time, regardless of what we know we know. We know a lot of things theoretically, but putting those things in place when we’re tired, growing another baby, limited in activities we’ve found in a newer home/neighborhood/community? It just makes it harder. And again, I know you know this, all of this. But still. Give yourself a break.

  2. Dear Kim,
    I read you Huff Post blog on this subject and decided to comment here instead mainly because the comments there are too negative for me-really people are rude… As the mother of a 3.5 year old boy I can relate to what you are going through,and change for a 3 year old is like taking away his fav toy-they just don’t get it as hard as you can try to reason with them. I feel your pain, my little guy is tough there are good and bad days and lots of mommy guilt (since the day he was born he has been in daycare)Best I can say is try to keep things on a schedule and consistent at least thats what works for me some days not all…take some time to enjoy the last few weeks of your own togetherness before your new one is born and give him the special time that you and he will never forget.

  3. It’s funny how things come to you when you need them the most. Tonight, unable to sleep, I took to the couch and scrolled through facebook on my phone. One of my friends “shared” your post and I read it. It was like viewing a snapshot of my own life, especially the part about being angry over and over throughout the day and saying silent sorrys as you kiss tiny hands and cheeks. In moments of utter chaos and misery I have said, done and thought things to and about my children that I am not proud of. I’ve found it next to impossible to picture other mothers having similar moments, thoughts, etc. But they do, and I needed a reminder of that tonight. Thank you for your honesty. You are doing a good thing here.

    1. Martha, I’m so glad that you reached out to say hello here! Thank you for sharing about how you have experienced some of the same “mommy frustrations”….I think that most (if not all) of us do, and yet we’re terrified to say that. You are not alone. This mothering business is HARD. But it gets easier when we cut ourselves some slack, and realize that every other mom has these days. You sound like a thoughtful, good mom….I’m glad I’m in good company 🙂

  4. I think I love you.

    Thank you for saying everything I think and feel. I’m pregnant with my third due any day now, my others are 4 and 20 months. I have a rolled up washcloth between my breasts as I lay on my side reading your blogs, because my African tribeswoman breasts are so heavy they need cleavage support before they turn pendulous again after nursing #3 for at least a year. I blame my venomous tone on the rocking heartburn I can’t get rid of. I am you. You are me. And I’m now your biggest fan.

    Rock on.

    1. Liz, you crack me up! I’m going to start blaming my own “venomous tone” on the heartburn too 🙂 So glad that you stopped by here to say hello!

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