“I hate you, Mom! You’re mean and I don’t like you.”
I start my day this way a couple of days a week. Today, it was because I wouldn’t let my almost 5-year-old son wear his shitty, worn out play shoes to school. With his pajamas, which he was wearing because it is Pajama Day at school. Which I picked out from his drawer, after he ridiculously selected a set of pajamas consisting of shorts and a short-sleeved T-shirt (hello, low 50s and rain, typical Spring weather here in Cleveland, not happening). Pajamas which I painstakingly selected and bought for him, which was no easy feat. Son is a size 5T, which most stores stock basically NOTHING in, particularly for boys. He’s not a kids’ size small, and the 4T stuff is too small, but apparently most retail stores have glossed over this. Old Navy has exactly two types of pants for boys this size per my last visit, and Kohl’s doesn’t even sell 5T anything, except pajamas. They’re white PJs with green alligators on them. Not footie pajamas, which he is immediately too tall for, and which are sold in abundance even though most of the parents of boys I know have similar problems with footed PJs. And not with sports crap on them, which is increasingly difficult to find, because, as we know EVERYONE LIKES SPORTS, ESPECIALLY BOYS.
So I’m the meanest Mom ever, for various reasons like not letting my son wear shitty shoes to school. I’m also the worst Mom at night sometimes because I won’t let my son have anything for dessert, or watch TV, because he didn’t do the chore or homework he was supposed to do, and instead spent an hour fucking around and doing other shit, and now you’re out of time, energy and the ability to concentrate well enough to do the chore or homework. This is part of the Mom job, I know. Sometimes in the morning, I don’t have the patience for his ire, and this was one of those mornings. “You do not KNOW what a mean Mom is like, I promise you,” I told him. “Get your coat on and let’s go.” A mean Mom doesn’t help someone zip up their coat, I told him (plus he knows how to do it, and needs to do it every time and not keep asking me to do it), zip it yourself. So then a big tantrum because he didn’t want to zip it, and a lot of overly dramatic crying and foot stomping on the way to the car, and more assertions about how mean I am. I made him shut his own door and buckle his own ass into his car seat, too, things I know he can do but with which I sometimes help him, to speed the process of us getting him to school on time. But not today. Once he was buckled in, still whining, I turned on the car and then turned around and explained to him, not particularly nicely, but at least calmly, that I have reasons I don’t want him wearing those worn out, broken down shoes to school, and it’s not because I am mean. It’s because the shoes are old and won’t support his feet properly with all the standing and running and playing he needs to do today. And because they look very worn, with the color rubbed off in several places and one piece of velcro that never stays shut, and look shabby, and if you wear shabby clothes to school over and over, other kids start to notice, and they will talk about you, either behind your back or to your face. They might choose not to invite you to their birthday party, your shoes acting as evidence that you can’t afford anything cool and nice looking. They might together an act for the school talent show and invite all of your friends to be part of the act, but not you. They might take a group trip somewhere fun, to Cedar Point or on Spring Break, and not even consider inviting you, because those shoes show you can’t afford it, you won’t be fun, you might spoil the trip.
My explanation to him was shorter and less detailed than this. I pointed out, for example, how a mean Mom would not have taken him to the bakery and let him order whatever color and flavor of cake and frosting he wants for his birthday cake. I tried hard to convey to him, as I always do, that I make these decisions for him not because I don’t love him, but because I do, and because I want the best for him. That I want him to be warm enough all day, so the long-sleeve/long-pant PJs are the ones you have to put on. That I want your feet not to telegraph your station in life, so you must wear the other shoes. That I love you, and make a thousand decisions every day to try to make sure you know that, including going to work, paying for your expensive preschool, shopping for food that will help you grow and thrive. A mean Mom would not have delayed nap for another half hour this past weekend while we lay in bed, asking Siri to show us different pictures of super heroes or watching video clips from super hero movies.
I went out with a girlfriend last night, and as I was leaving, saw a little ice cream shop next door, and felt a pang of guilt for not being in there with my son, instead of out enjoying myself as an adult, but then I thought, no, you do enough for him, it’s ok.
I hope it’s ok. I hope he will know, someday.