Monday, May 5, 2008

Exponential Curves

For those of you who didn't take Calculus, let me briefly explain the exponential curve. Each equal point on the curve is twice the distance of the point before it. How does this relate to ordinary life? For a mother, this means that while two children are twice the work of one, three are four times the work of one, or twice two. When the children are four years apart, or nearly, as ours were, it seems the curve increases.

Let me go back in time, even though this particular memory is uncomfortable and embarrassing for me. It's worth recalling, so it won't be lost in the mists of time. Someone, though I don't know who, once said that everyone has value, even if just to serve as a warning to others. Here's your warning.

I had just produced our third son: Benjamin. He was tiny. He was sleeping. I was recovering from a C-Section, and newly home from the hospital. John was at work, and it had seemed like a long day. Jeremy, not four yet, wanted to go outside to play, but we lived on the corner, and he wasn't allowed to go out unattended. Tighe, at seven and a half, knew about busy streets, and was permitted in the front yard with his friends. It sounded like he was having a grand time out there with a couple of friends. Jeremy was not happy, and was letting me know it.

Tighe was never forced to take along his brother, since I remembered the animosity of my sister when forced to include her "little sister," a whole 17 months younger than she was. This day, however, I needed to get dinner ready for John's imminent arrival, and didn't have any patience left for a frustrated little boy who refused to understand why he was excluded from the fun in the yard. I called Tighe in and told him that it wouldn't kill him to include Jeremy in the fun for awhile. He wasn't pleased. He wasn't amused. He wasn't gracious. He was, however, obedient. 

I listened at the door for a few minutes. I heard the teasing from Tighe and his friends, but felt it was moderate and that Jeremy could handle himself. After all, it was important to let the children deal with their own problems to a certain extent.

As I started dinner, the front door banged open, and Jeremy tearfully ran into the house, lifting his little face to me. "Tighe called me the F Word." 

"What?!?" I ran outside, not wanting to believe what I had heard. I marched over to Tighe. "Jeremy said you called him the F Word. Did you?" Tighe admitted that he did. I looked at his friends. Pointing at each, I ordered them home. "Go home — NOW!" I yelled. I grabbed Tighe by the shirt collar and dragged him into the house.

Some things are simply not acceptable. I had had a bad day. This was shocking and one thing too many. The fighting and sniping were bad enough, but this was simply unacceptable! I hauled Tighe over to the couch, stripped off his jeans and was on about the third smack on his bare bottom when John came rushing in the front door, hearing the screams. At this point, Tighe and Jeremy were both crying loudly. "What is going on here?" he demanded.

Before I could open my mouth, Jeremy yelled out, "Tighe called me a Freak, and Mama's killing him!"

I don't know if you've ever tried wiping red hand prints off an innocent child's bottom, but it can't be done. You also can't really explain to a not quite eight year old how you could make such a mistake. 

That night I learned an important lesson. When a child said he was called the B word or the S word or whatever, I always gave them permission to say the word completely "one time and only one time." 

That evening I skipped several points on my own personal exponential curve, with both feet dragging. I'm not sure I ever completely caught up. I never felt good enough, as a mother, as a house keeper, wife, or anything else. Well, almost anything else. The only area where I really knew I aced every test was the love quotient. I wouldn't have traded my kids for any others I had ever met. I still feel that way. I love my boys, and they are three blessings in my life that have been constant and heart felt. Through trials and triumphs, they live in my heart.

Some day they will understand (and perhaps having a daughter of his own now and another on the way, Benjamin might already have a glimmer of this truth) that I learned far more from them than they ever learned from me.


sherrie said...

Does this happen in all families? In ours, it was the "S" word, which upon further questioning ended up being "shut-up". We didn't get quite as far as handprints, but my girls still don't think it is a story worth telling like I apparently do.

Kathleen said...

I don't think our kids really appreciate our sharing any of these stories, unless they only relate to their siblings. I'm not sure they ever will, but perhaps one day? Maybe when they're sharing their stories with their grandchildren?