owning my shit: surviving the worst parenting moments

July 23, 2012 | 104 Comments

Girl at the beach

I had a conversation with my mom shortly after Emma was born. Back when we were still speaking. As usual, we were rehashing the past. She chided me for confiding in my childhood friends, angry they seemed to hate her as a result, making her feel uncomfortable in her own home. “They weren’t your stories to tell, Shannon.”

I disagreed with my mom: her choices became my stories because of how they clouded the climate of our home. I had every little girl right to whisper my hurts and fears into the sanctity of the slumber-party darkness. I told her that if and when I hurt Emma, part of Emma’s healing may be shouting my short-comings from roof tops, and it would be my job to embrace the process. Own my shit.

Last November, a couple months after we moved to BC, Steve was on day six of a ten-day trip for one of his speaking gigs as Guru of the Geeks. Emma and I were doing well and I was pleased with how seamless my single-parenting seemed to be going. I made her tomato soup for supper and prepared it our favourite way: overflowing with broken soda crackers so every bite has more cracker than soup. I surprised her with a steaming bowl up in her room and told her she could eat while watching a show on her computer, but to be careful. It sounded like a treat, but it was pure selfishness, giving me a chance to zone out, kid-free, downstairs with my own episode of something.

I had just settled in, bowl and spoon poised, when Emma called out in distress, “Mom! I spilled!” Steve and I encourage Emma to be honest about her messes instead of trying to hide them in fear of our reaction. I took a couple of deep breaths and, as I headed up the stairs to assess the damage, reminded myself to be gentle, encouraging continued disclosure.

I was not prepared for the sight of the entire contents of her bowl spread out over the duvet she had on the floor. I swear to god I heard my sanity unplug itself from its socket and felt it repeatedly stab my brain tissue with the tines. I said something accusatory and more yelly than intended. Emma looked at me with her “What the hell, Mommy? YOU SAID I SHOULD ALWAYS TELL WHEN I SPILL” saucer eyes. And then she side-stepped into the pile of bloated crackers and soup. My sanity hurled itself from my body and left the city. I split in two. One part yelled more and louder while the other floated above, watching, completely helpless. Emma began to cry and yell back, begging me to stop yelling.

I knew if I didn’t leave, I would say more regrettable things and possibly do something unforgivable. So I did. I left. But I slammed the door as hard as I could on my way out. I heard something fly off her door handle and went back in to see what. Reentering her room, I stepped on it, splitting apart her “Emma Kristy Fisher, September 11, 2002, 9:15am” custom cut and painted, wooden doorhanger gift. I was embarrassed and already on a roll, so I yelled a little more, just in case I hadn’t been destructive enough.

Emma and I made eye contact. Her face revealed a brokeness I wasn’t prepared for.

I ducked out again, still unable to trust myself. I was shaking. I walked down the hall, confused how I had turned a manageable moment into a scene from The Exorcist. Hot shame replaced the storm of rage in me. I heard loud, lonely sobs from behind her bedroom door.

I scurried back down the hall and scooped her up. We rocked and cried and cried and rocked. I stroked her hair and apologized to the rhythm of our rocking. I told her my behaviour was awful and assured her she didn’t deserve any of it. I reminded her she was precious and a reaction like mine is never okay. I whispered every endearing coo I could think of.

It was the awfulest. I’ve had a handful or two of ugly parenting episodes, but never have I felt so detached from everything good and right.

A few months later Emma and I were out for lunch with our friend, Andrea. Something we said reminded Emma of The Great Soup Spill of 2011. She started to tell Andrea about it and stopped herself. She looked at me apologetically, and for permission to continue.

“Hey, Em, it’s okay. If you want to talk about it, you go ahead.”
“Are you sure, Mom? I don’t have to!”
“If I’m gonna act like that, I gotta own it. Maybe it’ll make us both feel better if we keep talking about it? It could be healing.”

And so she told Andrea the story. In all its gory details. She even went on to tell about a few of my other less-than-sparkly moments, because why not! I listened and periodically cringed. And somehow, maybe because it really was so unbelievably awful, we found ourselves laughing in spots. Like, yeah, holy fuck, that really happened and it was The Worst, but I still love you and you still love me and look at how okay we are and how okay we will always be. And we hugged and shared I love yous and, somehow, Andrea remained my friend and didn’t report me to Child Services. Yet.

I was given an opportunity to rewrite history, and I snatched it up good. I participated in my girl’s healing after being the instigator of her hurt. It was powerful to realize such things are possible outside of Hollywood. Raising kids under the best of circumstances is terrifying, but when you’re rooted in any kind of dysfunction, you fear you’re sure to fuck your kids up in all the same ways. It’s just not true. At least is doesn’t have to be.

I love you, my sweet Emma. Thank you for your big heart, full of forgiveness.

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