To the Moms With the Wild Ones: I’m Telling You This Because I Love You

Oh dear, exasperated mama. There’s nothing wrong with your wild child, and there’s nothing wrong with you.


There’s a boy in this house with the ability to tilt the axis of our world and our home, each and every day, with just the flick of his whims.

My head still on the pillow, moonlight bleeding into day, I listen for the first sounds he makes, because I know they chart my course.

Too early spells a long slog of disagreeable hours, their end not in plain sight.
Giggling and raised voice is precarious, too. There’s a fine line between the kind of happy that lifts us up together and the kind that spins us into a hiccuping overdrive.

It probably shouldn’t be this way.

I’ve believed the lie that this is my problem to solve while the solution hides just out of reach. I never stop grasping, falling tear-stained and frayed into the condemnation of almost everyone, or so I tell myself, my own accusing finger wagging fastest.

All this, after years of progress.

We remind ourselves how far we’ve come, and either the hard days are fewer or we’re just more immune to the fall-out. Either way, it’s a better place to be.

But we default so quickly to making him our scape-goat. Our apologies for him trip too easily off our lips, desperate to be seen as anything other than part of the problem.

This child? He’s not a problem. He’s the best thing ever.

I’ve known for so long. I’ve believed it in my home when things get far out of hand. I’ve believed it when he rockets us off-balance and we burn all day from our nearness to the sun. I’ve even known it through a long stretch of short winter days where, in desperation, I stuck vinyl letters to my living room wall as a reminder of what my job really is – to make everyone here feel safe, feel loved.

It’s okay to get things wrong. I might forget things, be grumpy, come down too hard or let everything slip out to sea. As long as we’re tucked in at the end of the day feeling safe and feeling loved, I get an A.

A few weeks ago we had out-of-town visitors on an afternoon that capped a row of difficult days. I found myself parroting those tired apologies, unable to bear another voice in my head saying I should have a handle on this by now.

She interrupted me mid-sentence, looking me square in the eye, saying, “I’m telling you this because I love you…” and my heart stopped cold, because I knew what she was going to say and I’ve never doubted her love. She would tell me he needed help. Maybe we all need help. She would say she saw what was happening and loved me anyway. She’d tell me everything was going to be alright.

But I was wrong.

What she said was that he was a little boy, full of “gusto”, a bit squirrely, but aren’t so many of them? She said she had a wild one, that all of her friends had at least one. When they’re together, chaos ensues and it’s loud and gusto-y, the kids taking turns as the naughty one, everyone sharing the burden, leaving no one as the scape goat.

She’s a mom. She knows she wasn’t seeing the half of it, but she saw enough to recognize a sweet little boy, so full of life and curiosity that it leaked out in inconvenient ways. She saw a kid trying to figure out his place, trying to grow, not to be fixed. She saw a tired mom who needed permission to trust her instincts.

It was after 2 a.m. that night when I made it to my bed, but I couldn’t come close to sleep because all I wanted to do was get to work loving my child. She reminded me of my ability to do this well.

I’m at my best as a mom when I’m meeting the needs of my kids instead of my own. It’s a war I’d rather rise above, but I wage it daily. I need a lot of silence, but they need my voice. I’d like to live like a vampire, up all night and sleeping with the curtain drawn. They’re normal humans with normal circadian rhythms. They need me there. I crave order and around-the-clock amicability, they thrive on pell-mell energy, they fuss about toys and tasks. They don’t listen all the time. They disobey and suffer from selective hearing. They’re emotional, irrational, hyper and quirky. They’re children. So wonderful, imaginitive, stubborn and complex.

I’ve spent too long trying to mold them into my lumpy image.
I’ve lost too much time trying to meet an ideal that just doesn’t exist for my family.

In how many ways do we do this? Why are we prone to digging through the garden in search of the weed?

A true friend bears our burdens. There’s nothing quite like the gifts of commiseration and solidarity in the midst of a struggle. But ultimately, a true friend makes us want to do better, to be better – a better wife, a better mom, a person who calibrates herself not according to the humans around her, but who boils life down to its simplest syrup.

All I need is to feel safe and feel loved.
All they need is to feel safe and feel loved.

The end.

Shannan Martin
Shannan Martin is a writer who found her voice in the country and her story in the city. She and her jail chaplain husband are the parents of four funny kids, who came to them across oceans and rivers. Having sold their dream farmhouse, they now live entrenched in community on the wrong side of the tracks. Check out Shannan's first book Falling Free: Rescued From the Life I Always Wanted, coming September 2016For more of Shannan, follow her on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest.

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