If you see my mind, encourage it to come home. Thanks.

I lost my mind earlier this morning.

My #2 child was struggling to get all her stuff and her person into the car this morning. She had bags and jackets and Lord only knows what else — not totally sure as I was in the driver’s seat, awaiting lift off — and opened her car door to discover that the seat had been flipped forward (you know, to allow easy access to the Black Pit that is the Third Row). As she was juggling her baggage, she asked her brother for help flipping the seat up. A brief war of words ensued: “Hurry up,” “I’m trying!” “Try harder!” etc., which culminated is his declaration, “I don’t have to help you; it’s not my job!”

This is where me and my mind parted ways.

Not his job? NOT HIS JOB? I turned my body around and proceeded to explain to him precisely what his job is. And I may or may not have been using my Outside Voice:

‘Not your job’? Are you kidding me? It’s your ONLY JOB. Your role as a member of this family is to help the rest of us out when we need help. Whenever we need help. Just as we would help you out.

‘Not your job’? Have you lost your mind? It is ABSOLUTELY your job to help your sister, particularly when she needs help and ESPECIALLY when she asks for it.

[By now I’m driving out of our driveway and slowly down our street. And, gifted driver that I am, I am able to direct my tirade at him directly as I have the gift of turning around at 5 MPH and using my Outside Voice.]

‘Not your job’? What do you think your job is? And if it’s not your job to help your sibling and your family, whose job is it? If that’s not your job, then it’s not my job to keep you fed, keep you clothed, celebrate your birthday, buy you Christmas presents, take you to the doctor….Those things are not my job either.

You must have lost your mind. ‘Not your job.’ You have to be kidding me. [Apparently when I lose my mind I do a lot of repeating.]

[There may have been some swearing and euphemistic language, a la “fricking” and “bullshit” — but not directed so much at him as at the windshield as I continued the rant in my Outside Voice to myself. Turns out when I lose my mind I also lose a bit of my ability censor myself. Happily the Mother of All Curse Words did not make it through the censor.]

And the finale:

You owe your sister, and me, and probably Daddy when he comes home [from London] an apology. Not your job. You have lost your mind.

I will not hold my breath for an apology; #4 is perhaps the most stubborn human being alive today. He just looked at me silently during the whole episode.

I’ve calmed down considerably, and although my Outside Voice has been put away, I pretty much stand by all that I said [with a nod to Bill Cosby, whose voice I hear in my head when I ask the rhetorical, “Have you lost your mind?”], even if I mildly regret the euphemisms and swearing.

There are two things I cling to at difficult parenting times such as these. First, more than a few people have told me — recently and not so recently — that my kids are great. They are correct, my children are great. They’re good conversationalists, they’re smart, they’re polite, and they are kind. They are really great kids. Maybe because of their parents, maybe in spite of their parents. Tough call.

Second, I’m incredibly mindful of Jackie Kennedy’s observation that “if you bungle raising your children, I don’t think whatever else you do well matters very much.” There are days when I could be almost paralyzed by the parenting responsibilities. A long time ago in a parenting program far, far away it was noted that we parents are not raising children, we are raising adults. And my husband and I are raising four of them. Those four will grow up, partner off, have children, etc. etc. etc. Talk about a ripple effect!

Author Stephen Covey — the 7 Habits guy — wrote in a book on 7 habits for families that “… if we as a society work diligently in every other area of life and neglect the family, it would be analogous to straightening deck chairs on the Titanic.” I think of that phrase a lot — and, huh, doesn’t ease the pressure at all. In fact, I have days like today when I feel that dodging the icebergs is hard work. The danger of letting the “not my job” tip of the iceberg get a bye means turning away from the invisible iceberg of self-absorption and selfishness that could potentially “sink” important values that are imperative for good adults.

[Just re-read that paragraph a million times, and suddenly thought, “Hmmm. Penn State coaching staff?”]

I’m going to go look for my mind. You keep an eye out too, please.

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6 Responses to “If you see my mind, encourage it to come home. Thanks.”

  1. Jocelyn Martin Says:

    I could not agree more! Not only could I hear your brother in your words (Not my job! has already been said more than once around here), but I had a morning just like that today as well. And like you, I was quilty of using my Outside Voice (luckily no curse words…but that was just today and its still morning here!), but I hope my point got across. We often use the phrase “She’s your sister, that’s why and you (fill in the blank) to/for your sister….ALWAYS!”
    Its great to know that there are still parents who see the importance of parenting. And yes, you do have GREAT children!

    Alyson says:

    Hi J —
    Well, evening here, and I did get my apology….around dinner time. It was unsatisfying as far as apologies go, but I do think I got my message across!
    And, tomorrow is another day…..Sigh.

  2. Joanna Says:

    GOD, I LOVE YOU! (Okay, not in an Indigo Girls, “Let’s run away together” way, but…) You always perfectly describe the (painful, nearly-thankless, amazingly wonderful) job called parenting. Bravo.

  3. Rob McWilliams Says:

    …so did you write a follow-up to this entry/ Did #4 end up behaving differently?

    Alyson says:

    Hi Rob — I didn’t write the entry — Life gets in the way around here A LOT! — but I’m happy to report we had a really great weekend as a family: we went to NYC to see the revival of Godspell. Critics didn’t like it at all, but we all did. And, doesn’t hurt to have yet another person talking about “whatever you do to the least of my brothers” to my peeps!

    Thanks for reading!

  4. Suniverse Says:

    I”m impressed that you managed to tirade [an excellent one, by the way] without spewing the f-word. Of course, I may have less filter than you.

    The problem with raising adults [also excellent] is that it takes so long to get the finished product.

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