I don’t know why I chose to lock my daughter out of the bathroom this past Monday, half-dressed, as she launched into a full-blown, kicking-screaming 3rd grade fit during my shower. I don’t know why I chose this past Monday. I don’t know why I chose this fit.
I don’t know why I chose this shower, and I can hardly believe I turned the lock on the door.
Why today? Why now? Why in the middle of my shower?
I went from zero past sixty in two seconds flat, and suddenly, there was my daughter on her belly outside the bathroom door, water dripping across the bathroom floor, the lock turned, hot water running and running and running behind me as I helped my daughter to her feet and ushered her out the door. Soon, there was banging. Accusations. More anger. And then as suddenly as her tantrum had arrived, as suddenly as my rage had then flared, she was speaking to me kindly through the door, asking to be let back in. I soaped my hair and replied in an even voice (the evenness irrelevant, I realize, after what had just occurred), “Please leave me alone until I finish my shower. If you need a parent, you can interrupt your other mom in the shower downstairs.”
When I finally emerged from the bathroom, my daughter was lying on her bed — still belly-down, but content as can be, wearing only her glasses, immersed in reading Harry Potter. “We need to talk,” I told her, and she gave me a slight nod. She continued to read. “Please close your book for a minute.” I stood waiting while she placed a marker carefully in her book, eventually turning her face to mine. “I’m sorry I got so mad.” Her face was unresponsive. I launched right in. “My showers help me to get ready for the day, and it’s important to me that my shower time is happy. And peaceful. Do you know what I mean?” She nodded, still not offering any hint of feeling. Did she learn this from me? “I can’t have your fits in the bathroom during my shower. I have less patience during my shower than during any other time of day.”
Most of the time lately, I feel like I’m driving blind. She’s still cute, but she’s her own person now, more than she was last year. Most of the time, I don’t know the right approach, the right tone, the right words to say. We fight. We come back together. Most of the time, I manage to not slam doors.
After I lost my temper and locked her out for kicking and screaming on the bathroom floor, we made up. We talked it out. She agreed to get ready for her day.
Then she opened her book again and refused to stand.
I left the house.
That is to say, I got dressed, spoke with my partner, and by the time I was ready to go, my daughter was hanging onto my leg wailing about how I couldn’t leave her. I suggested she call me once she was ready to go out, and I would come home to get her. My partner stayed.
I have no idea if leaving was the right choice. It was meant to be a lesson in “life goes on.” I don’t know.
Boundaries have never been my strength. I’m all or nothing. Nothing or everything. I’ve always been this way.
My partner said, “We’ll be fine. She’ll be fine.”
I felt awful.
I put on my coat, grabbed my keys, a notebook, a pen and a book, and installed myself on a park bench near the house. I wanted to go out for coffee or a snack. I wanted to write. I wanted to read on the bench until I was ready to see people. I wanted to rent a hotel room and never come home. Instead, I sent out a Facebook SOS about not knowing how to parent anymore.
Boundaries, I don’t understand. I step out and can’t get back in, I step in and can’t get out. I want to be more fluid, more able to care for my own needs and somebody else’s, too, without locking the door. I’ve wanted this for a very long time.
Happily, my parent friends who were browsing Facebook weighed in, and I heard that others had insecure parenting days, too (weeks, months, seasons). My high-school boyfriend described his daughter’s behavior and boundary-testing, and said that when she turned nine, she turned a corner suddenly. It was good to hear.
Eventually, I read my book. Eventually, my little girl called. Eventually, I came home and we left the house — all three of us together — for lunch and some family time.
Eventually, maybe I’ll figure out what pushed me over the edge. Eventually, maybe I’ll climb back up.