I’m not supposed to say this. I’m not supposed to admit it. I love my son, with the still-startling love of a newborn plonked from the womb to a mother’s bare chest. I love him like breathing.
But a lot of the time, I don’t like him at all.
Baby Bear is a threenager in all the glory of the age — boundary testing, loud, a baby one minute and a preschooler the next. He begs for peanut butter and jelly then feeds it to the dog. We’re constantly after him, a dedicated nudist, to please, please put on his underwear, before the neighbors learn our stance on infant circumcision. He refuses to let me trim his toenails. He can’t be near sand without throwing it, preferably at someone, preferably in their eyes.
This evening he screamed for 15 minutes: we bought regular Kix instead of the expensive organic cereal. He wailed disconsolately, endlessly; passers-by stared. Finally, we got to the car. I was so tired.
“Don’t take your shoes off,” I said.
He took his shoes off and flung them.
“NO!” I screamed. My husband heard it across the parking lot. And three-year-old Baby Bear dissolved, again, into tears. At times like this, I’m so angry — at him, at myself, at anyone who witnessed it. Guilt is a gut-punch. Because I know, in that moment, I really, really don’t like my son.
Out of my three children, he’s the most like me — he hates mornings, he’s a closet introvert. Baby Bear is the best to cuddle at night; he nestles into me, a perfect fit, arms around my neck and warm breath in synch to mine. He loves his nails painted, his favorite color is black. I straighten his long hair every morning. He asks for it, and I comply, running my straightening iron over hair identical to mine. No one else in the world looks so much like me — the long face, the full lips, the big eyes and copper hair. He got them all.
But here we are at the playground. I have asked, over and over, if he has to pee. I have offered travel potties. I have offered trees. He insists he does not need to pee. Then, purposefully, he pees down the length of the slide. It’s a miniature waterfall of parenting shame. I drag him back to the car.
Or he throws balls at my face, after I asked him not to, after I offered alternatives, after I told him I’d take the ball if he did it again.
Or he beats the dog with a plastic sword.
Or he hits the baby with a wooden hammer.
He can be a miserable job to parent, a slog of “no” and “not now” and “stop that.”
It’s especially hard to like him in the mornings, because like I said, Baby Bear hates the mornings. He wakes up screaming, or crying, demanding to nurse. He asks for breakfast then doesn’t want it. He steals my phone.
And, patiently, patiently, I pick him up out of bed and kiss his head. I tell him it’s okay to wake up. I set him on the couch, still screaming, and make him breakfast. I nurse him afterwards, and he curls in my lap, into me, into his safest place. I don’t like it. I want my hot tea and quiet time. But I hold him close anyway.
Like is a feeling. Love is an action.
And I love him.More On