The Importance of a Low Bar

Whoo. One of those mom moments I wish I could take back. Birthday party over and James and her kids and my sweetheart over and all the kids watching a movie and I totally lost track of time and then it was 8:30 and we’re done with stories and Forest says “I want to open my presents.”

Fuck. I told him we would. We don’t do the present opening at the party, I hate that shit. But it’s 8:30 and I’m so done.


“Wait,” James says when I tell her. “You said, ‘No?’”

“I know, I know. I was tired. It was a bad, bad call,” I said.

Yes, I told him he had to go to bed instead of opening his birthday presents.

That was the beginning of a three-hundred-foot freefall. Which continued into this morning, when I woke up early and hungover to go to a before school meeting with the assistant principal and Forest’s teacher. Woke up shaking with a nightmare.

Forest was still pissed. The kind of not looking at me, crossed arms, small-eyed anger that feels like a wall.

The last time he went to school that angry, he lost his shit and got sent home for fighting.

But I’ve learned something since then. I’ve learned something about calm like a slow river, that wears down pain. I’m not in pain anymore. I’ve learned how to bear his, I’ve learned how to be the mother I want to be… Or closer anyway. How to be soft and strong at the same time. And less scared.

And I’ve learned to be wrong and still hold him. So I took a break and talked slowly until he opened, melted a little.

When I told James this, she said “The work you are doing with him now is going to pay off when his is a teenager.”

“Yes,” I said. “I don’t want to lose him,” I said.

We opened the presents at the breakfast table. Then another (predictable) tantrum when we had to leave for school. Full body and I’m late and the nightmare is ringing in my head and still I stayed calm, but firm. No, we are leaving. Step by step. Holding him as he thrashed and then asking him to put on one shoe, then another.

Actually, one of the things that is helping right now is this book that I am reading. H is for Hawk. I am reading it with my sweetheart. He sends me sections that thrill him, and they are the same poetries on wildness that make my skin hum.

And there is a passage that resembles nothing so much as early motherhood, where she is alone with the juvenile hawk for days and weeks, sleepless and delirious with the alternate world of self-doubt and unvaried attention to a small thing’s needs. She says that training a hawk means developing a supernatural awareness of its small emotions, how far you can ask it to go this time, and this time, and this.  Never scaring it, never asking too much.

I have made that mistake. I have set the bar too high. For myself, for my son.

But I’m learning.

When I went into the meeting at his school, I told them “So. I had a dream last night that I came in here today and Lisa told me that Forest was not coming back to Pathfinder this year.” They all looked at me in a little shock, concern. “So, the bar for success at this meeting is really low,” I said, and a laugh circled the room like a wild bird, stirring the air, rousing us and settling us like feathers drifting down. Soft and strong.

Forest did not lose his shit today. He had a beautiful day.