We have not been at our finest these past few weeks. Nels got sick right after our friends left--the kind of sick where he still had a fever a week later and he lost five pounds and he missed a week of school, bringing his grand total of sick days to an impressive total of 11.5.
It would be terribly efficient for everyone to get sick at once, so Willem waited until spring break (the following week) to catch it. He was sick for a week as well. It was a bad, bad bug.
Then Willem got better and I got sick, ushering in our third straight week of being housebound. Did the boys watch too much TV? They did. Did I pay? Oh yes, I paid.
This Monday Shaun went back to work and I had to be back at my post after a few solid days in bed fantasizing about an exotic getaway to the hospital where they bring you giant mugs of ice water and give you a bed that goes up and down.
When I woke up Monday morning, my eyes never really felt like they opened all the way, but I could talk intelligibly again (for two days I mostly made unpleasant growly noises) and I didn't have a fever. I too had lost five pounds, but that's not really noteworthy once one gets into my weight category.
What I wasn't prepared for on Monday morning was to deal with the always strong-willed Willem, who was now hopped up on all that extra television. To call Willem strong-willed is like calling the ocean big and wet: it's true as far as it goes, but it doesn't go nearly far enough.
Willem came home from school, ate his lunch, did his homework and watched a show. After which he asked for another show. I told him that he could watch one after he cleaned his room. And that's when he decided that life was not worth living if he had to clean his room. One has to be at the top of one's game to deal effectively with Willem once he goes into contrary mode. And I was barely feeling human.
What ensued was a grim five hour battle that accomplished exactly nothing. I lost my temper and I yelled. There are few things uglier than the sound of an adult screaming at a child, and I retreated to my room with my phone where I called Shaun to sob that I had lost control of myself and that I was failing, failing, failing at being a good parent. I had handled the day all wrong and I knew it and it felt awful.
Meanwhile Willem stood out in the hallway and shouted things at me like "WHO ARE YOU TALKING TO?" and "STOP THAT CRYING!"
When I relayed this to Shaun, he laughed. And then I laughed too. And then I knew it would be OK and that we all have those days and nobody's perfect and I'm probably not going to single-handedly wreck my kid.
The next day I was well enough to restock our empty fridge, so Willem and I went to Winco to buy some groceries. An opportunity for a bit of redemption from my previous day's failings presented itself in the form of an elderly woman with lank gray hair who didn't have her teeth in. She approached me in the bulk foods section and pointed at the fennel bulbs in my cart.
"How do you pick those?" she asked. I told her what to look for and went on to describe the different ways I use fennel and what I was planning to make with the bulbs I had. She reached into my cart and broke off a feathery piece of frond and sniffed it.
"There's all these vegetables here that I don't know how to cook. Didn't grow up with 'em. I like vegetables. My son, he wants me to find out how to cook all the different vegetables. He grows our beef and our pork and has a big vegetable patch too but he said 'Mom, I went to Winco and they have all these other vegetables and I don't even know what they are.' I told him I'd get a cookbook, A to Z, or I'd look on the internet..."
We talked for a while longer, affirming the many fine qualities of vegetables, and we then we parted ways to finish our shopping. Willem had watched the whole exchange quietly, and as we walked away I looked at his face to see what he was thinking. He looked up at me and said, "Mom, you're nice."
Now being friendly and helpful to a stranger is just pretty standard-issue human decency. But I did feel like I'd been given the opportunity to model some better behavior than I had the day before. I was thankful for the chance, and I was thankful Willem noticed.