A couple days ago I was writing a post in my head about being a shitty parent. Well actually I didn't feel like a shitty parent but my kids were being shitty and I figured that, as the parent, it was probably my fault. So as part of my struggle I mentally composed.
Here's the scene. The dynamic between Xi, Echo, and I has been awful. When others are around, Papa or Bella or the grandparents, the dynamic shifts and it isn't so sucky but when it's just the three of us? Holy hell. The locker room of the YMCA is the arena in which the worst comes to shine. These two girls drive me absolutely nuts. Actually it starts before we even get inside. Xi's coat sleeve covers Echo's seat belt buckle and they fight about that. Then we get to the swinging doors to enter and Xi blocks Echo's way so that she can't get to the handle. They fight about that. Then while undressing Echo shoves Xi in order to set her boots within the locker. They fight about that. Then Xi stands where Echo was standing and refuses to move. They fight about that. Then there is a decision to make about who uses which towel. They fight about that. Then there's the matter of which racks the towels hang on. They fight about that.
You get the idea.
But it doesn't stop there. Who uses which shower? Who uses the goggles first? One girl wants to move, arbitrarily to the other side of the pool, so how many minutes on each side? One girl wants five minutes in the hot tub, the other none. Then, back to the locker room... who uses which shower? Who gets to wring their suit out first? Who carries the goggles?
Who carries the fucking goggles from the shower to the locker. We're talking about SEVEN FEET folks but it takes us ten minutes to come to an agreement.
It's not as if I was posing these questions to them, offering them their choice of shower or asking them who was going to carry the goggles. I don't care who!!!! They just were choosing to care violently about each of these issues and also choosing to disagree about them at every stage.
I found myself saying in rote:
So you both want the goggles. What do we do?
So you both want shower number four. What do we do?
So you both want to be first to wring out your suit. What do we do?
Now I consider myself a patient person but can you imagine the tedium? Can you imagine the amount of time this takes? I was factoring in huge amounts of time for our swimming excursions just to leave time for the locker room debacles. I was going out of my mind. I decided things would change as the girls changed developmentally. But three months have passed. I explained how I wasn't wanting to go the to Y with them anymore. I drummed up empathy from them for my plight but it only worked for a couple days.
I wondered what it would be like to have boys instead. I imagined how after swimming I would send them off with papa to the men's locker room then saunter casually into the women's for a leisurely stress-free shower.
I stood in the kitchen at night and analyzed it with Nathan. These discussions led to serious discussions with Xi about her feelings. As it turns out Xi felt like we love Echo more, that in particular I side with Echo during arguments. As a result Xi intentionally, though slyly, does things to inspire Echo to be an asshole in the hopes that I will notice and get mad at Echo. Like purposely blocking Echo with her body while looking like she just happens to want to stand in that particular spot. Or like "accidentally" whipping her in the face with her coat sleeve as she swings it over her shoulders.
Although this news was upsetting, on hearing it I felt like we had good stuff to work with. Xi and I talked about her feelings. I talked about how much I love her and that if she is worried about that sort of thing she can come to me for extra love and reassurance instead of instigating an argument in the hopes that I would side with her against Echo. I decided that I would see these little arguments as a reaching out by Xi, and that I would respond with extra love.
But it didn't stick.
There we were in the locker room settling the same old arguments.
I was resigned to either a sucky dynamic or elaborate arrangements in which I managed to go to the Y without the girls, when Papa got curious with the girls over dinner one evening. He asked them in complete neutrality what was going on for them. They admitted that they weren't liking how things were going. Nathan asked if they had any ideas for doing things differently the next time an issue came up.
Echo responded: "I for one am not going to lose my wits."
Xi said: "I don't even know what that means."
Echo returned: "Basically it means that I'm not going to start screaming."
I loved this exchange but obviously it didn't sound exactly like a solid plan of attack. So we continued talking.
Echo tried to reassure me: "Mom, you know, all kids - well all well-behaved kids, and we ARE well-behaved kids - want to do what their parents want them to do. They do. It's just... hard."
I loved this even more.
As we talked further it sounded like their dynamic was very much a case of payback gone awry. Xi was paying Echo back for a past grievance, and then Echo was mistreating Xi for mistreating her, and then Xi would pay her back for that mistreatment and on it went for three months and running. But somehow we pulled from this muck an idea.
A forgiveness ceremony.
How we all love ceremonies! The girls were pumped.
They wrote down their complaints with one another, some classic examples for which they were going to forgive the other.
I was a little worried about this part. I was concerned that they might actually start to get angry with each other as they remembered all the times they were pissed off. But I think it was important. We weren't going for a sense of vague forgiveness, we were hoping for a forgiveness that stopped the horrible payback cycle we were stuck in.
We got down our special altar we use for ceremonies, the girls gathered round and in preparation they explained the things they had drawn. They went through each instance.
"When Xi takes a toy from me I really don't like it and I get really mad. So I am forgiving her for that. I am letting go of all that kind of anger."
"When Echo doesn't listen to my idea and just shouts NO at me I hate it. So I am letting go of that. I'm going to forgive her for that."
As they went through each one they started to feel really sorry for each other. They actually noted that they hadn't been as sweet to each other as they liked. When we began the girls were planning on simply giving one another forgiveness but as they went through their struggles and found empathy for one another they realized that they'd prefer to ask each other for forgiveness. Holy shit.
So they held hands, held eyes, and asked.
"Echo I'm really sorry for the things I did that I don't feel good about. I'm sorry for doing those things. I am asking for your forgiveness."
"I forgive you Xi."
"I forgive you Echo."
It was amazing!
Then each girl, with the help of Papa, burned each of their grievances.
At the very end Xi burned an image she drew that symbolized me loving Echo more than her. She decided she was going to get rid of that idea, burn it to the ground. Papa asked her if she saved it for the last because it was the most important, most potent one and she said yes. And that paper, I tell ya, it burned bright and big and fast.
And then they hugged. A hug so loving and true that Echo kept saying afterward that she thought that was the first time the two had really really hugged.
And I'm happy to say our swim adventure was blissful. I'm so relieved to say that they didn't fight even once the entire day. When Xi stepped out of the shower and dropped her suit into the wringer without discussing it with anyone my heart was in my throat. I think I even held my breath, waiting for the rain of tears and sprays of shouts, but... none came. They were liking each other. They played and played and played late into the evening.
I also have to say that a day later as I sat down to write this a skirmish erupted about the rainbow stacker. I was set to come back to the keyboard and erase everything I had written. But nope. There were tears as I explained to Echo she couldn't play with the rainbow for another consecutive solid day, but now? Now the two girls are right back together, right in the middle of another peaceful and elaborate pretend.
I am hopeful. It feels like we really hit on something. And what a heartwarming, in the truest sense, spectacle to witness.