Home > Family, Inspiration, Parenting > Hope in the Mist

Hope in the Mist

December 10, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

I get home from the business trip after dark. It’s been two solid days of planes, trains and automobiles – doing the security line striptease, breaking nails on suitcase latches, schlepping from one client meeting to the next with bloodshot eyes from fitful hotel sleep and not enough Visine. I’m thrilled to be home but as usual, my return disrupts the fragile balance my stay-at-home husband has established with our son in my absence.

Enter Mommy, exit discipline. I realize as I lurch into the kitchen lugging suitcase and laptop bag that I’ve interrupted dinner. I’ve distracted my son during the all-important first course, by which I mean the plateful of vegetables he must finish before getting mac-and-cheese. He’ll eat veggies but like pulling off a bandaid, it’s best when it happens all at once, without interruption. I’ve shot his concentration and he’s now wrapped himself around me with the freakish strength 6 year olds can muster when it comes to bear hugs and marathon tickle sessions. I breathe him in. I haven’t seen him in two days.

My husband indulges the reunion for a while, then tries to coax our boy back to finish dinner. It’s swim team practice night which means dinner is served later and everyone’s exhausted. Bed time is minutes away and we’re not even through the carrots yet. My son ignores his father’s pleas to finish the meal, having run off to the TV room to find a drawing he needs to show me RIGHT NOW. He’s got two days of catching up to do with me and in his mind, carrots – and bedtime – can wait. On cue, my husband explodes.

The battle of wills between the 42 year old and the first grader is fierce. Testosterone flies fast and furious, both sides hell-bent on making sure the other knows “YOU’RE NOT THE BOSS OF ME.”

Normally I’d intervene. Mediate and bargain. Make the peace. Tonight, something switches on in my brain. I realize, “I can’t fix this.” It occurs to me the men in my family will never figure out how to deal with one another productively as long as I’m in the ring refereeing.

So I leave. I pull my coat back on knowing full well this will trigger a fresh outburst of wailing from my son.


I tell him as calmly as I can that I’m going to take a walk so that he and his dad can make friends again. That they need to work it out themselves, that I love them both and I’ll be back in a little bit.

I walk out into the cool night air, willing myself not to look back at the house. I know I’ll see my son plastered against the living room window, yelling for me to come back. I am tired from my trip, tired of the drama, tired of undermining my husband in his parenting efforts.

It’s humid for December and a light fog has settled on and around the houses on my block. I pause at the end of the street and look at all the houses along our town’s main drag, decked out in friendly competition with a bright array of Christmas lights. I breathe slowly and deliberately, in and out, in and out. This grounds me in the here and now, because I refuse to project myself into a future where my husband and son can’t settle their differences,  come to blows, stop loving each other.

I’m touched by the sight of these houses lined up side by side in the night, lit up as far as the eye can see, all the way down to where our town’s main street intersects with the highway. The houses get smaller and a little more ragtag down there, but they have been decorated with care and tonight they are luminous.

Why do we hang lights at Christmas? To evoke the star of Bethlehem and the nativity? Keep up with the Joneses? Celebrate the Solstice and the return of the sun’s light? Me, I love Christmas lights for reasons so complex and emotionally intertwined it’s tough to peel apart. They are beacons that fill my heart with optimism that this Christmas will be different – no holiday dysfunction, no missed connections, no New Year’s resolutions made and abandoned. Hope that this year, things will be better.

I turn and make my way back down the block to our little blue house. I’ve only been gone ten minutes but I’m guessing things have diffused inside. I notice the lights have gone out on the evergreen garland I’ve twisted around the lamp pole in our front yard and though it’s dark, am able to correct the setting on the automatic timer. The strands of fairy lights nestled in the pine blaze brilliantly back to life. I look up to see my husband and son silhouetted in the front window, waiting for me together. I climb the porch stairs and go back inside, out of the mist and into the light.


Image via.

Note: I was inspired to write this post by the brilliant women of Blog Nosh Magazine who are hosting a blogging carnival to celebrate hope during the holiday season. They’re doing this to help raise awareness of a charity program called Loads of Hope which I am obliged to tell you was created by my agency’s client Tide. I assure you, I would support both Blog Nosh and Tide Loads of Hope regardless of the client relationship because good people and programs deserve to be promoted. My clients don’t know I wrote this but if they read it, I hope they like it. (You, too.)

Please visit Blog Nosh to learn about the carnival and the campaign.

  1. December 11, 2009 at 10:46 am

    Another fantastic post SS! Perfect timing and a nice heartwarming reminder of the frailties and foibles that make us human.

    Happy Holidays!

  2. Max The Russian Daddy
    December 11, 2009 at 1:11 pm

    Great performance again! When you start to read you can’t stop! It touches you to the deepest part of your heart and make you revalue a lot of important things in our short life…

  3. Karina Tweedell
    December 11, 2009 at 2:41 pm

    Very poetic. I like it how you describe the night and your perceptions. It almost seems as I’m there experiencing it with you.

  4. December 11, 2009 at 5:14 pm

    Such a wonderful post, I completely identified with so many parts. Thanks for including this in the Loads of Hope carnival.

  5. Robin ~ PENSIEVE
    December 13, 2009 at 5:10 pm

    Parenting is NOT for cowards.

    Wow, Stephanie, I wasn’t prepared for this post, its depth and feeling. Wise insight and honest assessment, your response to the storm that stirred from your arrival home was probably the best option in a difficult situation. I felt your Mama pain, applaud your deliberate actions.

    Hope keeps us going…!

  6. December 14, 2009 at 4:40 pm

    Beautiful post. I dread experiencing that same kind of pain, but it’s good to know it can be fixed. Great job of capturing that moment.

  7. Emma
    December 18, 2009 at 8:56 pm

    Oh I know exactly how you feel. I am a single parent to a 7 year old and she has been sent to bed early twice this week, once for acting up and once because I’m a terrible Mother and just couldn’t deal with her. I’m told in gets easier in about 10 years time 🙂

    • ssmirnov
      December 19, 2009 at 7:31 pm

      Thanks so much for commenting. Is it just me or is it always surprising (and a huge relief) to hear other people’s stories of maternal struggle? I always think I’m the only one, though I know that’s ridiculous. Hang in there…it has to get easier (RIGHT??)

  8. December 19, 2009 at 10:03 pm

    Beautifully honest blog, you have such a talent for being able to put your feeling down on such expressive, and descriptive words. I applaud you for realizing when you need to step back, even when it can be painful. You are a great Mother and I am most HOPEFUL in watching the development of a brilliant young boy under the guidance of a village.

  9. December 23, 2009 at 2:09 pm

    Gorgeous. I know this delicate tightrope act well, having been the leaver and the leavee parent quite a bit this year. I love fact that you removed yourself from the equation, instead of trying to make the math work.

    So often when my husband returns from a month away, I have to remind myself that my way is not the only way, and that as he marvels at the children’s progress, the correct response is not “Oh yeah, he’s been doing that for like three weeks.”:)

    Your thoughtfulness will be remembered by both your husband and son later, and their relationship will be strengthened by your necessiting direct contact for conflict resolution. But you know that.:) Great post, I love the lights imagery.

  10. December 30, 2009 at 11:44 pm

    What a beautiful post and what a great project!

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