We moved into a new house in April of this year, and one of the absolute best things about it, quite possibly the thing that saved my sanity all summer long, is the fully fenced yard. Our last house had a little patch of grass that opened onto the street. This house has a front and back yard, a gravel pit, a garden, paved areas for riding bikes, steps and walls and plenty of surfaces for sidewalk chalk. The kitchen faces the back yard and has enough windows so that I can see my kids from nearly every angle, which means (be still my heart!) I don't have to be out there with them. Granted I open the kitchen door and most of the windows if it's warm out. And I'm pretty strict about not playing in the front yard, because even though it's fenced and the landlord fixed the gate latch so that they can't reach it, we're on a fairly busy street and it just makes me nervous. But the back yard? Go at it, kids! Mama needs to read her blogs!
They fight a lot, which is annoying, and they often stomp up and down the outdoor stairs to demand I get their bikes out of the garage or set up the cardboard house or to deliver dandelions (and beam while I find a vase for my beautiful hand picked flowers.) But they're actually really good outside and follow [most] of the rules. Stay out of the tomatoes. Don't splash in puddles unless you're wearing boots. Don't get rocks all over the patio. And whatever you do, DO NOT OPEN THE GATE.
See, there's a back gate too. And the kids can definitely open and close that one by themselves. In fact, "get to open gate!" causes an argument every time I unload the kids from the car. Stupid gate.
My kids have not opened that gate one single time in the six months we've lived in this house. They are so good about it that every time my nervous father-in-law brings up my disinterest in securing the gate with duct tape and a padlock, I wave him off and roll my eyes. Oh maybe SOME kids would open the gate and sneak away, but surely not MINE!
Except yesterday, when the kids were playing outside and I was checking my email scrubbing toilets, I heard the gate open. Now, usually I'm pretty slow to respond to Outdoor Disturbances. Someone steal your shovel? Eh! I'm sure you'll survive! But no, I heard that gate open and I FLEW outside. Neither kid was in sight and I yelled at the top of my lungs, "JACKSON CHEUNG!"
My sweet little Jack popped his head out from the side of the house where all the gravel is our substitute for a sand box and chirped, "Hi Mommy!"
So then I gasped, FLEW down the stairs and was halfway to the gate when my sweet little MOLLY scurried back into the yard and stood before me like a cute yet obnoxiously stubborn mule. The look on her face said, "I know I did something wrong, but I am not going to admit it, no way no how and you can't make me."
But I laid into that child. The tone of voice, the decibel, all the tricks I usually save for my firstborn I whipped out for her because OPENING THE GATE: NOT ALLOWED. EVER! Do you want your mother to keel over and die of PANIC?!
A few seconds into my performance the mule face broke into the heaviest, most miserable, most gut wrenching sobs you have ever heard. Clearly she'd received the message. I stopped shouting. I picked her up, She clung to my neck and wailed. Over and over I said, "Molly! I just don't want you to open the gate!" And she would grunt into my ear, a negative I'm-still-not-going-to-admit-I'm-wrong sort of noise. And that's Molly- stubborn as can be. I mean, earlier today the girl pitched the most enormous tantrum because I put WHITE socks on her feet instead of PINK and BY GOD she was NOT going to wear those REVOLTING WHITE SOCKS. I just give in, otherwise everyone suffers needlessly. But the gate? I was not giving in on the gate.
The thing is, even if she was being stubborn, she knew she was in trouble. She knew I was upset and it affected her. She didn't want me to be angry. She threw her arms around me and refused to be put down for the longest time. At least I knew I got through to her. This was a GOOD thing!
But if it'd been Jack who opened the gate? I would have done the same thing, and you know how he would have responded? He would have stood there like a little twerp, his face contorting as he tried not to smile, his pretty eyelashes cast downwards as he groped around for a Contrite Expression. And as soon as I got tired of yelling he would have skipped away, off to find the next way to give his mother a heart attack. I just know it. Where Molly is devastated by my disapproval, Jack is nonchalant. Where Molly races to me as soon as I count "one!", Jack risks moping around until I hit "THREE." And where Molly cries when I'm angry with her, Jack is all, "Is someone using their angry voice? I'm not sure! I can't really hear anything! Perhaps I'll just sit here vacant-eyed until it stops!"
Of course, not once has Jack thrown himself around his crib in a big tantrummy fit because I gave him the wrong socks.
Sometimes I think I'm thoroughly over exclaiming over my two kids, how different they are, how their little personalities are so bright and singular and explosive. And then the one I don't expect to open the gate opens the gate and it starts all over again. These two little people who came from me, who live in the same house and eat the same food and get the same love and play the same games: the ways they are different will never get old. Not to me, their mom, the person tasked with figuring all that stuff out.
How would YOUR kid have reacted to an Open Gate Mom Freak Out?