In April of 2011 the British parenting website bounty.com, released an article on the level of harmony in a home having a direct correlation to the gender composition of a family’s offspring. The findings of the harmony study, it would seem, were not contrived by any form of uber-scientific approach, nor were the actual metrics used in the study made clear.
The portion of the article that instantly drew the mother’s eyes, however; was a list of twelve gender compositions (based strictly on families with two, three or four children) presented in the order of most harmonious to least harmonious. The list started with #1: two girls, #2: one boy and one girl, #3 two boys, and continued on all the way down to #10: three girls and one boy.
It was upon seeing her own family composition’s placement at number ten that the mother laughed out loud. No matter the loose findings of the study, the fact remained that harmony and synchronization, however mystifying, was something the majority of families wanted to measure and achieve.
Now that the the boy had entered the public school system, the mother had suddenly become educated on an interesting and often confusing phenomenon referred to as the snow day. Snow days in Northern Virginia are liberally administered and often don’t even need to involve actual snow. Sometimes simply the threat of snow was enough to keep the children at home. While the children themselves seemed thrilled by the notion of being homebound, for the mother the snow day represented the departure of any of the original plans she might have had on that day’s agenda.
Since breakfast suddenly felt less time constrained, the mother decided to tackle a more involved breakfast comprised of waffles, bacon and fruit. “I think I just love… snow days,” the boy chimed in as he saw the breakfast items the mother was placing into a line on the kitchen counter.
The mother just smiled and wondered if there might be a time in the future when the idea of family togetherness and a collective delight brought on by the promise of waffles might not be nearly as inviting to her pack of children. The mother, despite the disruption the snow day might bring, determined in that specific moment to embrace the spirit of the snow day instead of begrudging its personal impact.
For the boy, a snow day meant he would be spending the next several hours in the company of his sisters who seemed to ebb and flow in their affection for one another. At certain points throughout the day the mother observed the girls playing so beautifully together that it warmed her heart and gave her hope. More often than not, however; the mother’s waking hours were spent helping her daughters to successfully navigate their interactions amongst each other throughout a given day.
The mother had observed that the girls would start a morning with good intention and the promise of synchronization, but after a few moments when it was revealed to the blonde that the brunette would not simply succumb to her every idea solely because she wanted her too, it was then that conflict between the girls would arise.
Mysteriously, the baby somehow seemed to get a pass from the tyrannical rule of the older sisters. For some reason the baby was granted a form of diplomatic immunity and was permitted to drift in and out of her sisters games at her leisure without any negative consequence. The mother wondered if this might not be one of the baby’s super powers.
As the boy sat silently in a iPad induced coma on the couch, his oversized Spider-man blanket serving as a cloaking shield from his sisters, the mother quickly attempted to finish cleaning up in the kitchen. The mother was quite certain if some one were to tell young people in their 20s that 37% of motherhood involved meal preparation and clean up that it would serve as an excellent form of birth control. Decades of being subjected to the roll of glorified cafeteria worker certainly had to carry with it strong deterrent powers. (The mother makes the mental note to look into the cost benefit of including hair nets in conjunction with birth control devices to see if the mental imagery they offer might not make them more effective.)
As the mother was loading the final dish into the dishwasher she heard, “Ahhhhh!!!” and “Noooo!!!!” monosyllabically piercing the air. Before the mother could make her way into the playroom, the blonde and the brunette had transitioned from the initial screaming to collective scream-crying. As the mother rounded the corner, she observed the girls in a literal tug of war over a baby doll. The mother could only shake her head at such an absurd conflict since the playroom possessed at least 7 other dolls that the girls could easily divide between each other.
Attempting to diffuse the situation the mother said, “Girls, maybe this is a good time for us to paint our toe nails. Wouldn’t that be fun?” Both girls took a breath from their current state of emotional distress and, as if in beautiful harmony, dropped the doll… who fell into a crumpled heap onto the ground. Hearing the shift in her sisters’ tone, the baby looked back from the play kitchen that had happily been occupying her time for the last several minutes, and smiled an utterly face consuming smile. Much like her brother, the baby had the ability to remain unaffected by the shifting emotional status of her sisters.
The older girls literally skipped into the kitchen following the mother while the baby toddle-trotted a few steps behind. “Are you so excited girls?” the mother asked, her overly enthusiastic tone simply floating into the air. “I would of course love to paint my toes pink,” the blonde simply stated before even seeing her array of options. The brunette looked at her sister…then back to the mother… and said, “Yes, pink. I want pink too.” Next the mother placed a box of nail items onto the kitchen table and opened the lid as if she were taking the top off some kind of vacuumed sealed chamber, billowing with dry ice for dramatic affect.
Each of the girls sat motionless as the mother painted all of their toes. The girls literally beamed with the utter delight of getting to do something so big girl and special. The mother’s tactical hope was that the endorphin-induced-burst from such an unexpected treat would offer a synchronizing trickle-down-affect that might increase overall harmony for the next few hours.
After the mother watched the girls return happily to the playroom, she decided to take the moment to slip upstairs to toss some laundry into the dryer. No sooner was she half way through the chore, that she heard the quick and booming rhythm of someone running up the stairs.
“Mom! I have to tell you something. Something….. just…. awful… has happened!” the blonde proclaimed, dramatically placing her hands on both hips for extra emphasis. For the record, those are never words a mother wants to hear one of her children proclaim. The mother’s mind began to whirl….what could it be?
“Come see. There has been an accident downstairs,” the blonde replied interrupting the mother’s thoughts. The mother threw down the towels she was presently transferring into her dryer and literally flew with Olympic gold medal speed down the flight of stairs.
There… sitting…. on the top of the dining room table….hands covered in a red substance…was the baby. “Ya-duh,” the baby babbled glancing down at the open polish bottle she held in her hands.
“Nooooooooo!” the mother yelled as she ran towards the table in virtual slow motion. The girls, in what only could be defined as a desire to recreate the magical feeling that the nail painting had initially caused had pulled he nail polish box off of the kitchen counter. Of course it would have been too easy for the girls to instead choose the uber pale pink polish they had selected the first time, but instead they had broken open a dark burgundy polish that looked the color of blood, presently spilling out all over the hands and clothing of the baby.
The mother’s first fleeting thoughts drifted to some symbolic and disturbing Shakespearian imagery, and it was all she could do….not to scream out, “Out damn spot!!” The mother quickly realized Hamlet-based humor likely would not have an audience with her current crowd and thought better of any attempt to deflect her current present horror with literary wit.
When one stumbles upon a virtual crime scene involving your wide-eyed “we have no idea how this happened” children, your mind runs through a million scenarios. Through the years the mother has become very adept at triaging her children’s shenanigans. The mother opted to scoop the baby up first and leave the mess on the table. Certainly a paint covered baby should take precedence over the messy condition of her dining room table.
Suddenly the mother felt very thankful she had insisted on covering the table with a felt table pad cover. Who could have guessed…. that a table covering intended to minimize wear and scratches….. would actually serve as a defensive shield against the nail polish incident, as the event will be referred to in the future.
The mother was certain of one thing….when it came to mischief the girls appeared to be completely synchronized and even functioned with some sort of mind meld level of brain unification….it was literally the only scenario that made sense based on the level of destruction and speed in which they were able to function. (The mother makes a mental note to rethink her stance on harmony as a desired outcome for certainly when it came to mischief…. harmony was not always a good thing.)
When the mother returned to the crime scene, she stumbled upon a startling discovery. Slightly before the nail re-painting had been attempted, one of the girls must have been playing with the Fisher Price dollhouse. Because there….. lying strategically next to a pool of deep red liquid…. lay the Fisher Price doll house mother.
The figurative crime scene scenario, now looked even more like a literal crime scene. The mother was honestly surprised the girls had not caused greater chaos in her absence by attempting to clean up the mess themselves. (The mother makes a mental note to purchase actual crime scene tape from Amazon in preparation for the next event that she and the girls would most certainly encounter.)
Picking up the rather conspicuously placed mother figurine, the mother went about cleaning up the mess, all the while correcting the girls in a rather displeased and elevated tone. “Girls! You do not play with nail polish without me! You do not touch chemicals! What are the things that makes mommy upset?” the mother asked.
In that moment, as if she had passed a hypnotically guided suggestive question, the boy, the blonde, and the brunette all stopped what they were doing and snapped to attention. The boy was for the first time returning to an awareness of what was even happening in the room around him, as he chanted along with his sisters, “You do not like lying, you do not like waking up the baby, and you do not like messes!” “Thats right. I do not like messes. An accident is one thing….this was not an accident. This was a mess you caused by doing something you should not be doing!” the mother finished firmly. The brunette burst instantly into tears at the evident displeasure of the mother. The blonde just stood there firmly planted as if in a showdown that the mother didn’t even have the energy to acknowledge.
The mother was almost certain cartoon steam was billowing out of her ears, when the boy chimed in with his newly diverting skill of verbal deflection, “Mom….mom can I tell you something?” “What?!?” the mother snapped in retort. “Mom, you are doing a good job and I love you.” There it was…..in literally an instant the boy had single handedly lowered her blood pressure. He was a young man who had been gifted with the ability to not only understand women but speak to them in a manner that could turn the course of events in an instant.
While there are many things that mystify the mother about how to achieve synchronization and harmony between her children there was one fact that was even more mystifying, how she had been fortunate enough to be blessed with a man-child so skilled at calming her spirit. He truly was a sanctuary in the stormy sea of estrogen that they daily had to navigate.
The Motherhood in Technicolor Memo: Every family dynamic, no matter the number of siblings, struggles with synchronization on a daily basis. I once read that you don’t get harmony when every one sings the same note. The symbolism of that is powerful especially when considering harmony in connection with family dynamics.
Often as parents, we spend a great deal of our mental and physical resources on trying to generate harmony amongst our children. It is undeniable that a conforming home might be the ultimate wish from the parent point of view. I would propose that its the moments devoid of harmony that are the most beneficial for our children; as we teach them how to effectively respond to differences in their world.
I have come to believe that within the family unit there is something even more crucial than synchronization; it is a concept best described as relational synergy. Relational synergy is achieved when separate entities, possessing unique gifts, come together and create something more magnificent as a whole than they could have ever achieved on their own.
Learning to cherish the individual differences of our children through the lens of love aides us as parents in seeing the beauty of our children’s contribution to our family as a whole. Rather than trying to chase some form of elusive synchronization, perhaps we should instead focus on unlocking our family’s unique synergy. I have come to believe that a family achieves their greatest harmony by embracing the beautiful sum of its parts.
“In family life, love is the oil that eases friction, the cement that binds closer together, and the music that brings harmony.” – Eva Burrows
Summer Smith is a speaker, writer, and motherhood blogger. She and her family are currently navigating the suburbs of Northern Virginia. As the mother to four young children, Summer maintains her sanity thanks to her sense of humor, copious amounts of coffee, and Amazon Prime. Maya Angelou once said, when reflecting on her childhood, that her mother left an impression like technicolor stars in the midnight sky. Influenced by these words, Summer blogs at her website Motherhood in Technicolor, and can also be found on her Motherhood in Technicolor Facebook page.