It's 12:30 in the morning and I'm loading clothes from the washer in to the dryer, distractedly looking for Elizabeth's bunny. I'm recalling my day and I'm thinking that one day, I'll look back on these times and remember that they were undoubtedly the most stressful of my entire life.
I find myself wanting for the children to be less messy. Less loud. Less dependent. Inadvertently, perhaps, less little.
Charlie is on a 4-day business trip. Within two days of his return, I'll depart for a 5-day business trip. I've been up since 6:15 this morning, which might not seem very early, except I didn't get to bed until 2:30 AM. Four hours of sleep is less than ideal when you've been diagnosed with an auto-immune disease that "flares" when you're fatigued.
When I awoke this morning, I took a shower, walked the dog, packed lunches, made breakfast, woke children, helped get them ready with a minimal amount of yelling, and walked them up to the bus stop (with the dog). I returned to the house, cleaned up from breakfast, tidied up and played with Henry before taking him to preschool. I returned home, walked the dog and went straight to work. I almost lost track of time and four hours later, went back to preschool to pick him up. After walking the dog. Again.
On the way home, I stopped and got gas, dropped by the grocery store, and swung by the post office. We arrived home, unloaded groceries, and we walked the dog. I made lunch. Then I cleaned up from lunch. We took the dog for another walk, then I sat and read a few stories with Henry perched on my lap. It was blissfully quiet and relaxed when I buried my nose in his hair and nuzzled his soft babyish neck. "Do you want to take a nap?" I hopefully asked. "I'll even lay down with you…"
Not surprisingly, my four-year-old doesn't indulge in what I believe to be the most phenomenal proposition in the history of the world.
So with two hours remaining until I need to meet the kids at the bus stop, I cleaned a bathroom and started thinking about dinner and the Girl Scout meeting, which I'd be hosting that night. I'm checking my Blackberry every 10 minutes because there are critically BIG issues at work happening and people are pinging me with questions and clarifications.
My boss calls. My stomach is in knots. But I'm thankful, I suppose, that he is granting me the freedom to work from home these next few days. Otherwise, I would have had to take sacred vacation time because my babysitter is unavailable and my options for childcare are nil.
I schedule and accept, two separate conference call meetings for later that night, at 8 and 9 PM, with people on the other side of the world. Henry tagged along with his Spiderman toys, as I start to clean up the rest of the house, put things away and pull out craft supplies for the meeting. When I go down stairs, I see that the puppy has left a huge POOP on the middle of the floor. It's my fault. Of course it's MY fault. I've only walked him six times today and I should be keeping him in his crate when he's not DIRECTLY under my supervision. I accept all blame.
We walk up to get the kids from the bus (with the dog) and the chaos immediately begins before their feet have even hit the pavement. It's uncanny.
"Elizabeth said that I need to walk barefoot … WAH!!!!"
"Gracie said that I have freckles … WAH!!!!!"
"William said that I have … um … he said that I'm … a … what did you say again?"
(I said you were silly.)
"William said that I am silly … WAH!!!!"
HENRY ... STOP TOUCHING ME … WAH!!!
WAH. WAH. WAH!!!!
They're not even in my possession for 45 seconds and I'm dreaming of bedtime.
The kids take the dog's leash from me and run down the street. Along the way, they drop the leash and the dog BOLTS. Thank goodness we live on a cul-de-sac with few neighbors and little traffic. Twenty minutes later, we find the dog. Someone falls down and skins their hands. Someone else is fighting with another one over, who the heck knows what. We arrive home and I ask, where's my chocolate?
WHO TOOK MY CHOCOLATE?
Even my secret stash is devoid and I'm anxious, like only a desperate addict would understand.
I shoo the kids downstairs so I can unpack backpacks and uneaten lunches. WHY DO I EVEN BOTHER? I wonder. The kids who have retreated to the basement, have engaged in a wrestling match and at some point, Henry falls down and almost knocks out his (other) front tooth. It is now dangling by a thread and blood is everywhere. I tend to my son, but then catch sight of the clock and realize that I need to finish cleaning up the house before the Girl Scout troop descends. So I turn on Animal Planet and the kids watch Hillbilly Handfishin.
"Hey Mom, look! That guy looks like Henry!" They yell as they point out the star of the show, who is noodling a 67-pound catfish on his bare arm.
Yes, he does. My beautiful little boy whose front incisor tooth I knocked out, in a moment of fury, and whose other tooth is now hanging by a thread because I was too consumed to supervise his playtime, now looks like a Hillbilly. An awesomely proud mothering moment ensues when I question aloud, "WHAT WAS GOD THINKING?"
The television is turned off and the children make a significant effort to pitch in and help because Mommy is craZy and they don't want her to get even more so. We pull out arts and crafts supplies. Clean up the dog poop from what, four hours earlier? People arrive. More people arrive. Suddenly, there are 15 people in our house.
I put on a movie for the boys, upstairs. We have Girl Scouts, downstairs. We make bird feeders. Everyone is at our house for almost 90 minutes. They leave and it's time for dinner and showers and tooth brushing and pajamas and a book and prayer.
Dear God. I don't really know what you were thinking, but from the depths of my heart: Thank You. Now, would you please grant me the patience, peace, wisdom and courage to do this parenting thing RIGHT?
The children are tucked in and I immediately swing in to cleaning up from dinner before I take my conference calls with a team of people in Australia. The next two hours are spent catching up on e-mails and trying to draft the most significant document of my career. A document that requires the input of no less than 20 people, of which, no two have the same viewpoint. On our about page 990, my mind starts to fog.
I'm pulled away to tend children who are having nightmares. "Someone took me! Someone climbed in my window! Leave on the light! Lay down with me!" I desperately wish I had the patience to sit and console them, but tonight, there are so many other things to do, my patience is absent. "GO TO SLEEP!" I command while making a mental note, "Tomorrow, I'll need to make up for that. Tomorrow, I'll need to do better…"
I have a lot of friends whose children are growing older and who feel the need to get out of the house and work. And then I think of my situation: I'm at a point where my children are growing older, but I feel an overwhelming pull to be at home.
Why is that?
I'd venture to guess it's because at this juncture, I've got so much on my plate, I don't feel like I'm able to enjoy the most sacred blessings of my entire life. While I know that there's something terribly flawed with that concept of wishing time away,
I remember Elizabeth's bunny that she asked for before she went to bed, it's still in the wash and I need to go get it. She loves that bunny so much. I'm sure the days are numbered before she doesn't even sleep with it, anymore… I'll indulge her for as long as I can.
On the way downstairs, I see the disaster in the basement from the bird feeder construction. I pull out the vacuum and clean it up. If I don't do it, it won't get done and soon, we'll all be living in SQUALOR. Twenty minutes later, I'm standing before the washer trying to remember why I'm there. I'm remembering people who told me long ago that becoming a parent, would never get "easier" per se, it would just get different.
I've concluded they were spot-on.
Tonight, we never got around to homework. We never got around to working on reading or math. We never got around to delivering the abundance of Girl Scout cookies that are piled high on our ping pong table. We never got around to just sitting back and saying, "So, how was your day, today? What brought you the most joy?"
Is it possible to have a day like that? If I was a stay at home mother, would that be my reality? Would I be more engaged and less diluted with "other" stuff?
Tomorrow I'll definitely try harder.
But tomorrow we have Cub Scouts.
The next day we have karate.
The next day, I fly out of town on a business trip.
I unveil a picture that Henry has sketched which was buried beneath overdue library books on our dining room table. It's a rudimentary drawing with stick arms and legs, big boggle eyes and a line sword. Everything that he draws has a sword affixed to it. He's a four-year-old boy, after all. A sweet, adorable, growing up so fast four-year-old boy
I'm pondering his artwork when someone cries out in their sleep for me. I climb in to bed with them, wrapping my arms around their little body and for the first time, all day, I feel myself relax.
In this moment, this is precisely where I'm supposed to be.
I wish I always had such clarity.