“We were gone last week. How have you been?” a friend asked at our parent-child class. Not friend exactly, really more of an acquaintance, but we’ve overlapped in so many of these weekly classes over the past two years that we both thrill at seeing a familiar face and the chance for some adult conversation.
I froze. There’s no other way to describe it. I stood there at least six seconds too long, well past the time required by social norms to give a reasonable answer. My mind raced. .
We haven’t seen each other in two weeks. How have I been? “Fine” doesn’t exactly sum it all up. Or maybe it does. Let’s see, Monday I mostly yelled, as I dealt with everything from negotiations over getting ready in the morning to cleaning crayon off the walls. Tuesday my devils turned into angels who remembered how to play together nicely and got dressed without prompting them 482 times. We’re doing okay so far today. I mean, it’s only 9:00 and we made it on time. But that’s this week. What did we even do last week? Did we do things? Well, I did completely forget about my own dentist appointment. Like it just didn’t even register that I was supposed to go. That was a low moment. I feel like we did something over the weekend, though. Didn’t we? Why can’t I even think of something — anything — we did just three days ago?
She laughed. Apparently she recognized the look of confusion as I tried to harness my swirling thoughts. “Sorry!” she laughed in sympathy, “That’s not really a fair question for a parent!”
The same frozen response happens when Tyson comes downstairs, done with work for the day. He’s learned not to ask such general questions as, “How was today?” or “What did you do today?” or even “Did you have a good day?” The first elicits either a muttered “fine” or a torrent of emotions, the second fries my brain (What did we do today?!? For the love!), and the third can find me just as tongue-tied. I mean, define “good.” Everyone was fed, I didn’t completely fly off the handle, and nobody landed in the ER (except the one time they did), so that counts as “good”, right?
These questions seem simple but become frustratingly complicated while I struggle to answer anything beyond the unsatisfactory “fine”. Even short amounts of time during my day can lead to a flood of emotions for us all. Snuggling on the couch reading stories with the twins was wonderful, but it was ruined in a matter of minutes by a little brother dive-bombing us, which resulted in tears on all three sides (one from being injured, another from the interruption of the story-reading, the third from being physically restrained) plus a frazzled mama, so the TV came to the rescue while I folded laundry, which was peaceful if mundane.
I have the same jumble of emotions when I realize a four-year old has outgrown all their pants yet again (disbelief mingled with creativity in the wardrobe department), a friend cancels our evening plans (disappointment combined with relief from my introverted side), or lunch is thrown to the floor, rejected by the one in the high chair (anger and...wait, actually, two out of three eating their lunch in peace ain’t bad).
Maybe my emotions lately are taking their cue from the majority rule in our house — that is, toddlers — as they seem to run the gamut from joy to anger to frustration to love in the span of your average temper tantrum.
I often feel everything all at the same time, just like my toddlers and their own outbursts. I am absolutely the most frustrated that you hit your brother but I also feel the urge to kiss your pink toddler cheeks. IT DOESN’T MAKE ANY SENSE.
I don’t remember what exact response I gave that day. I’m sure we laughed it off and moved on to other things or chased after our corresponding two-year olds. I surprised myself at my own reaction. Why couldn’t I just say something, anything at all? Maybe because I sensed in this fellow mom the potential for true friendship. “We’ve been good” doesn’t quite move the conversation, the relationship, forward. At this stage in my life I don’t want to build friendships on “good”. It’s made me think through what other response I could have given besides my apparently default one of freeze.
What I wanted to say is my days are ALL the things. Every last one of them. Our past two weeks involved a little of everything, a grab bag full of frustration and fights but also patience and love. Someone was sick, another was healthy, one practiced kindness while the other practiced throwing their toys at every possible opportunity.
I do know the easy, acceptable answers of “good” and “fine” aren’t enough for me. My life can’t be packaged up so simply. It feels almost like lying, like I’m sharing something that’s blatantly untrue. I haven’t been just “fine” — at the very least do you remember the part where I forgot my own dentist appointment?
Is it so socially unacceptable for me to brain dump my response at her feet — the feet of a friendly, fellow mom, one who acknowledges the unfairness of her own question — to tell her I really don’t know how I’ve been the past couple of weeks, but I have done everything on the spectrum from screaming to smothering them with love?
Maybe I should start sharing my own truth a bit easier. That I’ve been exhausted and overwhelmed and completely over all of these kids and also thinking about running away so does she want to look up flights to Cabo with me? The diapering and the one billion snacks and the cleaning up the floor from said snacks and the dealing with the whining (So. Much. Whining.) from three separate children really is too much.
But immediately following all of that, I would share my disbelief that my twins are now real, live actual four year olds and how did that happen? I can’t run away. Kindergarten is just around the corner and then my babies will be off, out into the world. I need to stay here before they all grow up too quickly, snuggle them on the couch, read all their books, kiss their little cheeks some more and feed them all another round of Goldfish while I still can.
At worst, she’ll think I’ve gone off the deep end. And maybe I have. Maybe I am a bit crazy and maybe I have succumbed to the multitude of emotions that run through our house on any given day. She might be uncomfortable with my surge of thoughts, surprised I didn’t follow basic social norms.
But at best, she’ll have a knowing gleam in her eye as I ramble on. I’ll be one step closer to gaining a new friend as she laughs, nods, smiles in agreement, and says, “Me too.”