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The Repetition of Motherhood

I didn’t know last Thursday was going to be the one that broke me. The day that sent me, crumbling at 3:30 in the afternoon, to text a message over Voxer to my friends in pure desperation. I met this scattered tribe of writing mamas through a year-long writing course, a gift from Tyson a couple Christmases ago. This group of women turned out to be more of a gift than the actual gift of the writing workshop itself.

“This parenting thing is no joke. The kids have been so difficult lately and I’m feeling 100% completely drained by the day-in-day-out of life with kids,” I wrote, “ And then my anxiety comes out as anger so I feel even worse. I also feel behind on everything from my writing to the amount of library books on loan to me to picking outfits for our family photos to organizing every single room in my entire house. Maybe that sounds silly. Life is hard.”

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The day had started off normal enough. Better, maybe, since it was the first day of the week we didn’t have to be out of the house well before 9 am. At 8 o’clock that morning I had been calm, sipping coffee that was still hot and swatting Nolan’s hand away from my egg-topped avocado toast.

“Go play!” I told him. He scampered off to join his brother and sister, though I knew he’d be back all too soon. I cleared away spoons and bowls, rinsing them off in the sink and watching soggy cereal bits swirl away. I ate my own breakfast as I cleaned; multitasking, the life of a mom. Bite of avocado toast, rinse. Sip of coffee, fill the dishwasher. Bite, sip, wipe, rinse.

My only plan for the morning was to take the kids to the park in a probably futile attempt to burn off their energy. Without a firm schedule, just for the moment, I almost didn’t know what to do with myself.

That lazy feeling was the opposite of the weekly dreams I used to have, far too often, where no matter how hard I tried I just couldn’t be on time. One week it would be the airport and I was about to miss my flight. A few times it was a class at school I could never get to before the bell rang. I would forget a book and go back to my locker, over and over again, or pack a suitcase that never seemed to fill. Every time I would wake up frantic, anxious, panicked, sweating. Growing up as the kid who was always late for everything, these dreams were truly the stuff of nightmares to me. But not this morning. I took another sip of hot coffee before telling them to go upstairs and find some clothes for the day.

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No specific thing actually sent me over the edge that afternoon. There was plenty of screaming and sibling battles. There was the house that looked like a hurricane (or, ahem, three) had hit every single one of its 2200 square feet from the master closet to the playroom. There were a couple of writing deadlines I couldn’t get out of my head but also couldn’t get to work on, because: children. There was the several-months-potty-trained toddler who pooped his pants enough to warrant a bath. Not just once but twice, including immediately after I sent off my plea over Voxer. I was resigned to my fate at that point as I wearily dragged him home from the park in the wagon. I wondered how badly his pants were leaking, if I would need to hose down the wagon when I got home, where all my emotions had gone. It was another day in a long series of days with the grind of working, cleaning, disciplining, and attempting to find patience for the most ordinary of things.

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I recently read it takes our brains 28 minutes after an interruption to get back on track to what we were doing before we were interrupted with the same level of productivity. Reading that, my immediate reaction was, No freaking wonder I can’t get anything done! Twenty-EIGHT minutes? As a person who feels as though she is frequently interrupted 28 times in a single minute, I’m basically doomed.

Maybe the nightly dreams of my youth are coming back to haunt me now in motherhood. I’m not missing something as momentous as a flight, as tangible as the bell to sit down for history class. Yet the continuous, fruitless repetition that now takes over my days is undeniable. I may no longer be frantically packing that suitcase, but instead corralling the shoes and jackets that take over the mudroom again, and again, and again. I’m not turning around for the umpteenth time in a crowded high school hallway to retrieve a book from my locker, but I struggle to keep my thoughts in an orderly line as my children derail them over and over with requests for the TV to be turned on, by the shrieks of another sibling squabble, to answer the question, “Where is the Earth?”, with small people showing me - “Look mom!” that a T-Rex stomps “like this” and his arms can’t touch “like this”.

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My friends rallied, as they do, as I knew they would. It is hard, I’ll be praying for you, they said. I’m right there with you. Sending you love. You’re not alone. It is. So. Hard. Cheering you on! I feel emptied at the end of the day, too. It’s not silly. Being a mother is hard.

The solidarity and love as each little ping alerted me to another message pulled me through the rest of the day. I read through each little message once, twice, three times or more, each one a reminder that I wasn’t crazy, I wasn’t alone, that parenting every day in and out is actually hard, holy work.

The Summer Neighborhood

It's a wet and muggy first day today. Not for us, preschool doesn't get going until next week, but for the rest of the neighborhood. Most years the day after Labor Day has dawned sunny and bright. I usually forget it's not just another Tuesday until we walk down to the park after 9:00 am to find everything quieter than usual. Windows and garage doors closed, empty yards, general stillness.

Our neighborhood comes alive in the summer. Most Midwestern ones do, I suppose. We have to enjoy it while we can. The big kids run around, free from school (or are shoved outside, away from their screens, reluctantly), little ones chalk in the driveway (or scream bloody murder because they “don’t want to get wet” even though they’re in the pool with their swimsuit on), everyone is out grilling burgers and kabobs and brats.

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One yard or another fills up with assorted neighborhood kids and parents. Some of the older kids’ parents stay inside their air-conditioned homes. I’m not sure what they do inside. I imagine they’re luxuriously soaking up stacks of books, enjoying Netflix marathons, and eating ice cream by the pint in their pristine and organized living rooms. (I’ll report back in about a decade or so to let you know if that is in fact true.) It’s a win all around. The older kids help referee the little ones while us parents chat and occasionally crack open an adult beverage.

I’ve been taking advantage of some of those bigger kids this summer, putting them to use. As babysitters for date nights or, more importantly, as “mommy’s helpers” because I desperately need a break in the afternoon. Others wander the neighborhood, offering their services. One neighbor girl came along to pull the ever-present weeds from our landscaping. (Her rate? “$2.30 for 30 minutes”. You can’t beat that, people.) Another mows our grass. For FREE. (Okay, I guess you can beat the $2.30 girl. Though we paid the grass-mower anyway.)

For the most part I’m doing a little dance inside at this time of year. With the days cooling and the leaves about to change and the pumpkins and the apples and the sweaters all headed our way, what’s not to love? I come alive again at this time of year, a fall girl who glories in the lack of humidity, the wearing of booties, and returning to the routine of a school-year schedule.

At the same time something is lost. Not quite yet but soon. The chill will go from a literal breath of fresh air to something more brutal. Everyone will turn to the warmth of their homes and blankets and fireplaces. Backyards, sidewalks, and driveways will be empty. I’ll admit there’s a beauty to this rhythm, too. I do love cozying up, decorating for the holidays, hunkering down during the first snow, and remembering how to play inside again. But a couple months of that and I’m ready for people. For the ease of social interaction without the coordination of text messages and calendars. For the easy-breezy days of stepping just outside our door to find friends. For afternoons that aren’t quite as long and tedious since we can spend them at the park. Or in the backyard. Or anywhere but the same four walls surrounding us all day every day.

We're planning to glory in our own last week of summer. Plans to spend our last few days at the park (when it's not wet), our own backyard, the farm, and topping it all off with an overnight at a local waterpark. A last hurrah. We'll enjoy our summer neighborhood while we can before embracing the indoors all over again.

An Unfair Question

“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!”

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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.

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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.

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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.

These Children are Insane and Other Thoughts at 3 pm on a Rainy Wednesday

I stand in the kitchen and look around as Nolan gallops in circles with a fist full of bright orange crackers. He stole them from the pantry, and is now leaving a trail on a floor that’s already more food scraps than floor. Caden jumps from piece of furniture to piece of furniture, complete with blanket cape and Lego Batman clenched in hand. Brooklyn walks by wearing only underwear for reasons I don't really know.

It’s three o’ freaking clock in the afternoon.

That’s it?! That can’t be right. I blink at the digital clocks on both the stove and the microwave. Could they possibly both be wrong? After the day I’ve had, surely it must be tomorrow by now.

We’ve already done all the things today and I’m not really sure what else I’m supposed to do with these children. I have plenty to do, of course. The checklist in my mind is full of everything from appointments to schedule to straightening the black hole that is our mudroom to actually cleaning up our crumb-ridden floor. But not with these things around picking fights, stealing food, and embracing their inner nudists.

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This morning we attempted to go to the library. Our favorite library. I had to put the kibosh on that after a pathetic half hour spent chasing a shrieking Nolan back to the children’s section about twelve times too many. We drove home and walked to the park to get that energy out but were driven home all too soon by some raindrops and my own overly full bladder. The clock finally signaled lunchtime which was a relief (something to do!) until the four-year old crowd chugged from their water bottles and spit it right back out onto the floor. So then the two-year old copied them. Y’know, just for fun. (Side note: you’d think my floor would look a whole lot cleaner than it does right now.) The confiscation of said water bottles led to tears and screaming. So many tears and so much screaming. The neighbors would have thought I’d ripped someone’s arm off if our windows had been open. Maybe it’s a good thing it’s raining. The twenty minutes on the clock before I deemed it late enough to enforce quiet time dragged and of course quiet time ended far too soon.

I sink to the floor in exhaustion and try to come up with something fun for us all. I hear cushions being ripped off the couch in the living room and spy little feet out the corner of my eye, pitter-pattering to the pantry for another fistfull of forbidden crackers. Another trail of crumbs. I pretend not to see or I’ll have to enforce a consequence. At least it keeps him occupied.

What to do? Play Doh is too messy and doesn’t interest the two-year old for long, we’ve already had our fair share of screen time this afternoon, and I’d prefer the house to not be destroyed more than it already has been today. Two more hours...two more hours…two more hours...

My mind wanders as I think of how I’d really like to enjoy a rainy afternoon. To lose myself completely in a book. To Netflix binge in the full sense of the word, not the two maaayyybe three episodes if we’re feeling daring that make up our parents-of-young-children version of binge-watching now. I’d love to sit in the quiet and listen to the rain outside and really do a whole lot of not much at all.

My thoughts are broken by another shriek, a wail, tears in a couple sets of eyes from an incident my own eyes didn’t see. These kids sure have a different agenda than “quiet” and “nothing at all”. I dole out hugs, try to temper harsh words and arguments with my own attempt at calm ones.

I look outside to see the rain has lightened up. Caden and Brooklyn settle into some sort of pretend play together so I take the opportunity to scoop Nolan up and walk with him in my arms to the end of the driveway to check the mail. (Junk. All of it. So not worth it.) I realize that not only has the rain lightened, but it’s stopped completely. We drop the mail off in the mudroom and velcro sandals on his little feet. He grabs his new blue scooter. Brother and sister somehow sense we are having fun without them and appear at the door behind us.

Nolan abandons his scooter completely and takes off at a run down the sidewalk. Speed is his preferred mode of transportation and he can still get nowhere the fastest by running. I take off after him as Caden and Brooklyn pass us by in a blue and pink blur, speed demons on their own scooters.

“Hey!” a neighbor calls out and raises her hand in a wave. She’s sitting in her garage, her own three year old boy next to her. I breathe in relief as we make our way towards her. A grown up! She must have noticed the rain lightened up and needed the escape, too. We wander over and she asks how I’m doing.

“Uggghhhhh,” I reply. I’m beyond words at this point. We lived through six months of winter but apparently this rainy day is the thing that’s going to do us all in.

She laughs and invites us inside. “Sounds like our day yesterday.”

We kick off wet shoes in their mudroom. Their own shoes and miscellaneous stuff that make up life with their own three kids are strewn around. The kids immediately find the playroom. I find a chair. I look around to see dishes on the counter, toys scattered across the floor, child locks on the cabinets. Feels like home.

We chat. I sink in the couch. Our conversation is interrupted more often than not. Kids run around. They scream. They steal apple slices from the counter and walk around the house crunching them.

I realize that her children are as insane as mine on a rainy afternoon. Good.

The Same Two Feet of Space (National Siblings Day 2018)

I always laughed last summer as I watched how my three kids approached others to play at the park.

“Hi,” one of my then three-year old twins would say, “What’s your name?”

The kid would respond with their name, before asking back, “What’s your name?”

Without missing a beat, the twin would respond with, “We’re Caden and Brooklyn and Nolan.”

Every time. They didn’t really take a break between the names, or make a distinction between the three of them. Just Caden-and-Brooklyn-and-Nolan like it was one word, all in the same breath.

I love that they think like that. That they have this bond together. Surely asking for one of their names is asking for all of their names, right? It would be simply unthinkable not to.

I’m used to having them all around me all the time. Having twins followed pretty quickly by a third, I had full arms right from the very start. Our house is rarely quiet as they run and chatter and fight and scream and sing. Usually at least one is underfoot while the other two are nearby. I’ve asked, “Why are we all occupying the same two-foot space when we live in a 2000-square foot house?” too many times to count, as I sit with one in my lap, another climbs up my back, and a third hovers an inch from my face.

Photo credit  Prall Photography .

Photo credit Prall Photography.

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