I have no more eloquent way to start this post than to confess that I have been struggling. The ever-vigilant toddler who rebuffs the company of a horde of playful children to stand alongside my significantly less entertaining pant leg; the endless requests to play with Skylanders and Grossery Gang figures in an eternal and lawless game; the irritatingly loud squeaks and whines that emanate from the boys as they wash their hands or eat breakfast; the untouched stacks of half-colored pictures, scraps of construction paper, and questionable piles of clothes; all of these things have contributed to my recent madness. When 3:00 p.m. rolls around, the thought of picking up my sweet, wild, exhausting boys is enough to send me to the kitchen or the Keurig, frantic to fill my cup with that sweet sweet caffeine jolt that I crave more as a part of ritual than I do for its long-faded ability to keep me awake and energized.
Once loaded in the car, I struggle with the decision to head to a playground where they can run around while calling to me to squeeze into the tight tube of the yellow slide or drive them home where the previously-mentioned games of Skylanders and Grossery Gang figures will inevitably begin. Zach reminds me of my free will to say “no,” to tell them that I won’t or can’t play with them right now. But even that feels like a betrayal because I can play with them, it’s just that some days I don’t want to. So I tell them Sure, I’ll play with you, while secretly checking my watch because once 10 minutes is up I’ll reassess whether I can bear to continue crawling on my hands and knees down the hallway with Lightning McQueen and Mac while they try to avoid the attacks of a rabid stuffed Mickey Mouse. Some days we play outside and my exit to the kitchen to start dinner is natural and relatively unnoticed. Other days I use dinner as an excuse to remove myself from the world of toddler and 6-year-old play. That world often follows me, though, and before I get the pots out and my ingredients gathered, there is a solid line of figurines guarding my access to the bread and the cutting board. Even with a knife in my hand, I am constantly offered gifts of surprises in an old Easter egg dubbed the “Surprise Egg” or Grosseries in a mock plastic candy bar container.
I serve dinner in a falsely excited tone, hoping that the flecks of oregano in the pasta sauce don’t violate Connor’s strict rule against all foods green. His abstention would undoubtedly roll downhill to Ike, who would follow suit if he hadn’t already on the grounds that he has a strict rule against all foods on his plate. We describe these flecks as seasoning and happily avoid a plate of wasted food. That line of talking is replaced by repeated requests to sit down, stop spinning in circles, and sporadic yet constantly interrupted snippets of conversation between Zach and me. Even when prompted, I often don’t recall anything that we’ve discussed while sitting at the dining room table.
All announcements that signify movement toward bedtime are delivered with the same falsely excited tone used during dinner. Regardless of our enthusiasm, though, the boys inevitably drop their shoulders and drag their feet as they head toward the bedroom for pajamas and the bathroom to brush teeth. In times of great despair, they drop on all fours and crawl or, in Ike’s case, drop on all fives, his head converted to an awkward extra limb that successfully prolongs the already painfully slow traverse down the hall. It is at this point that my blood either begins to boil or starts to feel like sludge in my veins, and I too find myself dragging down the hallway. At times I try to sneak away while the boys are brushing their teeth, just to grab a few moments where I can steal a glance at my phone or lean against the hallway wall unaccompanied and silent. Ike has caught on, though, and refuses to brush his teeth without me present. I then trade teeth time for story time, and if Connor is nestled between my crossed legs on the floor taking over reading duties for me, I take that time to stare blankly at the opposite wall. At this point of the night, my drive to fill my day and mind with “useful” things has given way to the need and desire to completely clear out the cluttered corners of my brain, and story time quickly becomes a race to 8:15 p.m. when we will finally get to tuck the boys in and (hopefully) slip out the door with little more than a quiet “Good night, I love you.”
I jokingly tell friends that once that bedroom door is shut, I clock out of my Mommy duties and have very little patience for the foreboding sound of a pocket door being slid open and the pitter-patter of little feet stopping just behind me, followed by a little voice asking for a band aid or help dreaming of things that aren’t scary. But we never completely clock out of our parental duties, nor would we ever want to. I know I often turn to my children with a hardened expression, especially when I’m tired or frustrated or it’s any day of the week, and I feel terrible about it every time. I read books and listen to meditations and do what I can to stay present and stay in the moment. But even writing those phrases makes me laugh because I’ve read them and said them to myself so many times that they are starting to sound nonsensical. At times like this, I just struggle to be myself, in this moment, the next, in any moment I find myself caught in. There is so much pressure placed on each moment that it feels like I am a sponge being wrung out, and what is left for my family is the murky, dirty water that comes draining out of my pores. Instead, I want to be the half-full and not the half-empty sponge, the one that soaks up the sweet hand kisses from Ike, Connor’s astute observations, and who can appreciate Zach’s in-depth and passionate explanations of each and every football play.
I realize how privileged I am to be able to take use mindspace over these daily struggles and not worry about where my family is going to live, if we’re safe, and what we’re going to eat. Even while I bemoan these battles, I am honored to be endowed with their luxury.