“Can you tell me how to write one hundred and twelve?”
My son stood in the doorway with a piece of paper in his hand. It was the third time he had come to me asking how to write out numbers for his math homework. Numbers I was pretty confident he knew how to write.
“One-one-two,” I droned in reply.
I watched the baby empty a drawer of random items right next to me. I defeatedly picked up everything that she had flung at my feet, trying to put everything back in its place. But no matter how quickly I could clean everything up, she could undo it and send it sailing back to the floor much faster.
Then my oldest daughter came to ask for help with a puzzle.
As the baby rebuffed my attempts to prevent her from rummaging through everything, my son huffed in frustration that I wasn’t giving him all of the attention he craved. Meanwhile, my other daughter stood staring at me with a hand on her hip, waiting for me to take action and solve her Melissa and Doug puzzle problems.
Did I mention that all of this was happening while I was sitting on the toilet?
Yes. That’s right.
I had three other human beings inside of the bathroom with me during the most vulnerable moment of my day. I’m sure that I am neither the first woman, nor the last, to have this particular problem.
For as much as I groan about it sometimes, I can’t pretend to have it terribly hard when it comes to parenting.
My two oldest children are in school, so my afternoons are pretty quiet around here since the baby usually naps then, too.
Simply put, I have time to myself during the day, and that time is so precious to me. I cannot stress enough the value of this time. A lot of moms would kill for two stress free, kid free hours a day.
This setup has benefitted my sanity greatly, because, like any parent, the daily wear and tear on my psyche can sometimes be overwhelming. Especially when it comes to being needed 24/7.
I’m not talking about being needed when a child is hovered over a trash can, afflicted with a stomach bug. I’m not talking about being needed when my children have fevers or bad dreams, and they need to be nuzzled to back sleep. I’m not talking about the baby begging with chubby, outstretched arms for me to pick her up so that I can bounce her on my hip while she laughs.
Those things I can do with ease.
But when my children want me just for the sake of wanting me? When they all need their hopes affirmed and dreams fulfilled, and problems solved? The emotional kind of needing??
When they seemingly want to climb inside of my soul and live there??
I can’t even, people.
I am a mother who needs her space.
Parenting has brought out the hidden inner introvert in me. In this season of my life, nothing sounds better than a cup of coffee sipped in complete silence in an empty house on a distance planet. Nothing refreshes me quite like having time to myself, and when that time is encroached on, I start slipping. I am recharged by my alone time. It is a necessity.
Parenting is like the ocean. It’s wildly beautiful, and for better or for worse, parts of it seem endless. Each crashing wave bids you to come closer. You dip your feet in, and let the water lap around your shins. This is far enough, you decide.
You think you’re standing safely enough near the shore, when a giant crest of water crashes and knocks you over when you’re not paying attention.
Suddenly, it’s the perfect storm.
Saltwater burns your nostrils and the back of your throat after you inadvertently swallow as you gasp for air. You scrape your elbows and knees on the sandy bottom. You wash back to the shore in a disheveled lump. Later, when you return home, you find sand in places you didn’t even know existed.
You wonder what happened to what was supposed to be your serene afternoon at the beach??
That was the kind of moment I had the other day.
I thought I was safe.
I thought we were having an okay day. Until children were practically climbing up my arms and legs. Until my children were crying at me. Until I was helpless and trapped on a toilet, trying to conduct therapy and hostage negotiations all at once.
I finally shouted that everyone needed to leave the bathroom.
Get. Out. I yelled.
My daughter stomped off while my son looked at me with tears in his eyes, and declared it to be the worst day ever. It was practically a Full House moment. How rude.
Words stumbled out of my mouth as I earnestly tried to explain to him, to all of them, why mommy needs privacy. Why, in the bathroom above all places, mommy needs to be able to close the door and expect that no one will open it (ever again, hopefully.)
I think he understood.
So, back to that part about the ocean.
We think we are safe on the shore. But when we get too close, we find that the ocean is wild. It isn’t always convenient. It doesn’t play by our rules.
In very much the same way, neither do our children. While you’re filing that information under “obviously,” really let it marinate for a moment.
When it comes to the needs of our children, they don’t play it safe.
They crave everything that we could possibly offer them. They look to us to satiate the parts of them that hurt just as much as the parts that are joyful. Whether it’s comfort for their tiny hearts when things get rough, or just someone to laugh with them when the moment is going right, our children want to know that we are in the thick of it right alongside them.
Zero pressure, right?
So many times, I think I’m “safe.” I think that the day is going to go the way I planned, until I am startled to discover that will not be the case. Like when I catch the baby drinking toilet water, or my daughter wants a captive audience for her puppet show while dinner is slowly burning on the stove. Until I realize that they will take no prisoners on their quest for mommy-time.
We have strings of “successful” days where they don’t get under my skin too much, only to have one great big cry fest on another because I vacuumed up a Lego piece that I already told them fifteen times to pick up.
The unpredictability is what rattles me. I’m not ready to give more emotionally then exactly what I had planned. I have it portioned out out in my mind already, no more, no less.
There is nothing “safe” about parenting. There is no part of you that parenting will not expose. You’ll find that you’re a much angrier, more selfish person that you ever thought.
But you can also find a lot of hidden gems if you’re careful enough to not be careful.
I wish for easy days for all of my parent friends. I wish for nap times that go smoothly. I hope for doctor appointments that go off without a hitch. I hope that the floor of their children’s bedroom is not covered in Lego’s, and that their toddlers banana-slime coated fingers don’t find their way into anyone’s hair. I wish that children always smiled and that we could only reap the best parts of parenting, day in and day out.
That is simply not the case.
It turns out that toddlers can make you cry in the Chick Fil A parking lot, or cause you to leave a grocery store afflicted with mortal embarrassment. Seriously, you think you’re going to drop dead right there on the parking lot pavement from utter mortification. Turns out that kids can make you angry enough to throw a shoe across the room or yell at the top of your lungs over spilled yogurt. It turns out that you can suffer in silence from a sadness deep down inside of you that no one else understands.
Some days, we have to resign ourselves to not being surprised when things go straight into the gutter. Sometimes, we have to turn the stove off for fifteen minutes, sit on the kitchen floor and do damage control by way of hugs and kisses and I love you’s whispered in our children’s ears.
Some nights, when your child can’t fall back asleep on their own, we have to resign ourselves to not getting that full six hours of sleep we have been craving, and crawl into their bed with them.
Some afternoons, your son just needs to talk, even about mindless stuff, or about the universe and heaven and why clouds look like they do.
Sometimes, it’s never really about the obvious, sometimes it is just about them, wanting to be with us and that is really all there is to it.
I don’t always succeed at this. In fact, if you couldn’t already tell from the meltdown in the bathroom mentioned earlier, I pretty much get a lot of this part wrong. I want boundaries. I want space. I have my own desires.
But when I’m conscious enough to not be careful, when I don’t actively build up walls around myself to distance myself from my children, that’s when it gets really good.
I need those moments just as much as they do sometimes. Those moments are the ones that surprise me. They reaffirm and refresh me all at once, and remind me that I’m getting a lot of things right.
When I ignore my text messages, shut the television off, turn the stove down, hang up the phone and open the door up and invite them in?
That’s where it gets really good.
When I climb down into the pit with them, and we climb back out together we are all the better for it. Even if the pit is filled with Legos and graham crackers and baby wipes.
But seriously, about that bathroom door, kids…