Is there such a thing as the dog-days of raising children?
I feel like if such a thing exists, then I am surely living in them.
I’m not always fond of the dog-days of summer. The thrill of warm days and nights, of beach trips and sandals usually wanes for me by August. By the middle of the month, I am ready for every wayward insect to die a frostbitten death. I am beyond tired of the boob sweat that plagues me every time I step outside.
Dog-days with children are the same way.
It’s the space between them becoming mobile creatures, and them turning into potty-trained, slightly better mannered small children. Somewhere in there, it’s almost like they become feral.
I’m in this fold right now.
I have a toddler, and two elementary aged children. The older two could argue about practically anything – and seek to do so daily. While the toddler lives by a personal manifesto that is equal parts the word “no,” and the phrase “YOLO.”
It’s a rare thing when I prepare a meal that everyone eats happily, without even one crinkled nose. It’s even rarer to put all of my children in their beds and actually have them fall asleep without reappearing a handful of times.
And so, with an undomesticated toddler underfoot (or standing in the yard wearing rain boots and no pants), two junior litigators, and my flailing attempts to draw boundaries and teach them goodness, the energy is drained from my lifeless body daily before ten in the morning.
Do you ever think that moms can lose their vision?
We all start out wanting to do the right thing.
We read the baby books. Heck, we practically started off thinking we could write the proverbial book on parenting. We cut their grapes into fours, made sure they only watched one cartoon a day, and we never left the house without a fully stocked diaper bag.
We answered every cry and question with such purpose, such assuredness. Every waking thought and conversation was dedicated to them. And their faces bring us such unabated joy.
Eventually, maybe a few more kids got added on to the pile, and the days become more about surviving then actually accomplishing anything. The minute hand on the clock slows down. Time becomes relative in relation to when your toddler skips their nap. On those days you watch the space between lunchtime and when your husband walks back in the door grow about five times in length.
You used to sit down while the baby slept. But now, there’s a child latched on to the front of you, and a maybe child pulling at your pant leg, and possibly one shouting at you from the other room….and maybe even one more making questionable smells in the bathroom.
The mom who promised herself that there would be no compromising, no gray areas, becomes the mom who will give in and just buy the damn Lunchables so she can make it through the store without children gnawing off her ears with requests for one thing or another.
Everything becomes like an episode of American Gladiator.
There is no just making it up the foam mountain, you have to make it past the tennis balls whirring right towards you. No battle, no task is clear cut or simple. There are multiple variables to be considered at all times. Always.
There is no just making it through the grocery store when there exists such torturous things as cereal aisles and miniature carts the kids can push around because didn’t you plan on having your ankles maimed while you went to the store to buy milk?
But really? What happens when you aren’t that brand new mom any longer?
The scent of Dreft has long since faded from your washing machine. That life giving earnestness you had when everything was new has faded. Now your kids have grown old enough to argue with you about whose turn it is the sit in the middle swing at the park. You haven’t made it to the gym in you don’t know how long, and come to think of it, you actually can’t remember the last time you did anything for yourself intentionally that wasn’t akin to spreading peanut butter on a graham cracker, and shoving it in your face while, blessedly, no one was looking.
Nobody really asks how you’re handling everything anymore, except for maybe the handful of mom friends you have. Everybody just assumes that you have a firm grip on everything now. Or they relate enough to know that there is really no such thing as having it all together, and they bring you chocolate even when you didn’t ask for it.
Now you’re the lady with a few runts hanging off the side of the grocery cart in the store. Nobody gives you the second glance to see how extraordinary you are as you diplomatically sort out whose turn it is to choose the cereal, this week.
Those visions? The ones you had of how you thought it was gonna be? They’re toast.
As shriveled as the split ends hanging off your head. They are dried out, flapping in the breeze as much as those batwings on your arms do when you wave to a friend across the parking lot at Target.
Nobody ever told you how hard this was gonna be. And really, would you have even sincerely believed them if they had? And how would you have even understood??
We are in the stage where we aren’t quite the blushing new mom at the grocery store who illicit gently turned heads and praise from other moms as their pink baby is nestled into their chest. Everyone loves that mom. Her kind is welcome here, full of its promise.
But we aren’t old enough to be pushing a cart alone in a store with stain free pants on, a coffee in hand, admiring all of the young moms while reminiscing about the good ole days, overlooking their struggle or looking on their efforts with sentimentality.
We are in the stage hardly anybody talks about. Where it is all so unwaveringly hard.
Forget about everything else that’s going on in the world, that’s going on with everyone else. There is enough going on right here, in this house. With these children.
When the nap times have stopped. When there is homework. Where there is no romance, because romance would require the children in your house to actually fall asleep at a decent time. You’re actually confused now as to how anyone ever made more than a handful of tiny humans because even a few of them become such enormous deterrents to marital romance, let alone sitting down.
You’re in the stage where you want to throw your phone across the room when you read someone complaining about how tired they are on Facebook, or about the pedicure they just treated themselves to after such a “hard week”, only you’re too tired to even do so. So you simmer in your disdain.
This is it. The point of no return.
There are no bottles or nap time schedules. In fact, the only schedule is the one you make, which sounds empowering until you realize how much effort that takes to stay on top of everything American Gladiator-style.
You are moving into the era of shoes needing to be tied, and not Velcro’d. Of after school sports or clubs, and miles on your vehicle as you scurry between everything like a taxi. You are almost to this promised land of kids who can make their own eggs for breakfast, and who you can trust not to run into the street on a whim.
But for now, you’re nose is to the grindstone, your hand is on the plow. And you are making this work. And it is taking every inch of you. It takes every ounce of moxie you have to not throw everyone’s toys in the trash can, because you how many times have you told them not to just leave them sitting out right after you stepped on a Lego??
Nobody ever tells you what it’s like when you become this giving tree of gargantuan proportions.
And they assuredly never tell you how beautiful that is.
Nobody tells you how brave you are when you make those hard parenting decisions. Or even the mundane ones. Because someone else’s mundane is your miracle.
Nobody tells you how selfless you are, when you get up again in the middle of the night to quell bad dreams. Or when your children fall victim one by one to the flu, and you haven’t hardly showered or left your house for almost two weeks unless it’s to the doctors.
Nobody has ever told you how blisteringly tired you are gonna be when those tinies turn into littles, and that it takes pure fight in you sometimes to make it through each day.
Nobody has ever told you how much this world is depending on you, to raise those babies into children into teenagers into adults who care about the rest of us. Nobody has ever told you how powerful you are even when you are catching someone’s puke in your hands or down the front of you.
Nobody has ever told you how powerful it is that you care and that you love, because raising up from that will be more people who care and who love. People we hope will reach the next level. We already have enough violence in this world, enough brokenness, so what we need are people who love unconditionally and that is borne from the love that sheds off of you every day in every humble effort.
Maybe nobody ever told you. Until now.
I wouldn’t know what to tell the parent who is struggling. Who is exhausted beyond words. Who is afraid. Who feels like they are losing themselves to this parenting battle. Who just wants to sit down.
There is nothing I can say to you that makes those problems, those worries, those obstacles go away.
I can only say that you, friend, momma, are not alone in this. We are all out here. And we sometimes think that we are invisible to anyone else, to each other. But we aren’t.
I need you here, in this, with me. Right now.
I hear that one day, our children will know how to cut the crusts off of their own peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. The ones that they will have made for them themselves. By themselves.
I hear it gets easier, and then right around the time it does, we start to fret.
Because we will already miss them so.