I woke up to the sound of my son fumbling around in his room, far too early. And let’s clarify that 5:30am is, by definition, “far too early”. I looked it up. Not really.
I heard him, back and forth. Moving here and there. Turning on and off his light. Calling for his father. Tossing a toy in that corner or reading a book a little too loudly. In such a way that we both knew would not keep his sister asleep much longer. His patience (and mine) worn thin – I went to him. “You have to keep it down, son…it’s not time to get up yet. You can play quietly…you can read…you can (yawwwwwwn) try to go back to sleep (me first!) or whatever, but you must be a bit more quiet.” And he stared at me with that look. The 3-year old look. The one that says “Yes, I hear you. No, I will not be complying any time soon. My apologies to the management.” I shut his door softly and heard him return to his imaginary world of play. His child's voice following me down the hall and into my bedroom.
A half hour later, tossing and turning, listening to him invoke all types of torture on his Scooby and Shaggy figures, I slid out of my warm bed and loafed into my slippers. Yawning and sighing and shuffling down the hall, I met my husband in the living room for a light passing touch and a weary “good morning”.
I had been procrastinating on starting a personal Bible study. Excusing myself daily from the new routine I would need to set up in order to make it happen. Finding reasons why I could not possibly carve another free moment out of my days. I decided this was a good time. I grabbed my Bible, grabbed my new study and made a comfortable corner of the couch ready. I started to feel that getting out of bed so early had some advantages – albeit few – but one of which was clearly the opportunity I had been avoiding. Taking care of me. Of myself. Indeed, maybe it would be a productive and good day, for a change?
I think I had made it five minutes into my reading when I heard him calling to me. To us. Come get me. I’m all done playing. Me get up now. I admit that my reaction was a rolling of the eyes. A tsk of the tongue. And I continued reading. There are worse things than being asked to stay in your room and play with toys, I reasoned. I made a second attempt and made it through page 2, but he beckoned and beckoned until we both agreed it was time.
I tried again to continue while his father tended to him. But as luck would have it, half way down page three he approached me. “Hi Mommy”. Hi, son. “Me watch Scooby.” No, not right now. You’ll need to play for a little bit while Mommy finishes her study. Only a couple more pages. “Nooooooooooooo. Me watch Scooby” (in that whiny, pre-tantrum voice that so many of us know and love. Not really.) And so we went on this way for a few minutes and I realized that today – like so many of the days before it – would not be the day I would get to my Bible Study. And I sighed heavily, and put aside my books. Put aside me.
I needed coffee. In an urgent and life-saving way. So I found myself yawning again and making my way to the kitchen. Pouring the water. Scooping the heavenly aroma out of the can. Watching it percolate. Waiting with flavored creamer and thick coffee mug in hand. And I savored each sip. Slowly. Carefully. Plotting out how my day would go from here.
I heard baby-girl…talking to herself, sitting in her crib probably holding her blanket or her elephant…giving them intermittent kisses mixed with stern babbling about this or that. I heard that and I entered her room to start her day. I changed her diaper, dressed her, kissed her face and told her “good morning sissy”. Meanwhile, brother began his daily ritual of climbing the walls of our home. Like Spider Man. Climbing and climbing and to reach him you have to climb too. Only I’m mostly too old and too tired, I tell myself, to climb up there. So I shout from the carpeted floor and say “enough of this…now come down…Mommy is tired and old!” I don’t know where his energy comes from. I only know it makes me feel old. Old and tired.
During breakfast (and after a world war over who got the pink plate and who got the purple plate, and then who got their milk in the Lightening McQueen cup and who had to be stuck with the plain old green cup, had ended) I start mapping out my day. Nothing like scrambled eggs to get the brain fired up. Sort of. Not really.
I recalled a recent online search I had done to find the “best tips for staying on top of your housework”. Mine had become ridiculously out of control. Much like my life. Spinning and spinning out of my reach. Appointments and school and errands and a new job and writing and designing and chores and laundry had all had their way with me. All of that and being a wife. All of that and being a wife and mother to two toddlers. I didn’t remember when in my life I would have considered googling about organizing housework. I wrote the proverbial book on organizing housework – back in my pre- tired and old days. It was shameful. I reminded my husband that all areas of the house would be barely tolerable today in conjunction with my completely inadequate housekeeping skills. Right up there with all of the other areas of my life which felt, coincidentally, inadequate.
That person who said “you’ll always have laundry but the kids are only little for a short while” – to that person I would like to tip my hat and say how woefully right they were. Are. Blah blah about the kids being little for a blink and all that. Woe. Woe to the pro-creating laundry. It’s true, in fact, that I will always have it. Yes, really.
So I thought for my day I would try the cleaning tip that really stuck out in my mind. 15 minutes. She said “set the timer”. You have 15 minutes to clean or “tidy” up a room. Limit yourself and you will be amazed at what you can get done. We’re not talking deep cleaning, she said. We’re talking – run through and get it picked up and move on with your day. You’ll feel better, she said. You’ll feel better than better. You’ll feel accomplished. Lord knows I could use some “accomplished” somehwere in there on the inside.
So I set the children to their task of playing nicely, and I set the timer to 15 minutes for myself. I was thinking “don’t panic”. This kitchen job was bigger than 15 minutes. But I was willing to try and condense my thinking – get it down to the size that would allow for 15 minutes of guilt free – walk away – feel happy that you did it – kind of cleaning. Wipe it up, rinse it off, load it up and be done. (wipes hands on hips)
And so this countdown to feel better was interrupted at 13 minutes, 22 seconds. “Mommy, me go potty”. Ok, so go. “No, mommy come”. Why? Is it numero dos? “Yes”. Feeling I should get my whole 15 minutes worth, I noted the time and stopped the timer. We sat in the bathroom staring at the blue wall and the dead ants that gathered where I last sprayed my organic bug spray. All curled up. Dead as dead. Waiting to be ushered into the dark recesses of my vacuum bag.
When I finally returned to the kitchen, I reset the timer. 12:41 and GO. “Mommy, me go outside and pway”. You wanna play in the backyard? He loves to play outside and the timing was perfect, really. Occupy Spiderman while I worked at reclaiming my defeated attitude from the rubble of too many dirty dishes and too many dust bunnies to escape personal embarrassment. I stopped the timer yet again, and I dressed him with rushed hands – pulling the zipper quickly into place and asking him if he would like some gloves. “No…me no wear gloves”. Shoes on – one at at time. Why did we buy the ones with laces? And off he went to do what little boys do in their imagination and a big backyard full of nothing.
At 11 minutes and 3 seconds, he was crying at the back door. “Me need gwoves. Me fweezing” So gloves and a hat and ear muffs and a scarf were added to counter measure any more hiccups in my timer. Do you have everything you need? Are you good this time? He was. And so I heard myself repeating the line “Have fun”. And I hoped he would – for both our sakes. I raced back to my kitchen – intent on getting through this fifteen minutes and seeing what could be done. But at 9 minutes and 8 seconds, he was crying at the door again. Instead of allowing my head to pop off – I stopped the timer and ran to the door.
And I said it too harshly, but said it just the same. What is it? What could you possibly need now? Mommy is trying so hard to clean up this wreck of a house. One room. One Bible Study. One peaceful sleep. One personal moment. Though I think I only said “one room” out-loud for him to hear. The rest was a silent reverberation in my mind.
He didn’t need anything. Just that he had decided after two plus minutes that he didn’t want to play outside after all. And so he came in. I could no longer remember where I had stopped the clock. Only that I had long since passed the fifteen minutes. Closer to an hour. And I had accomplished nothing. Neither peaceful sleep, nor a quiet morning studying my Bible, nor a moment to absorb myself in dirty dishes. Nothing.
For some reason, they began to bicker. Which melted into fighting. Which became a full blown cry-fest of one child hitting while another bit down on the other. And screaming and crying filled the air and resonated. And it took a moment, but I soon realized it was me. Screaming. Crying. Saying “stop this! why do you do this? why does it have to go like this day in and day out?” and really saying the words to myself more than to them. I cried harder. And I left the room. Went to my bedroom and fell onto my bed. Cried and cried. Thinking and then saying “I can’t do this. I don’t know how to do this”. Cried because that 15-minute plan to being happier and feeling better had only left me feeling more inadequate and deeply unaccomplished. I can’t even get dirty dishes rinsed off, I thought to myself. What have I become? And hearing in my heart “yes you can do this” and “you do know how…you do know how to do this”.
I heard the guest bathroom toilet flush and heard giggling accompanying it. Even in my despair, I could not risk having to afford a plumber. And so, through tears – I began the inquisition. What did you flush? Socks? Underwear again? A toy? No. Just water, Spider Man said. And sister looked on with cherry cheeks and giggled in delight. I wiped my eyes and rubbed at my nose. Don’t flush anything down the toilet. We’ve talked about this. No more! Do you understand me? And again, the look of understanding followed by a full salute of “not on your life”.
I ran back to my room. Fresh tears falling. I went to the bathroom and sat on the closed lid of the toilet. Letting myself feel bad. Letting myself feel overwhelmed and letting all those inadequacies creep up around my neck and start to choke me. I can’t keep the house clean. I’m a miserable mother who is crying over dirty dishes. I can’t get my spiritual life prioritized. I can’t make things happen. I’m just buried in life and stuff and to-do’s. Up, up, they rose – and I instinctively brought my head up to stare ahead. The image hitting my eyes was harsh and fed my fire.
The laundry. I can’t even keep up with the laundry. More tears flowing freely. I rested my head on the wall beside the toilet. Sniffling. Wiping my eyes. Closing my eyes and then opening them. The laundry staring me down.
The children ambled in and surrounded me. One pat on the cheek and one on the leg. “Mommy rye?” Yes, Mommy cry. It’s ok, it happens. We all need a good cry now and then. “Mommy, me want choco milk” I sniffled and had to laugh. Even in my most vulnerable state, my children – unaware of the reason for the drama unraveling before them – continued to take care of their own needs. Because it’s what they do. They just keep on.
And somehow, that spoke to me. I heard it almost audibly. Christie – stand up. Get up. Keep on. And so I did. I returned to my kitchen and mixed a tall cup of chocolate milk for my son. And then for my daughter. And I watched as they greedily sucked it down in utter happiness. Then I turned and began my work. First the dishes and then the counters. And it took much longer than fifteen minutes. It took an hour and a half before I could step back and look at that space and feel good about it. But I did. Feel good. Feeling slightly more accomplished seeing my kitchen return to its cleaner state. And I wiped my hands on my hips and moved on to the next room. And the next. Until, the cleaning part was finally over. Little people following me from room to room as the day progressed and sometimes helping, sometimes whining, sometimes playing together so well I had to stop and admire them before I would move on. And together – as together as you can be raising little ones and trying to balance the whole world of being wife, mother, housekeeper, employee, and daughter to the King on one hand while trying to keep your feet firmly planted on solid ground. Trying to be it all. Do it all. And do it all well.
The moral is not – feel sorry for me. Pity me. Or even thank your lucky stars if you can still get laundry done. Not really. I don’t need pity and I require no pats on the back of “oh honey” or “it will get better”. This is mostly in part to already knowing that it will get better. And worse. And better. In intermittent shifts as the years progress. And I’ve come to make peace with that – slowly. With some obvious regression on days like today. And then remission, on days like today.
The moral is – look around you. Sister. Friend. Mother. We are surrounded by those who are just the same. Those who wake up, like me today, and forget how to do it. How to put one foot in front of the other. Who temporarily lose a sense of self. Who have regrets and fears and inadequacies pulling at their heals. Who cry on their pillows and wonder what God was thinking when He entrusted these little beings into their care. Who meltdown and come undone over dirty dishes and piles of laundry and get sucked into the endless vortex of worry – about losing ones self and waking up one day and of disappearing all together. Feeling too tired and too old.
I am proof. You are not alone. I am not alone. We are many. I am certain. And God knew that too. Before we ever became mothers. He was counting on us to look around. To garner support from each other. To reach out and to be reached, through the veil of what we think it should look like into the reality that sometimes bites and nips at us, and sometimes resonates with beauty. The ultimate juxtaposition in motherhood. Beauty and pain. Either way – supported and encouraged that we are not alone and that others have been there. Have done that. Have felt this.
Reminded through this network of cohesive and gentle camaraderie to stand back up