I stumbled across this post as I was going through some of my older work this morning. Originally published in June of 2006, I still find myself having days like this, but am thankful for the gifts of time and experience. Life is a learning experience, both for myself and my children, and I have learned to accept its imperfections as well as embrace the joys. Once you focus on what really matters, the rest is just small stuff.
One day last week I was bustling around the kitchen making supper while I was washing the dishes from lunch (and breakfast). While I was doing this, I was also doing laundry. I tripped over a million pairs of shoes in the laundry room while attempting to carry yet another load of dirty clothes to the washing machine, and tripped over the same mountain of shoes on my way back out with the clean clothes to be folded. I cursed the shoes under my breath and announced to Whoever Might Be Listening that if I tripped over them again I was going to burn them all and the owners would have to go barefoot for the rest of the summer.
Once I got to the kitchen table and dumped the clean clothes onto it, Madeline began whining about how she didn’t “get” her homework and would I please help her. It was also around this time that a very grumpy Connor decided that her homework looked like the perfect spot to draw pictures, so he kept trying to climb onto her chair and scribble on her work.
“Mommy, I can’t do this… Con-nor! No Connor! Get down!!… Mommy! STOP Connor!! Mom! Connor is tryin’ to… NO Connor!! MOM-EEEE!”
Meanwhile, Connor is taking a tantrum: “Eeennnggghh! Maddie! I want to draw! Nnnnnn! Uhhhhh….I WAAANT UPPP!! I want to DRAAAAW Maddie!! Uhhh huhhhh! Waaahhhhh! WAAA-HAAA!!! Then he crumbled onto the floor and screamed. Very loudly.
It was here that Terran saunters into the kitchen and says to me in a dead voice; “Oh yeah, I have Cadets tonight at six.” I stopped in my tracks for a moment, glanced at the clock and saw that it was 5:15. In disbelief I looked at him – sweaty and dirty from playing outside and waiting for me to tell him what to do. I didn’t disappoint. “Don’t you think you should be in the shower then instead of in here doing nothing?” I snapped.
“Whatever.” He snorted as he headed for the stairs. He mumbled something but I couldn't hear it over the escalating tantrum happening on the floor in front of me.
By this point Madeline was shrieking about a pencil mark on her work, Connor was on the floor kicking and screeching at the top of his lungs, and the potatoes were boiling over. Rushing to the stove, I tripped over the dog, who panicked and bolted for the door. In doing so, she walked on the cat, who was sleeping on the mat in front of the sink. The cat of course hissed and swiped at the dog, who panicked some more and ran back to me, bumping into my legs and causing me to burn my hand on the steam rolling out of the pot.
Madeline was whining “He ruined my HOMEWORK!!”
Connor was screaming “ I WAAANT TO DRAAAWWW!!”
Terran was yelling from the bathroom upstairs “MOM! There’s no hot water!!”
The washer started spinning off balance, banging and rattling the entire back porch. By now, the other two cats had to get in on the action, so all four animals were flying around the kitchen like someone was chasing them with a knife. My hand was burning. Cursing, I dropped the lid, where it fell onto the stove and then onto the floor, spitting little beads of boiling water onto my bare arms and legs like miniature daggers. Then it happened.
I lost it.
“That’s IT!! EVERYBODY knock it OFF!!!” I shouted. Sucking in another breath as fast as I could, I continued my rant “I’VE HAD ENOUGH!! JUST STOP IT!! What the hell is WRONG with you guys anyways? You’re all making me CRAZY!!”
For a split second, there was silence. Or maybe that was just my brain exploding. “Nice. Way to go, dumbass” it chastised me.
The washer continued to squeal and clunk loudly in the porch. Connor sucked in his breath long enough to fuel another scream. Madeline sniffled and then started bawling. The animals looked at me as if I had grown three heads, then scampered off into the rest of the house. Terran continued to yell down for me to shut the washer off.
I wanted to disappear. I felt weak and suddenly very drained. As if on autopilot, I slowly picked up the lid off the floor, put it back on the pot, turned the burner down, then shut the washing machine off. In the midst of all the chaos, I eased myself into a chair, ignoring the world around me. “What is wrong with me? What the hell was I doing? Why? Why did I just freak out like that?”
“Because you’ll never be perfect, Amy. They don’t expect you to be.” Huh. The voice of reason.
I realized then that I was not living my life for me and my family, but for everyone else. I was letting other people’s expectations of me as a stay-at-home-mom dictate how I was managing my home. I was swimming upstream against a strong current. Why? Why was it so important to me what other people thought, when I had just lost it in front of my kids? Did I feel that I had something to prove because I wasn’t working outside the home? Did I feel that somehow I had to conform to their expectations because otherwise I would seem lazy? Like a bad wife and mother? Somehow I became so consumed with meeting these expectations, I failed to realize what I was doing to my children. I was robbing them of their mother. And now I had hurt them because I felt inadequate.
“I’m losing it. I’m friggin’ losing it.” I muttered to Nobody In Particular. Putting my head in to my hands, I drew a shaky breath. The tears were stinging my eyes, yet I didn’t cry. My throat was raw, and my insides felt empty. I felt like the worst mother in the world. I violated something somewhere, perhaps it was my own sense of self along with my children’s feelings. This was not the mother I wanted to be. I felt like such a failure. Their little hearts are in my hands, and I crushed them. I was so careless with their feelings. How could I do that to my beautiful children? Do they know how much I love them? Are they feeling unloved right now?
“I’m sorry guys.” It came out in a whisper. “I’m really sorry guys.” I tried again. “I should never have said that.” I picked up my sobbing toddler up off the floor and kissed the top of his head as I pulled the sniffling Madeline to me for a hug. My tears spilled over. “I’m so sorry. Mommy loves you sooo much. I’m having a really bad day and I took it out on you guys and that was wrong of me. I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings.”
I’m not sure how long we stayed like that, embracing and soothing our hurts. I felt their warm little bodies against mine, and fresh tears rolled down my cheeks. How I love them! They’re growing so fast, this is not what I want them to remember about their childhood. They need to express themselves, however much I might disagree. They need to cry. They need to giggle. They need to whine. They need to argue amongst themselves and solve their own problems. They need direction when they can’t find it on their own, but they need to try first. They need to get dirty and be smelly sometimes and they need to know that they are loved unconditionally. They need to be little. I was reckless with their feelings. I had taken them for granted, and they still loved me. I silently vowed to try harder, to do better, to be a better mom for them. To be the mom I know I was meant to be, not the mom other people think that I should be.
I think maybe every mom has days like this. The days where we just wish we had a solution for everything, a calm demeanor and an organized home. I realize that every individual family has their own coping strategies, and I have to use the one that works best for my family. For example, my friend only does laundry on Mondays and Thursdays. She is raising six kids. Six. To me, she seems organized, relaxed, seems to have a pretty good handle on All Things Family. If you were to ask her, she would laugh as she hands out a snack to her toddler while picking up hockey gear off the floor and say that her life is one giant car pool and call it “organized chaos.” She genuinely seems to love it. She doesn’t sweat the small stuff. In retrospect, it is all small stuff, really. Laundry gets washed, the plants get watered, pets get fed, the floors get scrubbed, supper gets cooked, and the homework gets done. So what if the house isn’t spotless every day? Who really cares if there are six loads of laundry instead of two?
It’s the important stuff that will enrich my life, and it is the important stuff that humbles me. The important stuff is worth crying over, especially if you learn something from it. The important stuff is the fragility and innocence of the hearts and feelings of my children, and remembering that without them, I would not be a mother at all.