In welcoming our fifteenth beautiful grandchild to the world this week (the oldest is nine) and being with our daughter in Phoenix who is now managing five beautiful children, I was thrown into déjà vu as I was immersed into the practicing, homework, violin, tennis and piano lessons, dinners at six, reading to pre-schoolers and reading with third and fourth graders. Thinking back to those often grueling days of keeping things moving along…sometimes with a fair amount of success and sometimes as a total failure, I remember once again with full velocity, that motherhood truly is the hardest job you’ll ever love!
In addition I received this letter from our oldest daughter this week. When she gave birth to her identical twin boys a year and a half ago, she also had a two year old, and three and a half year old and her oldest, who had turned five two weeks before their arrival. Here is an excerpt that I think many of your frazzled mothers will enjoy as you empathize:
Oh, another day of joy as a mother. I put on my workout clothes right when I got up, meaning to hop on the elliptical machine for thirty minutes as soon as Ashton and Isaac left for school. But then the landscapers showed up. In between overseeing the landscapers who are replacing our dead plants (6 months after they died), preparing my Joy School lesson for the afternoon (it was my day to teach my three-year-old Eliza’s little cooperative preschool group here at our house), giving Eliza some minimal attention in response to her constant bombardment of questions and requests, and trying to keep my 18-month old twins out of too much trouble, I was making phone calls to try to get volunteers to help with this big school party that I’m somehow in charge of.
Anyway after a full morning of interruptions, still in my workout clothes and feeling I simply had to get in a workout and a shower (it had been days), I finally got on the elliptical machine only to be interrupted by about six phone calls and twenty comments and needs from Eliza. I took a five minute shower and madly ran around the house, brushing out my way-too-long hair (it’s been over a year since I’ve had time for a haircut) while setting out the various things for preschool before the kids arrived. The kids came and I presented a decent but rather sloppily prepared lesson. We had some great moments in the backyard, talking about nature, feeling the grass and the breeze, noticing the colors of the sky and mountains and dirt, and picking up our favorite interesting things – rocks, leaves, seed pods and flowers – we’re on the “Joy of the Earth” this month. As much as I was wishing like crazy earlier in the day that I didn’t have to teach preschool, doing this does make me stop and actually do the fun “mom things” I always pictured myself doing with my kids. So with some minor issues here and there, we got through preschool quite nicely and the day was looking up a bit.
I felt energized enough to do some much-needed housecleaning. While I was vacuuming up the mess that Silas and Oliver (the 18 month old twins) made with a potted plant downstairs a couple days ago, Silas was upstairs smearing a king-sized container of Vaseline all over his bedroom – I mean Vaseline an inch thick on both cribs, the expensive crib bedding, the diaper pail, the changing table, a lot of the new carpet, the floor in the hall, and of course, himself. You know, Vaseline really doesn’t come off of anything. I knew Silas’s shirt was hopeless and threw it away. I wiped and wiped and still had a glossy, greasy residue on all the hard surfaces. And the soft surfaces have ugly probably permanent oil spots on them. Silas’s skin is still pretty greasy. I would have looked up some info on the internet about how to get Vaseline off of things, but after the initial two hours of getting big goops off while trying to keep all five kids from stepping in Vaseline and fielding their questions about homework and requests for snacks (very grumpily, I might add) and finally throwing together a rather late and very simple dinner for them, I just didn’t have the time (or the heart) to do that little research project.
Every day it’s something new with these babies! They’re always throwing books in the bathtub and then turning on the faucets, finding cheerios in the diaper bag and smashing them all over the floor, hanging on my legs and crying for more food (I swear, they could eat ten meals a day or more!), pulling out all the rags in the rag drawer and scattering them all over the house, scraping up the furniture and walls with their little toy cars, dripping bottles of milk all over fresh-cleaned floors, throwing food all over during meal times, the list could go on and on. Everyone said that when the first year was over with the twins, things would get easier. They were wrong. Things never get better really with these guys, things just get different. They say a change is as good as a rest. But when the change is from waking up all the time to babies crying in the night to finding messes everywhere ten times a day, I don’t know if that change is anywhere near as good as any sort of rest!
Oh, I love these sweet baby boys of mine, but they can be so consuming. Which would be OK if I didn’t also have a 6 year old, a 5 year old and a 3 year old with plenty of consuming needs of their own, a house that has to consume some of my time my time and attention, a consuming part-time business to run, a consuming PTA job, and a husband who deserves to be consuming more of my time. No wonder I always feel so totally consumed!
Anyway, after yelling at Ashton, our six year old, for the fourth time for asking me to look at his homework when I was so obviously busy cleaning up Vaseline and explaining to him (rather rudely) that I hadn’t had a chance to even eat breakfast or lunch that day and that I was really having a hard day and needed him to help keep the twins out of the way while I finished this super-hard and sad and frustrating clean-up job, he came back into the twins’ room. I REALLY yelled at him this time – “Didn’t I just tell you to leave me alone!” With tears popped out of his eyes, he held out a cookie he’d had behind his back – “Mommy, I was just bringing you this cookie since you didn’t have anything to eat for so long!” Wow. I felt horrible! And I felt so much love for this sweet little boy who had seen a need and tried to meet it. That’ll teach me to yell first and ask questions later! I wiped the Vaseline off my hands, hugged Ashton, apologized for jumping to conclusions and explained calmly about how frustrated I was about the mess I was cleaning up and how much I wished I could give each of my kids more attention and time. It turned into a sweet moment of forgiving and understanding for both of us.
My wonderful husband Jared got home and found a very frazzled wife and a lot of glossy and oil-spotted Vaseline-covered things everywhere. He gave me a big hug (which helped a lot) and said we could rent a carpet cleaner (which unfortunately couldn’t help) and I took off on a walk – sometimes I just need to walk away from it all for a while!
In the process I realized that once I accept that the clean-up projects never end and that the interruptions never end, life will become less frustrating. I should just go ahead and expect that the messes and the interruptions and the crazy stuff will happen. So when it does, I don’t need to waste time and energy on being mad – I just need to keep doing what’s in front of me and be prepared to do most things in 1-5 minute chunks rather than all at once. When the never ending messes happen and the kids’ needs can seem so mind-numbingly repetitive, I need to remember that it’s just part of life to keep doing things again and again – change the bedding, clean up after the twins, re-plant the plants, answer the same question, read the favorite story, help with the homework, make the dinner, do the dishes... I guess I need to get more into the “Zen” of life and take a lesson from the Japanese Tea Ceremony and so many other ceremonies that are so important in many cultures of the world – it’s the process of doing things and repeating things that are necessary to this life. It’s not just about getting things done. Things never stay done. That’s just how it is. And it’s so important to find joy in the good and beautiful moments that occur in the midst of all the basic and mundane – to take a moment to notice the unique beauties of the earth that change hour by hour, to celebrate and cultivate uncommon kindness and goodness, to cherish the mischevious grins and sweet hugs of wild babies, the clever comments of a little 3-year-old, and the cookie from a thoughtful little 6-year-old, and to appreciate the blessing it is to be needed so much by so many.
Good luck with your own motherhood challenges this month and keep reminding yourselves, not only that you have the hardest job that you’ll ever love, but also how much fun you’re having! There’s nothing quite like a disaster to make a story that will be a splendid addition to your family history!