But then I think back to my education degree and remind myself that Hattie just turned THREE, and this pressure that has been created to have my kids literate by the age of 4 and performing long-division by 5 and composing symphonies by 6 WAS NOT created by teachers or child development researchers but by the pressures of a flawed system and competitive parents.
Here are some activities that keep all three of my kids (4, 3 and 1) entertained for at least 30 straight (almost) uninterrupted minutes.
But in my pouting about DOING EVERYTHING (even though, I do very short of everything) I missed the Lord whispering, “Look around you. This is your earthly reward. Is this not enough?”
MY CLOTHES. I can’t wear an outfit for 5 seconds before something is spit up on it or spilled on it or wiped on it. Can my Target clothes stand up to this kind of laundering? The answer is no.
It’s been one of those weeks. And it’s Wednesday.
I have found that “those” weeks are placed directly after the really awesome weeks, as not to inflate my sense of mom-awesomeness. Momsomeness? Mawesomeness? Mmk. Last week was Clark’s first full week back to school (for practice and inservice) and the Lord taunted me with a smooth and breezy week to break me in to this new life. Monday, I got the babes decked out in their Steer red, white, and blue for Booster Bash at the football field (only to realize the event lasted a full 8 minutes); I toted them to the grocery store Tuesday and got $180 worth of groceries without any tears; entertained in the stands Thursday night at the football scrimmage; and then got all children to bed by 8 (first time in the history of EVER) Friday night while Clark was off scouting; I swept the floor almost every day, dished out less than three spankings throughout the week, and cooked dinner 5 friggin’ nights.
So what I’m saying is I should have seen it coming. Pride cometh before the fall.
My first mistake was cheating on Hayes’ diet restrictions and eating 2 … okay 3 chocolate chip cookies. And three scoops of the dough. Then, I tried to drink a cup of decaf coffee and TURNS OUT decaf coffee is not so decaf. Google it. This led to a rough few days which led to a rough few nights which led to a grumpy mother which led to “Y’all watch a movie on the iPad while mommy lays on the bed” which led to time outs and bad choices and stomping feet and “Well hell, I can’t parent right now. Can I quit?”
Then we ran out of food.
My plan to go to the grocery store alone on Monday night failed when Hayes screamed till 11:30 so Tuesday morning with the brood it was. I foolishly texted my friend who offered to keep one of them, “They usually do okay as long as I crack open some muffins.”
Pride goeth before the fall.
I wrap Hayes on me, load Hattie in the front of the cart and Charlee in the back. We are on Aisle 5 with approximately a third of the cart full when I get a whiff of stank. Hayes always picks the most opportune moments to poop his pants so why not now? As I shuffle us all towards the bathroom, I’m mentally digging through my diaper bag trying to determine if I even have wet wipes and a diaper. Because I’m so on top of things, I do. But because I’m NEVER on top of things, and knowing that this was certainly a blowout (as that is the only type of dirty diaper that exists in Hayesville), I definitely do not have a change of clothes for him.
** sidenote — Flashback to two weeks ago when I did the walk of shame out of a restaurant bathroom with a naked Hayes while eating lunch with a sweet couple we’d just met that took us out after church. Did I learn my lesson? No. I am a gamblin’ man and a loser. **
I unload the cart of children, grab the diaper bag and usher them into the bathroom to survey the damage. For Hayes, not too bad. It got on his pajamas (because why should babies wear real clothes in public) a little bit but I wipe it off with a wet wipe. Totally fine. I bathe him in wet wipes and saddle him back into the Sleepy Wrap but the screams don’t stop as expected. I mean, he’s at a full-fledged 10.
As I’m attempting to shove a paci into the mouth of a feral kitten, I see Hattie’s shorts on the floor of the bathroom and hear Charlee sweetly coercing her in the stall, “You can go tee-tee in the big potty! Here. Take off your diaper.” SAY WHAAAAT? “NO MA’AM! You can NOT! DO NOT REMOVE THE DIAPER!! DIAPER DOES NOT COME OFF!” (Baby still screaming. Elderly women walking in and leaving again.) “Put your shorts back on right now.” (Hattie crying, Hayes crying, Charlee looking at me like I’ve lost my dang mind. It’s fine. I have.)
I’m furiously beebopping the baby back and forth when I think, “His bottom was really red I think. He probably had that poop in his diaper for a while. Do I have any diaper cream?” Of course not. He’s never had a rash before. Why would I have diaper cream? I unload him back out of the wrap and undress him again to find a bright red bottom. I dig through the diaper bag in desperation and find nipple cream… it’s probably the same thing, right? Without googling “Can I put nipple cream on my baby’s diaper rash” I lather that bad boy on and stick him back in as Hattie continues to attempt to put her shorts on upside-down. Unsuccessfully. While sitting on the floor of the Wal Mart bathroom. What. Ever.
Internally I debate, do I just leave the basket of groceries and get in the car and leave? A day of hunger won’t kill them. Will we survive this trip?
We get her shorts situated, I bounce Hayes back and forth for another couple of minutes and he finally calms down to a 2. Then we make our way towards the door. I half expect there to be a crowd gathered outside of the bathroom exit trying to figure out what all the commotion is but only a couple of people are staring. I try to smile a “I’ve totally got this under control” smile as I wipe away the sweat dripping down my temples.
I load the girls back into the cart and proceed to give them a pep talk (“I need both of you to listen to mommy and follow directions RIGHT NOW … “), Hayes passes out in the wrap, and we press on. They ended up doing great and we now have food and we made it home and I still like them.
What I’m saying is I’m now doing all my grocery shopping online.
These are the days, my friends. Tomorrow will be better. Because tomorrow we won’t have to go to the grocery store.
“I don’t want you to help me! NO! NO! Don’t touch it!” she screamed as she aggressively jammed the “outie” part of the zipper against the “inny” part of the zipper over and over and over again to no avail.
“Charlee, we have to go. Let’s make a good choice. Would you rather get frustrated and cry or just ask Mommy for help?”
No response as she repeatedly attempted to “DO IT ALL BY MYSEE–EE–LLLL–FF!”
Five minutes later I gathered her limp body off of the living room floor, exhausted from the sobs and the tireless slamming of the jacket against the wall. She had clearly chosen to “get frustrated and cry” as opposed to the alternative, “ask for help.”
Sadly, she gets this from her mother.
I recalled a few months earlier when I had also had my very own “zipper moment.” I had been checking my watch every 38 seconds to see if Clark was off work yet only to realize he wouldn’t be home for 4 hours and 38, no, 37 minutes. Will we all still be alive by then? I could make no such promise. Hattie was 5-months-old and had recently arrived at her “I have acid reflux; WHY THE HECK CAN’T ANYONE FIGURE THIS OUT” stage and Charlee was 22-months-old and getting a head start on the Terrible Twos. And I was done. Mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually depleted.
Charlee was in her room throwing a fit about fruit snacks. I sat on the foot of the guest bed holding the littlest crying one, bouncing up and down like a rabbit on 5-Hour-Energy, trying breathlessly to control my aggression, hoping not to approach the threshold for Shaken Baby Syndrome. As I bounced, I remember audibly repeating, “Please. Stop. Crying. Please. Stop. Crying.” Maybe one out of the three of us would listen.
Then my phone rang. It was Clark.
“Hey Babe, I’m gonna be home late today.”
I couldn’t get a word out of my throat. I felt a huge knot form and before I could stop he could hear the sobs from the other end of the line. “O…. kay….”
“Has it been a bad day?”
Um. No. It’s been fan-freakin-tastic. Can you hear the two of them? They’re screaming because we’re all having so much fun playing Candy Land and creating educational crafts.
“Call your mom. Tell her to come over. She would love to help you.”
“No seriously. Call her. I’ll leave as soon as I can.”
“O… kay… Bye.”
Ten minutes later my phone rang. This time it was my mom.
“Hey, how ya doing? Clark called and said you might want some help. I’m on my way over right now.”
My husband knows me way too well. He knows my independent, youngest-child, I-CAN-DO-THIS-ALL-BY-MYSELF heart would never surrender and actually ask for help. Are you kidding me? I don’t need help. I am perfectly capable of handling this motherhood thing on my own, thank you very much. I got myself into this gig and I can get myself through it with my teeth gritted and my fists clenched. I’m a REALLY good mom, DANG IT, and REALLY good moms don’t need help.
But can I tell you how happy I was that he called her? I let out a breath. I could see light through the darkness and hear birds chirping amidst the heaving.
I’ve struggled with asking for help my whole life, but it took me 6 months with two children to finally bring to my attention that this was a real issue, not just a quirk or a personality trait. I knew my resistance had a lot more to do with pride than I cared to admit. God began to show me that asking for help isn’t a show of weakness but in fact the ultimate sign of strength and humility, the admission that I am not God and I was not created to do this alone.
It’s okay to need help. It’s okay to admit that today has sucked. Hard. It’s okay to need a second to come up for air every now and then. And it’s even okay to call your mom (or sister or neighbor or BFF) to rescue you… when you’re 29.
In Exodus 17, Moses has just brought the Israelites out of Egypt. But while traveling they are attacked by the Amalekites and forced into battle. Moses, in his old age, heads to the top of the hill with Aaron and Hur while Joshua chooses the strongest men to go down to the battlefield.
Moses raises his staff as his men fight in an appeal to God for help and enablement. “As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning” (Ex. 17:11). Moses is old and tired. An entire battle is a long time to keep your hands raised up in the air. Thankfully, he has help. Verse 12 says, “When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up — one on one side, one on the other — so that his hands remained steady till sunset.”
I also feel old and tired most days. I also feel like there is a battle raging under my roof most days. And I also, like Moses, can see a difference in the outcome of my battle when I hold up my hands in surrender, in an admission that I can’t do this on my own. Sadly, my arms get tired pretty quickly.
God knew they would. He didn’t create me or Moses or you to hold up our hands on our own. He never expected us to fight our battles in isolation.
But I am not Moses. And I lack the humility to admit that I need someone else to bring me a rock to sit on or someone to prop up my hands. So I just watch my army go down in flames because I am too prideful to admit that I need reinforcements.
I need encouragement.
I need validation.
I need coffee.
I need help.
I have plenty of Aarons and Hurs that are willing to prop up my hands and pull up a rock. And so do you. It’s just a matter of asking.
So are you more like Moses or Charlee? Will you accept the help and win the battle? Or would you rather lay on the floor in prideful determination, throw a fit and refuse to accept the perfectly capable help that stands inches away?
I have chosen to be a two-year-old much more often than I care to admit. Perhaps it’s time to listen to my own advice.
Jordan, would you rather let yourself get frustrated and cry or just ask for help?
FINE. It takes a village, right? Well, welcome to my village. Care to pull up a rock?
I’m sorry. I’m just sorry, okay? I didn’t mean to cut you off. I really was trying to focus on your face and your words and make eye contact and offer relevant, interesting responses. I promise I have a couple of social skills.
It’s just that I have these two little parasites (that I love insanely). They sometimes knock me off-balance while scaling my legs like rock walls. Sometimes they awkwardly hide under my skirt mid-conversation. They grunt and scream a lot and try to catch my tongue when I talk. They are constantly on the verge of either disaster or meltdown, and I need to be on Red Alert, lest “a scene” be made.
Honestly, having an adult conversation when they are with me makes me sweaty. I feel like a juggling clown. And I’m not tossing around oranges. But something entirely more horrific like flaming swords or small cats or feral monkeys. Multiple objects requiring my undivided attention are being hurled at my face, and I am just trying not to sweat through my unironed shirt or break my tired smile.
Listen. I don’t want to be the mom that is incapable of having conversations because I’m so utterly captivated by all the adorableness of my precious offspring. However, I also don’t want to be the mom that forgets her child exists while out in public and subsequently is ignorant to the fact that my kid just knocked another kid off a scooter and rode off with William Wallace-esque freedom, leaving in her wake a lonely, weeping child. No matter how tempting to let somebody else deal with that mess.
I’m teetering on this line between momma-bear/helicopter-parent and welcome-to-my-adult-time-feel-free-to-discipline-my-child. I don’t think I’ve quite found the balance yet, though.
So let me apologize for all past and future social infractions.
I’m sorry about that time I cut you off in mid let-me-tell-you-my-struggle-right-now when my 2-year-old ran up shouting, “I need to go potty!” We were still in the middle (of a looooong) training and I knew the dribbling had probably already begun. Or that time I forgot your name, even though we’re definitely more than acquaintances because, well, I have no brain cells left. And especially for all the times I said, “I gotta go get these girls down for a nap,” while we were talking because trust me. I was serious. There is no Hell like “it’s nap time, but they are still not asleep Hell.”
Please don’t hear these as excuses. I hate that you think I’m a jerk.
It’s tempting to totally shut myself off from the social world because, honestly, it’s easier when my attention isn’t divided. It’s easier to go to the park and not feel like I’m insulting anyone when I run off to catch my child that is jumping from the ten-foot playscape. I know most people, especially moms, understand. But I still feel guilty.
But here’s an inspired idea. Let’s make a baby-less date and have a REAL conversation, devoid of parasites OR sweet, compliant children. I promise I’m much better at listening when I’m not distracted by the crying and the yanking and the “I HAVE TO GO POO-POO” and the “What’s that smell?” and the “Okay, we really better go.” I know you’re busy and I’m tired and evenings with our husbands are important. But I might go even crazier if I don’t talk about something other than Thomas or Elmo.
So I promise I will make an effort to pay attention to what you are saying when I spot you in the grocery store, if you promise you will forgive me if you have to speak over the screams of the two in my cart that have a thing against stopping.
And in a few years, I’ll be all ears. I’ll have nothing but time to just chat and listen. Please wait for me. Because I like you.
And in the meantime, I promise. I’m not a b. I’m just a mom.