I love kids. I always wanted kids. Yet, every day it seems I ask myself, “Am I really cut out for this?”
I started babysitting at 11, was a camp counselor as a teenager, volunteered in the church nursery in my 20s and was even a nanny for a stint in Ireland, so I know all about changing diapers, giving baths, making babyfood and bottles, playing games, calling time outs, and all that stuff. But it’s the bigger stuff, the life training stuff, that really throws me curves with my own kids. Like I said to Frank just yesterday, with any other job, if you’ve tried your absolute best and still failed, the world won’t stop turning. But with your kids, if you’ve tried your hardest and failed, that’s not good enough. Frank says everyone has frustrations and stresses with life, and kids, and he’s right – but sometimes I wonder if “everyone” has better coping mechanisms than I do?
It’s Saturday morning, just before 7 a.m. Evelyn has woken me up (and subsequently, Shea, too) with a cheerful, “Good morning!” I get up and go about turning on cartoons and getting her breakfast. Shea is grouchy and smells sort of sour behind the ears, like he spit up during the night. He was whinging all night long anyway, probably too hot sleeping in the bed between Frank and me. I rearrange dirty dishes in the kitchen and find some clean ones so I can bring Evelyn her cereal, milk and juice. She is drawing at the coffee table and politely says, “Bank you Mummy!” I put Shea down so he can crawl while I check my email. He crawls over to Evelyn and pulls a piece of her drawing paper off the coffee table – of course the piece of paper her breakfast was sitting on. So cereal, milk, paper, all over the carpet, wet and stinky and soaking in. I get cross at Evelyn for not watching Shea, even though I know I should have been watching them both. I call the dog to clean up the first layer of mess, then I come in with towels and cleaner to try and soak up the rest of the milk. Throughout my cleaning, I have to keep moving Shea so he won’t crawl into the mess he just made and I scold Evelyn for not playing with him as a distraction. When the mess is sort of clean, I put Shea in his high chair and proceed to toasting some bagels for our breakfast. I look over and he does his beamy chin-in-the-air smile at me while eating something he found stuck to his high chair. I thought I cleaned it last night??? I wait for his bagel to cool and hand it to him. He throws it on the floor. I scold him, pick it up and examine it for dog hairs, in which it is covered. Guess Georgie gets to eat his breakfast, too. I pull the shade on the kitchen window and sit with Shea to watch the sun rise. And even in this sweet moment, I sort of want to restart the day. Actually, I feel like I’m not ready to begin the day at all. But there is no mountain of covers big enough to hide me from my needy, lovely, children.
Frank is asleep – not sure when he got in, but probably sometime between 4 and 6 a.m. He works long night shifts and sleeps all morning in return. It’s always interesting trying to keep Evelyn’s imaginative games to a low volume. I will wake him up around 11: 30 because I have to be at Starbucks for work at 12. Then, at 5, I will leave work and come straight home so I can drive him to work for 5:30. Then, home again, for an evening of dinner, baths and bed with the kids. It’s only like this a couple nights a week. I’m mostly a stay at home mom, but our income still needs that little boost from having me work 10 – 15 hrs a week serving coffee to East side cops, doctors, and school run moms. Meanwhile, I’m trying to do more freelance writing on the side, and have had a few things published already this year, but it is very difficult to find the quiet time and energy to do my assignments properly.
So most days, it’s trying to stay on top of the normal household routine – dishes, laundry, cleaning, cleaning, cleaning, diapers, tantrums, preschool, letting Daddy sleep, grocery shopping, making dinner, making babyfood, family outings, clipping coupons, and letting family and friends sporadically know I am still alive. It always seems, though, that right when I finally feel like I’ve almost caught up on all of the above, that something goes awry. Shea gets a cold and doesn’t sleep. The car or the washing machine break, or the drains back up, or we get hit with a snowstorm. More often than not, it’s Evelyn and her BIG POO.
I know, you probably don’t want to hear about it. You can skip this paragraph if you want. But Evelyn has, since she was not even a year old, had problems with Number 2. She holds it in for days and days at a time (I think her record was 11 days without going) and it gets very painful and gross and she is in a horrible mood until she goes. Yesterday (and the day before) was one of those spans of time when she hasn’t gone in several days and the whole house is in chaos. We’ve been dealing with this for a long time, and have spoken to doctors and tried to work with her on it. She’s had some good periods of time where she’s going almost normally. But then something changes, maybe life changes, and she regresses. We go through dozens of pairs of dirty underwear and I feel like I’m cleaning up poop all. the. time. I hate poop. It is the bane of my life, truly. But I know it’s completely awful for her, too. We give her gentle laxatives, and, if necessary, suppositories, to relieve her. But it’s not really addressing the bigger problem, which is her hiding in a corner, clenched and shaking, holding in her bowels until they’re the size of… well, plantains.
Evelyn is extremely picky as well, which does not help. Even after doing all I could to start her out right on homemade, diverse babyfoods, Evelyn’s preferences have narrowed significantly. Now, at 4 years of age, she will not eat a single fruit or vegetable in its natural state. She’s gotten better about trying things, thank God, but still will not actually eat a strawberry or a green bean. We can get some things into her by way of pancakes, fruit purees, and pasta sauce, but that’s about it. Food is such an issue! And it’s really stressful when mealtimes roll around. Again, we’ve tried multiple strategies, read books, etc. but keep just hoping and praying this is a stage and that positive reinforcement will win the day. Meanwhile, her recent trip to the doctor revealed that she is low on iron and slightly underweight. While the Dr. was kind and friendly, it still left me reeling with guilt over the fact that my child is not getting what she needs and is suffering because of it. And no chance on her taking her iron medicine – she freaked. (To be fair, it is totally nasty.)
As I have been writing all this, Shea has gotten sick again and it looks like he’s rolled all over the dog and filled his hands with her fur. I’m wondering if it’s a tummy bug now, or just normal baby spit-up. I change his clothes and his nappy and realize he has diarrhea as well – yup, my guess is tummy bug. I really should be more vigilant about wiping down shopping carts before I put him in the seat. That’s really his only exposure to other kids, aside from my very occasional trips to the Y. Darn. I make a mental note to see if Frank can get a lift to work tonight form his coworker.
While Evelyn stresses us out with her poo and picky habits, Shea stresses us out with his high activity levels (crawling and climbing everywhere!) and his poor sleep patterns. I will hold my hands up and admit his sleep is mostly my fault. Evelyn was never allowed to sleep in our bed, except when she was a tiny newborn, but Shea sleeps in our bed most of the time. He has a crib he uses for naptime, and he always falls asleep in there at night, too, but he does not stay there. It is out of pure exhaustion (aka laziness) and many cold nights in our bedroom that I almost always give in and let the little guy snuggle into me for the remainder of the night. The problem is, he’s not so little anymore. He’s nearly 1, and kicks, squirms, grumbles and pulls at my top for snacks all night long. So even if I go to bed at 10:30 and get up at 6:30, it is questionable how much sleep I actually get. I’m guessing not much. Again, we’re working on this – books, advice, etc. have all been taken into account. I just need to be strong enough to get through a few nights of him screaming nonstop for me. This is hard because he’s in our bedroom, and Frank really needs his sleep, too. If I put him in Evelyn’s bedroom, he’d keep her awake. And putting the crib in the living room cancels out the much-needed naptime. But I know I need to be consistent and just do this.
It’s now just after 10 a.m. and I’ve lost count of the interruptions to this post. Thank goodness for “save draft.” Shea is under my legs at the desk (How many times will he hit his head before he cries? sake, Shea…) and Evelyn is watching the Justice League on TV while I try to explain to her I can’t answer all her questions about superheroes. She will have to wait until Daddy gets up for that. “And for the love will you please stop jumping on the couch?” I say a little too loudly, as the poor piece of furniture groans and sags a bit more under her rambunctious little legs.
I love my kids, though parts of this may look like I’m having a pity party here. And I am a selfish person, I know it. I look in the mirror at my crooked glasses and six inches of grey roots and wonder when and if I will ever feel like myself again. But I really do love them. They amaze me. How can anyone be so incredibly cute and annoying at the same time? They remind me of the good in the world, and the beauty in simple moments, and of innocence and purity and wonder. They also remind me of how flawed we are as human beings, how selfish and hurtful. As many days as I spend feeling blessed, I spend an equal number feeling like a used tissue (except my kids prefer not to use tissues, God help them). I know the broader picture is that we’re all children of God, and we all treat Him/Her like crap most of the time and yet we’re loved unconditionally. But, in case you missed it, I’m not God. I sin and screw up and fail at this every single day.
What do you think when you’re reading this? I’ll bet some of you want to recommend me books or methods on sleeping or eating or poo problems. Some of you might think I’m not strict enough, while others might say I’m too hard on my babes. And maybe, a few of you are thinking, “She’s a horrible person. She shouldn’t be a mom.” Well, that’s what I think sometimes, too. Especially when I think of people who can’t have kids and really want them and deserve them. Maybe they should have had my kids. But then my heart pangs at the thought, and I realize I was made to be Evey and Sheas’ mom, for better or worse. I guess that’s the only answer I have – I love them. And loving them means I keep getting up (earlier and earlier, it seems), to live out each day with them, as long as they’re in my care. I guess being a mom when I don’t feel I have the energy or qualifications is what is really important. Being there. Loving them. And tearfully admitting defeat, to them, myself, Frank and God, when it comes. And defeat comes a lot more than I had ever imagined.
So that’s the story. I don’t have any inspiring thoughts to leave you with or post in a meme on Facebook. I just have me, and what’s true for us. And parenting, its rewards and trials, is the hardest job I’ve ever hard. And damn scary.