Yesterday was one of the hard days. It ended with me shouting, “I quit!” standing on the deck where all the neighbors could hear. It was not a shining moment. However, I do have to pat myself on the back for keeping it together for the previous ten hours of insanity. What put me over the edge in the end? Maya, in an effort to wash off the sand that Elliot had dumped on his head, poured water on him, matting the sand into his hair and soaking him beyond all resilience. I had to bathe everyone at 4:30 in the afternoon. There were tears. Some were mine. It was not a fun bath. It was a bath with a mission of getting three bodies clean and deposited in front of the TV before my head exploded. But toddlers scream like they’re being abused if you do something slightly uncomfortable, faster than they like or in an order they find offensive. Marco usually does the bath each night, giving me an hour of time to myself to clean up from dinner. I, apparently, according to the reviews, am “not good at bath.”
We’re in a really difficult zone.
The four year old is still in the throws of the dramatics of tail-end toddlerhood. She’s also not getting the attention she needs or deserves because we’re potty-training to two year old people in the house. This causes increased fits of screaming and crying and panicky tantrums if I leave her at any time anywhere. The Diabolical Duo is smack dab in the midst of their two year long tantrum and protest for injustice. They are professionals. They not how to employ screams and going limp and kicking in order to make the most mundane tasks as difficult as possible. We are cruel masters who change diapers and brush hair. Cruel.
I’ve stopped beating myself up about parenting, mostly. I know I’m not their friend. I at least don’t feel bad when I cause tears for forcing them to do things like brush their teeth or sleep or sit down at the table. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t break me down to tears. It’s not the self doubt that brings tears, it’s the constant struggle. It’s choosing the right thing and dealing with the consequences all day and keeping my resolve. It’s exhausting. I’d rather give in. I’d rather just let them do what they want to do. But, having witnessed choices made by two year olds, I am quite aware that this permissive policy leads to more chaos and even more crying. You don’t win. Because they know you respond to tantrums, so they do it all the more. Believe me, I’ve been there. It’s an appealing choice at first.
I love these precious creatures. That goes without saying. And they’re also at the cutest age where they’re working on expressing their thoughts and trying on phrases to see where they fit. They are grateful, that seems to be working. They say thank you all the time, and that does add a great salve to the open wound of my being. And, despite what it feels like at times, they do play together well a lot of the time. And watching that, being able to be here as the only witness, is a gift I cherish. I try to wrap those moments in memory paper and file them in forgetful-proof boxes. They want so much of me, and that being wanted is satisfying to the same degree that it is exhausting.
I know my stretch at this job is relatively short compared to the length of my life. And I know we don’t remember time in the way we experience it. It will seem a blink when it felt eternal. And it’ll all be gone, these cute little bare-bun moments and quiet little talks waiting on the potty. They won’t want me or need me as much, and that will probably hurt as much as it will liberate.
The advice you get is always to slow down. Be here. And, mostly, that actually does make things better. When you’re really present and not exiting, thinking of everything you should or could be doing or imagining yourself on a beach somewhere or meeting Oprah because she’s in love with your book, you feel better. Yesterday, I sat and painted with Maya during nap time. I had promised her that if she was good during the morning I’d let her skip nap and do a project. I regretted the decision as soon as nap time rolled around and I thought I might fall asleep standing up. But I sat and painted with her. I watched her paint. I thought about how difficult it is to really paint like a child. It’s so hard to get out of your own way. It’s so hard to not have expectations of outcome. It’s hard to be random and shapeless and use too little or too much water or paint. It’s hard to un-know what you know about painting and just go. I tried. But all of mine still had a point or a balance or something that made them too boring. Maya’s one painting that she labored over was bizarre and textured and unplanned and far more interesting.
I want to be in my life. And I know I need to get all these things done. And I know I need fulfillment and self-care in order to give myself to these three as is needed. But I wish I could just let go of my plans, let go of my resistance, let go of my agenda and even let go of my effort to remember and just paint one little brush stroke at a time.
We turned our paintings into lanterns that grace our window (the point of the project). They’re little paper reminders of the glorious perfection of allowing imperfection, being okay with what is. They remind me that sometimes you need a point and sometimes you don't. Either is okay, as long as you get both. It’s hard here and amazing. And I’m happy and sad. I fluctuate between calm and frantic. I’d be happier if I just accept that this is life, ebb and flow. The lanterns are lighting my way. Of course I have to fight to keep the smaller people from destroying them, which makes me sort of hate them as well. And well, isn't that appropriate.