My mother had a number of sayings through which she did her best to impart wisdom to me growing up. “Discretion is the better part of valor.” “A word to the wise is sufficient.” And, while perhaps not as elegantly phrased, still masterful advice: “Timing is everything.”
Had I written this post yesterday, I probably would have been able to number my readers by how many concerned mental-health officials showed up at my office throughout the day. Yesterday, the situation seemed dire.
Though, for the record, mental-health officials in Cuba A) would be incredibly difficult for most of you to contact, B) probably don’t care much about the mental state of an American, and C) couldn’t get past the Marine Security Guard to enter our building.
Honey is traveling this week. He’s been gone for over a week, which has meant two full weekends so far, not to mention the fact that the kiddos are on fall break. Togetherness has been the hallmark of Daddy’s absence. Except when I am at work, some child or another has affixed him- or herself to me throughout every day. This weekend, my favorite moment was when I stretched out on the couch to watch a little TV. Einstein plopped down next to my feet, eventually leaning on the blanket I’d thrown over my legs. Ladybug sidled up and tucked herself into the crook of my elbow. Blossom came in to see where everyone was and claimed the spot behind the bend of my knees, slightly displacing her big brother but unwilling to relinquish being in the middle. We sat there for about 20 minutes before anyone skirmished or lost interest. I loved it.
And yet. This has also been a full 11 days of someone on top of me every single waking moment, and a solid percentage of non-waking moments, too. We are not family bed sleepers. Every kiddo gets a personal bed. This rule has worked well for us. When Daddy travels, though, I swear there must be a subliminal magnet for children emanating from his side of the bed. Of the last 10 nights, 8 of them have found me rolled over upon in the middle of the night by a child I didn’t even realize was in the bed until that moment. It is startling, and sleep is a much more elusive animal once I’ve been startled. Or kicked. Or banished by a rolling child to an area approximately the size of one quarter inch greater than my body.
So by Sunday night, I was living out another of my mother’s famous phrases, rarely but notably employed when I was a child: “I have had it!”
Enough with the toy messes in every single room of this house. Enough with every single light on in this house. Enough with no privacy, no time alone, no sleep. Enough with the bored-kid bickering, or the “just came down from the playdate high” blues. Enough with a new cup of water every single time you people are thirsty. (Really. I washed 16 cups on Saturday alone.)
Let me hasten to add that usually, I find my children delightful. Having more time with them is not a chore, it’s a joy. I would soften that with a sarcastic remark like, “At least in theory,” but I can’t. I really do think they are great people.
Einstein turned 13 not long ago, and despite my serious dread of the teen years, he has flipped me completely. All of a sudden, he seems to have become a companion rather than a child. He’s always impressed others with his conversational abilities; this has not come as a surprise. What has changed is the give-and-take we can have as we discuss things now. Einstein seems willing to listen, not just talk – to engage me in conversation.
Blossom remains a wellspring of crafty ideas, imaginary games, and upbeat chatter. She skillfully bridges the gap between Einstein and Ladybug, able to climb on the roof with her brother, but still willing to play stuffed animals with her sister. I cannot keep track of the quantity of vital interests she has: Legos, reading, dolls, sewing, fencing, reality TV, choreography, creating a video game, and above all, time with her friends and family. Her tender little heart can be disguised by a brusque demeanor at times, but that defense is easily pierced.
Ladybug, at 6, has experienced a sudden onset of a new stage in her life as well. She decided she better learn to read now that everyone else in her class can, and she applies herself with a diligence I’d only previously seen employed in avoidance of learning how to read. She can do more things for herself than any of us had previously made her do; yes, we all coddled her as the baby, but now the baby has her own plans and only takes the coddling in the form of cuddling.
Now, in the course of normal family life, there’s room for me to enjoy these fine qualities and do some course correction on, say, less fine aspects of their behavior. Honey adds a steadiness to our household that we sorely miss when he is away, and he attracts his fair share of the kiddos’ attention. School also provides a valuable routine and social network that generally occupies a huge chunk of their days.
But school is out this week, and so is Daddy, and so we lost our place a bit. And by “we,” I mean unequivocally “they.” The last straw came when they used an object of mine as a blunt force instrument. The object they used was not a hammer. You can imagine the results when the object was used in a hammer-like way.
Sunday night, I cracked. It was too much. I had had it. “It” had been thoroughly had by me. I felt unappreciated, unnoticed and overnoticed at the same time, and taken advantage of. I cried. They cried. I sent them to bed. They, of course, did not stay there. It was not our finest hour.
Honey, bless his heart, chose Sunday night to try to pay me a compliment. He sent me a link to a video in which a woman with a nail in her head complains about her feelings to her boyfriend, who tries to fix the problem by suggesting she remove the nail, only to be told, “It’s not about the nail.” He just needs to listen, he is told. Honey’s point was that he liked having learned to listen to me, not fix me. I, of course, saw the stupid woman with a nail in her head and took great offense at the idea that my problems are stupid and easily fixed, but perpetuated by my own refusal to see the truth clearly.
I may have overreacted slightly to all of this. I may have cried myself to sleep. I may have thought all these years building a family have been for naught if people think of my things as hammers and my problems as nails. I may have decided to become a nun in a silent ecclesiastical order. So yesterday may not have been the best day for me to post. Remember my mother’s advice? “Timing is everything.” (Good one, Mom.)
Today, one day closer to Honey’s return, one day removed from the (fortunately) non-binding middle-of-the-night commitment to vows of silence, poverty, and chastity, I can move through the day with ease again. And I recall with a chuckle the other saying my mother regularly employed as we grew up. Only now can I appreciate the restraint, and wellspring of humor, she must have drawn from for this to be her response to so many of our escapades.
“Help, murder, police! Grandma fell in the grease!”