"Parenting requires constant recalibration," my sister-in-law said, passing on a bit of wisdom she gleaned from The Parent's Journal. True, and timely. My internal clock has been seriously out of whack and when I found myself having yet another day in which I just could not line up the pieces to get myself and my kids out of the house for something, anything, I knew it was time for some maintenance.
I have these totally idyllic dreams of bamboo-pole tents in the back yard and fresh bread on the counter, embroidery projects by the fire in the winter, river hikes and canoeing in the summer. I dream of being surrounded by creative, productive pursuits all the time. And while I know I'm totally capable of it, I seem to get overwhelmed and waste time and spin in circles until I'm just grouchy all the time and ordering take-out for the fiftieth night in a row. Seriously, my kitchen is a sad unused place right now. I always wondered what was up with those people who just don't cook, ever, and now I know. It's cool if you do this and you're ok with it. But I'm not ok with it.
Last Friday, I found myself railing against that crunchy creative life, feeling caught in a shame-spiral about how I want to be such a mindful parent, but feel totally tapped out and unable to get enough time (in an uninterrupted block, 2 second snatches aren't useful) to actually, you know, have a thought and complete it and actually put the thought into action. Jess, interrupted. Constantly. It's maddening.
Then I started raging against the life I want for myself, and wishing that all those bread-baking watercolor-painting soap-making creative mothers out there would just toss me a bone and send me some stories about how they can't take another second of the whining toddler, about how they ate nothing but Panera for a month, about feeling stymied and compromising values and all that stuff. I want a poll: what percent of American households are actually eating home-cooked meals at any given time? How shitty a mom am I, really? How many of us spend all day, every day engulfed in clashing wants and needs so that we never actually get anywhere? Show of hands?
To top it off, it was the kind of day when kids are making messes and demanding things all. day. long. There are more of them than there are of me, which means even with them cleaning up some of their own messes, even with a 6 y/o who can make his own sandwich, the work piles on at three times the pace at which I can attack it. Markers on eyelids, scissors finding their way into toddlers' hands, poopy diapers, neighbors stopping in the middle of the road to avoid hitting escaped preschoolers, sidewalk chalk dust up and down the stairs, beading wire wrapped tightly around a kid's wrist, children breaking into the attic, nobody being particularly quiet during quiet time...it just didn't stop. All day.
On this particular day, we also were overdue for a grocery trip, the chicken I had saved for dinner turned out to be spoiled (yay, more takeout), the air conditioning stopped working, and my charming post-third-baby PMS was kicking into high gear. I wanted to get us all out of the house, but I couldn't think of what to do, or how to do it, and this sense of helplessness and futility looped back on all the playdates I hadn't lined up and the party I hadn't planned (for the kid who, really, would be too stressed out by the party, so why plan it at all?), the million and one opportunities we were going to miss because I just can't climb on top of it all long enough to make a plan and get my shit together.
Yeah, time for a recalibration.
So my husband came home and I told him I was taking the following day off. Totally off. As in, I don't wanna see anybody from dawn 'til dusk. Mommy is DONE. He took the kids out immediately, and didn't return home until bedtime. I hosed spilled yogurt (4 y/o) and birdseed (squirrel invaders) off the back porch and then weeded the garden, where I discovered the first beans and peas of the season.
Normally, I would wait to share the first fruits of our garden with one of my children. This time, I ate the first bean all by myself. I don't have to share every first, every joy. Some joys can be just for me. (And I can remind myself that there is abundance - there is enough joy to go around, even if I'm the first to sample it.)
I found a praying mantis on the tarragon, and swallowtail eggs on the dill. The lightning bugs came out and so did my 6 y/o in his shark pajamas and rain boots. By now I was feeling peaceful, healed by my small dose of solitude, the satisfaction of productivity, and the scents of the herbs. I watched him stalk fireflies and inhaled his enthusiasm.
I'm not getting that full day off, due to everybody sleeping poorly in the un-air-conditioned house and having a wonky day, half of which was spent with the A/C guy, Jerry. But now it's quiet again, and I'm working through a stack of magazines and some cookbooks. I'll get on top. I finally put up the whiteboard in the hall that I've been meaning to get to, and jotted notes about things we want to do this summer, projects we want to tackle, a few items we need. Stuff I keep forgetting.
My goal: use this week to GET ON TOP. Recalibrate my sleep habits and my planning habits. Set aside time for the stuff I want to do and for things the kids want to do so that we're not struggling against each other all day long. Make notes about what's really important to us and put that stuff into our daily rhythm.
Anything we want to do can be done.