Today is Monday. And not only is it a Monday, it’s also the first Monday of my Christmas vacation, which means you and I are staying home together all day.
On the one hand, I am incredibly thankful for the fact that I can now do this without my anxiety following me around all the time, shouting at me like a toddler amped up on sugar. On the other hand, I’ve got a real-life toddler (that would be you) following me around all the time, shouting like she’s amped up on sugar. (Bananas, not cookies. I tend to forget bananas are like nature’s version of Chip’s Ahoy. Also, you’re obsessed with them.)
The first part of the day is truly wonderful. And that’s not hyperbole (although we know I’m a big fan). We get up around eight a.m., have breakfast together (bananas DUH), and then spend close to an hour in your room pretending to make soup with your new play dishes, giggling as we taste-teste from empty spoons. I love your imagination. I love that I can actually see your little brain (HYPERBOLE) making connections between my silly, over-exaggerated expressions and the fake vegetables in your hand. Your eyes tilt at the corners and you turn your head just so, pausing to gauge my words with a mixture of delight and disbelief on your face. And then you join right in, scooping up a generous helping of air before pressing the spoon to your lips, adding a tiny slurp just for good measure.
After snack time (Greek yogurt), you play in your room a little longer while I attempt to drink my coffee hot and read from The Jesus Storybook Bible. Normally, you like to hear me read aloud, but today you're having none of it. You pat the floor over and over and say my name a hundred times (NOT HYPERBOLE), repeated invitations for me to sit with you and participate in whatever game you have going at the moment. I’ll admit that sometimes my phone gets in the way of paying attention. I hate that. I hate when people do it. I especially hate when parents do it, but I’m just as guilty. Sometimes I hide my phone behind the blanket so you can’t see that my eyes are glued to a screen. I don’t know if this is more for you or for me. With every Instagram photo of a perfectly poised mother and toddler, there’s a study saying we’re causing irreparable harm to our children by having screens in their faces all the time. Your Dad and I recently decided to stop posting recognizable photos of you online, for both privacy and safety reasons, and while no longer thinking about whether or not I’ve got the “perfect” picture to share is nice (and necessary), I’m still addicted to that digital square. But the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem, so at least I’ve got that going for me.
Still, I don’t want to spend all my time with you thinking about the next moment, or what some other mother is doing with her toddler, or why my dinners don’t look as refreshing and colorful as wondermom87’s. I’m going to look sideways and you’ll be grown up. I want to be here. So I’m trying, Lucy. I’ll put the phone away now. Keep bringing me spoons and I’ll keep making imaginary soup.
After lunch (I’ve already forgotten), you go down easily for a nap. I think for sure that you’ll be out for two hours, considering how hard we played and how quickly you fell asleep, but just as I’m getting settled into my To-Do list, you wake up. No worries. Things are still going well. I grab some lunch for myself at Chick-Fil-A and then we come home, where you watch a half-hour of television and I have a few quiet moments to enjoy my meal.
And then I get the bright idea to take you along with me on my errands. In the rain. Just before the witching hour.
What could go wrong?
Lucy, you’ve always been a dream kiddo. You love being around people, you don’t throw tantrums, and you’re pretty flexible when we have to adjust your schedule. So, naturally, I assume we’ll go print out a few pictures at Target and pick up some cheap frames from The Dollar Tree, and you’ll just stare at all the people and bright shiny things, simply content to be outside the four walls of our house.
Well, I'm wrong.
It’s certainly not the first time.
First, the photo kiosk at Target becomes possessed by the devil and refuses to connect to Wifi so I can upload my photos. And then, halfway through making edits, the connection shuts down and I have to start all over. Okay, okay. No big deal. Frustrating, but not the end of the world. All the while, I hear you right next to me saying, “Mama!”
For awhile, I shut you out and run on autopilot, simultaneously handing you books with one hand whilst trying to operate the most complicated photo printer in the developed world in order to create a minimalist gallery wall in our soon-to-be-purged living room. Because these are my goals for the new year, Lucy: to trim our life of stuff. But, first, I need to buy more stuff.
Finally, the photos print and they’re beautiful and I’m happy, so we set off towards The Dollar Tree (it’s raining harder now) in search of those cheap frames I mentioned (because paying $18 per frame is highway robbery when all anyone’s going to do is look at them…I’m all for the minimalist ideal of buying quality over quantity, but this is where I draw the line). After we arrive and you are safely stowed in the dirty cart seat - which I personally believe exists primarily to build your immune system - we find the frames quickly. You’re being obstinate, begging for completely unnecessary plastic swords and leftover Santa Claus ornaments because - as an American - capitalism is largely ingrained in your DNA. But we’re out of there fast and on our way back home before your toddler whines turn into fully-grown screams. You don't like the song that's playing in the car, but we're home before you have a chance to make a whole thing of it.
It’s still raining when I pull into the driveway, and I hurry to the front door, locking the car behind me because who knows what psycho lurks in the bushes by our door in broad daylight, waiting for an unsuspecting mother to leave her kid in the car for two seconds? I unlock the door, turn off the alarm, and drop our bags onto the floor. Then I hurry back to the car (chill out, snowflake, you were in my line of sight the entire time) and remove you from the carseat in record time. As we run to the house, you hold your hands over your head and say, “‘Ain! ‘Ain!” I groan inwardly as I realize I’ve somehow managed to teach you that water falling from the sky will make you melt. Or maybe it was all those Daniel Tiger episodes. Did I feed you too many preservatives at lunch? No, it was most definitely Daniel Tiger.
I settle you into your high chair (wooden, because VINTAGE and also because WE DO NOT KEEP BPA IN THIS HOUSE) and slice up an entirely basic Oscar Meyer hot dog (I can only keep up with so many mommy trends) for your snack. Then I spread out the frames and get to trimming photos. With the scissors from our utensil drawer. The scissors that are meant for cutting meat. Sometimes you just work with whatever you got. Besides, it’s not like this is going on Instagram.
At this point, Lucy, it should be noted that my blood pressure has risen a few points and I’ve got some strain going on in my upper shoulders. You don’t know anything about that because your body is basically made of rubber at this stage of development, but one day you will understand. The truth is I’m trying to accomplish too much in an environment that is not conducive to hobbies or crafts or decorating. But instead of taking a break and just stepping away for a single second, I keep going. I am a mother and MOTHERS DO NOT TAKE BREAKS. We keep going until our precious ones have had a full day of positive, intentional training and age-appropriate stimulation. We keep going until the house looks like it belongs on a Pinterest board. We are all the things, all the time. Anything less is simply unacceptable.
My phone dings once, twice, three times in a row because my little sister has not learned how to write everything in one single text, and all the while you’re whining because you are strapped into your chair with no hope of escape and snack time has been over for five minutes. And I’m still trimming away while the soundtrack of an anxiety attack plays over my head. I sigh. And then I sigh again. I admonish you to wait and be patient while I finish this one little thing, but you could give less than two whole shits about gallery walls.
You care about freedom. All I care about is silence.
Which I why I choose this precise moment to stomp my foot and scream.
I’ve had enough, Lucy Jane. I’ve had it UP TO HERE. On their own, none of the things we have going on - not the phone dinging or the photo trimming or the toddler begging to be cut loose from her high chair - would stress me out. But I’m tired and my clothes are still damp from carting you back and forth in the rain and I’m on sensory overload. I can’t take anything else for one more second.
I put my head down into my hands and stomp my foot three times on the hardwood floor. It hurts. My ankle gets pissed at me for treating it thus and sends shockwaves up my ankle and into my calf. What kind of response does this provoke in me? Anger. And more frustration. You have had enough of that damn chair and your little toddler brain says, “This is a good time to shout. She’s obviously not hearing you.” And when you do, I turn - wearing an expression that’s somewhere between Linda Blair and Jack Torrance - and whisper scream, the words coming out in a ugly hiss, “Would you just SHUT UP?!”
Your eyes widen in fear and my heart sinks to the floor. We both start to cry.
I scoop you out of the blasted high chair and carry you to the couch, your arms wrapped tightly around my neck, your cries piercing my shame like a sharp blade. We sit together like that, crying in alternating pitches of familial despair, until you take notice of my shaking shoulders. Tears still streaming down both our faces, you sit up, take one look at my face, and kiss me. A tender gesture of toddler grace that grieves my world-weary mama soul and makes me lift my head in gratitude for the gift of being your mother. You kiss me again and then hug my neck. I cry some more.
“Mama?” you ask, your voice clear and sweet, like a bell.
“Mama is so sorry,” I say, signing the word, a fist rotating between breasts where my heart is presently broken. “So sorry.”
You hold my face in your hands and look into my eyes. I could swear I see Jesus. Who else would embrace the one who hurt them?
“Sometimes mamas lose it and act like assholes, baby. Please forgive me.” I sign again, and you clamber down, the whole fiasco forgotten.
I let you sit with me when we go back to the table. I show you how to cut and how to hold the paper and how to put the backs on the frames. And all the while my brain is churning over the what-ifs, the phone I wanted to throw but didn’t, the scissors that were lying next to it, the fear of what could have happened if I’d grabbed them without looking. The messy human gunk that clogs the mind after even the simplest of parenting failures. The lies that feed the fear which tells us we’re not good enough, we’ll never be good enough…when all the while you kiss and forgive and move on, evidence that, yes, YES, we are good enough. Yes, He is good enough. Yes, there is grace for all.
And, later, when you look up at me, stomp your foot, and ask, “Mama?” in confirmation of how I lost it, I laugh and say, “Yes, baby, thanks for the reminder.”