Recent Realizations that Keep Me (Somewhat) Sane

The past few months have been a little wild, what with giving birth to baby number three, starting my time as a stay-at-home mom, and trying to entertain all three kids while school is out. There have been moments, probably daily, when I feel like a mental patient. Or like I somehow mistakenly ended up in a mental hospital, and no one believes me when I try to reasonably explain the mix-up. Or like I would rather be in a mental hospital, because that would be a pretty nice vacation.

Picture this: It’s lunchtime. Ceci has finished her meal and is now pawing at my leg, fingers pasty with macaroni and cheese, yelling Mom-may! Get my milk! in this strange, deep two-year-old voice that she reserves for ordering me around. (Pay with me, mommy! Mom-may! Get my shoes on!) Maggie is shoving her plate off the table because she allegedly “doesn’t like” the meal that she begged me to prepare for her literally fifteen minutes ago. Alex, who is generally a good baby, usually chooses to begin howling just at this moment, apparently agreeing with me that this sucks and that crying is the correct response. I’m standing in the middle of the melee, trying to speak to these people as if they understand logic, my voice becoming more and more desperate as I plead, “Can’t I just finish unloading the dishwasher?”

No. I can’t.

At times like these, when I find myself screaming at everyone to calm down (because that’s effective), I need to stop and give myself a silent two-second pep talk. It goes a little like this:

1. Children are disgusting. If you can remember this simple fact, and if you are strong enough in mind and spirit to accept its perfect truth, you will have a significantly greater chance of maintaining your sanity. The macaroni and cheese residue on your clothes will most likely be the least disgusting thing with which you are soiled today. Changing your clothes or your children’s clothes every time something gets dirty will just become one more thing that makes your life difficult, your laundry pile bigger, one more reason to have to haul an infant or a struggling toddler up and down the stairs and pin them into submission while they express their displeasure at having to remove said clothing. And I mean, my God, what if the new pair of pants you choose for them is “not good”? Leave the mess for now. The mess isn’t going anywhere. And as for unloading the dishwasher, it’s actually kind of nice to let something in this house remain clean for more than five minutes.

2. If the thing stressing you out is the potential judgment of others about the state of your home, the cleanliness of your children, or your own physical appearance, stop. No one cares about these things as much as you do.  If you don’t have a chance to shower because you’re dealing with your smaller fellow mental patients, guess what? In all likelihood, no one will notice. All the other parents at the YMCA or the grocery store or the playground (because let’s admit it, where else do parents go outside of working hours?) are probably wrapped up in their own worries: Is anyone is staring at the gap in my shirt that I just now realized I misbuttoned in my rush to get out of the confines of my house? Is there any conceivable way to fix it without drawing even more attention to myself? or Oh Lord, what is that on my shoe? Is it poop? or I’ll just explain to anyone who comes within twenty feet of me that we’re letting her pick her clothes out herself, because that’s cuter than the truth, which is that these are the only clean clothes remaining in her closet…

So, yeah, get over yourself. People are all way too self-absorbed to look that closely at you, your kids, or your kitchen floor.

3. There’s no point in fighting crazy. These irrational, impulsive, hyperactive small people with whom the Big Man has entrusted you are inevitably going to make you lose your mind. Embrace and accept. Instead of yelling or weeping or whatever you are on the verge of doing, make a conscious choice to be a happy lunatic rather than a raving one. React in a way that will surprise your kids into stopping what they are doing, kind of like how you spray a misbehaving dog in the face with a spray bottle. Bust out a spontaneous dance move, make up a song, pretend you’re the Wicked Witch of the West and chase them up the stairs and into their bedrooms. If you lose your cool, they win. Don’t let them win.

4. You’re actually doing fine. You don’t let them bring baby bottles of Fanta to bed with them. You feed them vegetables at least once a day. They are relatively healthy and happy (maybe not in this moment, but since they seem to have the memory of goldfish, this should blow over pretty quickly). You are not a total failure as a mother. Good job, you!

5. Maybe you are crazy, but you sure do love these little buttheads.


What Freedom Means to a Mom (or Dad)

This Fourth of July weekend has been a bit incongruous for me. Amid talk of liberty, freedom, independence, and whatever other synonyms might be out there, I was at home with three small children while my husband journeyed to Chicago to see the “Treyful Dead” perform. Let me be very clear, this post is not meant to be a diatribe against my husband. I fully support his escape back to his old stomping grounds- in fact, I’m ditching him next weekend for a friend’s wedding, leaving him with all three kids and no boobs for the baby. So we’re even. 

Freedom also means wearing whatever you think looks good…

In the meantime, though, I didn’t feel free at all. I felt tethered. I felt stuck, and I mean that in the most loving way possible. Seriously, where could I have taken three kids ages four and under on the Fourth of July and have any fun at all without someone getting lost or maimed? So we stayed home, mostly inside, and they trailed toys from room to room, followed me around asking, “Mom, what can I do?”, and asked me for a snack about every fifteen minutes. I felt like a huge meanie putting them in bed before the rest of the town was even warming up for fireworks, but 36 hours into my solo weekend, mommy needed a little time to herself (well, with Baby Alex, who basically just nurses, sleeps, and gazes at me adorably). 
My husband’s weekend of freedom was a bit of an eye-opener as I realized how dependent I am on him and the help he provides at home. Mark my words, we are never EVER getting a divorce (and not just because he folds laundry, changes diapers, and makes a mean shrimp and grits). It also led me to come up with my own, revised, Declaration of Independence: Parents Edition. And since I’m not sure what the rules are when it comes to plagiarizing historical documents, here’s where I stole the wording from:
I hold these truths to be self-evident, that all parents are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness… so let’s break those down. 

Life: Parents have the right to have a life that extends beyond their parental responsibilities. They should not lose their identity as spouse, sibling, friend, etc., just because they also happen to have children. This means that the children will occasionally be left with babysitters or shipped off to grandma and grandpa’s house so that said parents can do something decidedly un-parenty like attend a Flaming Lips concert or go to a beer festival or, I don’t know, watch 16 hours straight of “The Walking Dead”. 

Liberty: Parents have the right to saddle the other parent with the kids for an hour or a weekend in order to experience that blessed realization that, wait! I’m not carrying my child’s 20-pound car seat in the crook of my arm! I can walk faster than .05 miles per hour! I can order a coffee at Starbucks without having to explain to my child why she can’t have one too! I’m free, free at last! And since we are all created equal, that means that parents should be equitable in providing this time for one another.  

The Pursuit of Happiness: Parents have the right to do the things that keep them happy and sane. It might be working out, serving on a church committee, taking a photography class, blogging. If there’s something they need to do in order to feel like a person and not just a parent, they have the right to take a little guilt-free time and attention away from their children. And besides, shouldn’t our children see us pursuing our interests and broadening our horizons? Isn’t that the example we want to set? 

I love my kids, and I want to spend time with them, but I find that I am the best version of myself as a mom when given a little freedom. Absence does, after all, make the heart grow fonder. I should know: my oldest two are currently having a sleepover at my in-laws, and words can’t even express how fond I am of them right now.