There are times when the sounds of my children become unbearable, when the five-year-old asks me the same question for the eighth time, when the baby cannot be comforted and the two-year-old dissolves into tears each time her emergent will is thwarted or her whims are not immediately satisfied. I find myself devoid of sympathy, barking Why are you crying? as if their answer, were they able to give me one, would at all diminish my frustration.
There are days when all I want is for my children to play quietly and ask nothing of me, to fetch their own snacks and sippy cups, to wash their hands without being told, to get along with one another and not climb on the furniture and to put on their own damn socks.
I’ve been there, the past week or so. Maybe it’s the rain or the fact that I have a cold I can’t seem to kick. Maybe it’s the six-month-old who was sleeping through the night and now isn’t, or the toddler who wanders into our room at midnight, 3 a.m., 5:30, looking for a lost pacifier or wanting to be covered up. Maybe the loneliness of staying at home is finally setting in. Probably it’s all of these things.
And all the while I know I’m being a joyless witch. I know that my kids are not whinier, snottier, or louder than most; they’re just your average whiny, snotty, loud kids who are often sweet and always amazing. They just want their mom’s attention, and there are days, even though this is what I signed up for when I became a parent, when it all seems like too much.
These are the days when I beat myself up for not being the mom I want to be or the mom I think my children deserve. I’m not a magazine mom with a sense of adventure and a rainy day activity in my back pocket. I don’t have an organizational system that works; my daily routine is flimsier than I’d like. I’m always tired, too matter-of-fact: Stop laughing and put on your shoes!
There have to be millions of moms out there who, like me, exhaust themselves trying to live up to an unattainable ideal. Looking at social media, though, you wouldn’t know it. My feed is full of parental accomplishments: I baked this beautiful cake, I sewed these Halloween costumes, I ran sixteen miles, I redecorated our house. I used to find these posts annoying. Fabulous, the sarcastic voice in my head would say, Now we all know how amazing you are. Good for you.
Now the totally genuine voice in my head says this: Good for you. No sarcasm. We moms (and dads too, I’d bet) are full of self-doubt. Shouldn’t we celebrate the things we are proud of? Don’t we deserve to congratulate ourselves when we do something that, in the scheme of our humdrum lives, feels extraordinary? Every victory, particularly on the roughest of days, has substance. Every success is monumental in its own way -getting the kids in bed ten minutes before their usual bedtime, putting a kick-ass lunch together from the five items in the refrigerator, speaking only kind words to the kid who wants you to lose your cool.
Today my children’s preschool was closed for a holiday. I woke up groggy, my throat burning, my ribs aching from the cough my two-year-old brought home. The forecast was for rain, and by 9 a.m. the backyard was already a marsh. The day would be long, but I needed, more than ever, something to celebrate. The first blanket fort I ever made my kids. A lovely respite from five-year-old boredom won by inviting a friend over to play. A longer than usual nap for the baby and a game of Candy Land with my middle girl. In an hour or so my husband will be home; I will try to have dinner on the table. I try to do my best, and sometimes I fail. But when I am able to count up all of my small successes, I see that they add up to something greater. Suddenly, I don’t feel like such a failure.