I had already gone over the edge. I was grasping at roots and twigs, white-knuckled hands barely holding on. Then one of the damn dogs came along and peed on my hand. Great. Thank you. You can’t take me down that easily though. I’m still hanging in there. But then the kids came. They towered over me, laughing at my distress. They casually reached down and yanked the scraggly bits I was clinging to out of my hands. I fell, shocked, silent and open-mouthed into the abyss while the twins skipped away giggling, hand in hand, and the baby screeched on and on…
No, that’s not a dream I had. I wish it were that simple. It’s just that any time I try to articulate, even just in my own head, how I’ve been feeling lately, the image of falling over the edge of a cliff is all I can come up with.
They’ve stopped napping. The twins. And she’s started screeching louder than I thought any human being could screech. The baby. And I’ve been yelling. And crying. And saying a lot of things I really shouldn’t say. And it’s been horrible. This isn’t what I signed up for. It isn’t what I wanted. It’s never been this hard. Not when they were newborns, not when we moved when they were only two weeks old, not when the baby was in the NICU for weeks and we had to drive two hours to see her every day. This is so, so hard.
I always knew that I wanted to be a mother. When I was little, I loved playing house in one form or another; I nursed and changed my baby dolls, pushed my Care Bears around in a toy stroller, and lovingly laid them all down to sleep in my bed with me at night. Then I worked as a baby-sitter as soon as I was old enough to be trusted with other people’s children. I worked a summer job at a daycare, I taught preschool, and then I taught high school. As soon as I fell in love with the man who would become my husband, I imagined having children with him.
I have spent my entire life taking care of children or looking forward to having my own. When I finally did have babies of my own, I remember standing in the shower the day after we brought them home from the hospital. My whole body was deflated, puffy, and sore, but I felt so light. I had just given birth to two, perfect, healthy baby girls. It was more than I had ever hoped for. I hadn’t slept in days and my life was turning inside out and upside down, but I was so, so happy. I started sobbing and my husband heard me and rushed in to see what was wrong. All I could say was, “We’re just so lucky. I can’t even believe it. I am the luckiest mom in the entire world.”
That was my introduction to motherhood. You can see why I’m now a bit disillusioned.
Now I cry in the shower but not with grateful happiness. I have so much to be grateful for and happy about, but I can’t get there right now. Every night, I resolve to do better the next day. To have more fun with them, to be more relaxed, to be more patient. But the next day, they greet me with complaints and demands. I try to smile and soldier on. They run away when it’s time to change their clothes. They whine for more food and refuse to eat the food they have. I get them the food they ask for and neglect to feed myself. They push the baby. The baby screams. They run, screaming and spewing spit and hot tears at one another, demanding the release of a toy that they couldn’t have cared less about five minutes ago. They climb on chairs they’re not supposed to climb on to reach things they’re not supposed to have and fall down and cry. They ask for band-aids and different pants and a book that’s upstairs and a toy that’s in the car and more milk and more snack and to listen to music and to watch TV and to play outside and to do a freaking craft. I am no longer capable of smiling. They are so, so tired, but they won’t sleep. If I decide to really work hard on potty training that day, it takes up every second of time and every ounce of my energy. And the house is a mess and so am I. Oh and the baby is still wearing the same pajamas she wore yesterday and all night. And she smells weird. When did she last have a bath? And oh for the love of god, where did they get a safety pin? Is that dried up dog pee by the piano? Oh good. The doorbell’s ringing. Please let it be Jehovah’s Witnesses. What I need right now more than anything is to discuss what magical mysteries may or may not be in store for me in the afterlife. Because this life isn’t challenging enough, thanks.
Every day has moments of joy and moments of anger. Moments of laughter and moments of tears. I know that’s par for the course. I kind of expected that raising kids would be a roller coaster ride. I just didn’t know how much of me they were going to take away. And stomp on. And argue over. And cover with pee.
Until recently, I was doing okay. I would get overwhelmed, and some days were harder than others, but I could usually balance it pretty well. Things have changed. I am being asked to give too much, and it’s killing me.
I used to think that I had the kind of disposition that would lend itself well to being a mother. That I would be able to handle the self-sacrifice that came with motherhood. I always gravitated toward activities and occupations that involved helping and taking care of others. That was absolutely nothing like what I’m dealing with now. Now I know what my limit is, and I need some of myself back.
I know that all parents struggle with two-year-olds. It’s called the terrible twos for a reason. And I don’t want to hear it about three being harder, because there is no way I’m letting that be the case for me. My girls act a lot like three-year-olds right now, so I can only hope (with desperate, feverish passion) that three brings some improvement. And as if two children going through the terrible twos at the same time weren’t bad enough, I went and had a baby on top of it. A baby who is now almost fifteen months old and demanding her place in the world with force and volume.
Also we just made it through Christmas. And while a lot of the season was truly sweet and magical and exciting for the kids and for me, it was also exhausting. It messed up their routine, messed up my ability to get anything done, and messed up my house so much that I wasn’t sure it would ever be the same. So we are all still recovering from that. But still. Every day is a battle. Every day I am just struggling to survive, and I don’t know how much more of this I can take. In fact, just yesterday I slammed down a dish towel and screamed at my husband that I didn’t want to be anyone’s mommy anymore. And even as I said it, I knew I didn’t mean it, but the hot, angry feelings just came exploding out of me.
And finally, like a mocking, sneering troll, jabbing at me to see when I’ll boil over, my hormones, possibly because I recently stopped breastfeeding, are all over the place. I get my period for two weeks, every two weeks. I always either have my period or I have PMS. I know that my moodiness and rage are hard for my family to deal with, but they are truly awful and exhausting for me too.
So this is it. This is blood and sweat and tears. And poop. This is an aching back and cracked heels and a cavity in at least one tooth but no time to go the chiropractor or the spa or the dentist. This is picking up all the books only to see the baby gleefully tossing them over her shoulder the next second. This is yelling at barking dogs and preparing a thousand meals and sighing at your unwashed reflection as you pass the mirror in the hall to answer the door. This is cleaning up a pee accident and going upstairs for clean underwear and coming back down to someone peeing on the potty and wiping a butt and washing hands and putting on underwear and praising her precious and amazing ability to urinate and doling out treats and changing the baby’s diaper and oh there’s poop on her clothes and finding clean clothes from the enormous heap in the laundry room and then coming back downstairs only to step, barefoot, in another pee accident.
This is motherhood. I just never knew it would feel like this.