When Things Fall Apart

(Sometimes it pays to just give up.)

Today was the only day this week when we didn’t have to be up and at ‘em, out and about, busy. And it was a lovely day to be inside: dark, cool, and drizzly. So I milked it.

Once the flurry of breakfast happenings had been gotten through, I cracked some windows in the kitchen, turned on the radio, and sat down at the table with my cup of coffee. I sorted through the near-avalanche of magazines and papers on my side table. I re-organized my stash of paper plates and plastic utensils, which had been strewn throughout my kitchen and dining room for most of the summer. I cleaned the disgusting top of my refrigerator. I took out the trash and the recycling. I put random things in their places.

The baby alternated between napping, sitting happily in his high chair with a few toys, and taking his bottles. His big brothers played (mostly) quietly and happily, and watched just a couple of their favorite shows. There weren’t many fights. There wasn’t much fuss. It was such a good sort of day: peaceful, quiet, and productive.

Until it wasn’t.

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He said that they were going to a tool meeting, where they would be fixing stuff.

A little after 4pm, I pulled the carrots and celery out of the ‘fridge and put the chicken on the stove. I started the washing and the chopping that should have gotten me well on my way to some homemade chicken pot pies.

But then one boy peed all over the bathroom and I had to clean it up. I had to direct him upstairs to wash his hands while I cleaned the bathroom. I had to tell him that if he was too tired to walk upstairs, then he’d better just go to bed. I had to deal with the other boy, who was unhappy about not needing to wash his hands too.

I had to direct the first boy back upstairs to find clean shorts. “No, not those. Those are your brother’s. Yours are on the left. The left. This one is the left.” (He’s learning.)

The baby was fussing, so I had to make him a bottle and sit down to feed it to him.

I had to intervene upstairs when one boy hit the other with a (toy) hammer. I had to intervene again, when somebody did who-knows-what to somebody else. I had to send the first somebody to bed and then call him back out again to appease his brother/victim, who wanted his playmate back.

I had to check on the chicken, but I didn’t anticipate all the steam that would come from the pot once I removed its lid, so I burnt my arm. I ran cool water over it for a while, then I wrapped a towel around an ice pack and used it whenever I could. It sat there on the counter, next to the cutting board with fewer cut vegetables on it than there should have been.

I had to take at least three phone calls.

I had to change a couple of diapers.

I had to deal with the boys again: they were chasing and screeching underfoot, their faces right next to the baby’s. No longer able to deal with interruptions with anything like grace, I yelled at them for bringing their crazy into the kitchen when “I NEED TO MAKE DINNER!”

Finally – 1.5 hours, one pot of chicken, six carrots, four stalks of celery, one onion, and one burnt arm into dinner prep – I gave up.

“That’s it! I give up!” I actually said out-loud. I probably even threw my hands up in the air.

I put plastic wrap over the vegetables and chicken, stuffed them into the ‘fridge, and pulled out some leftovers. I made plates for the boys and sat them in front of “The Cat In The Hat (Knows A Lot About That)” to eat their dinners in the mesmerizing glow of the television. I heated up my own and sat down to eat in front of my laptop, my arm resting on its ice pack.

And you know what? It was absolutely the best thing I could have done.

There was a time when I would have pushed through, no matter what. I would have kept on yelling and rushing and complaining and working so hard to get it all done that I made everyone miserable. I would have put dinner on the table at 8:30 at night and felt a mixture of exasperation and guilt about little boys who fell asleep in their plates. I would have lost my appetite from the stress of it all and cried at the dishes left in the sink.

But tonight, I decided to cut my losses. Tonight’s thwarted dinner became tomorrow’s dinner prep. We each enjoyed our own separate, relaxing dinners rather than suffering through a family meal that would have been late and stressful.

“Giving up” is usually far from the ideal thing to do, but when you’re a perfectionist learning how to deal with the imperfections of family life, sometimes it can be just right.

4 thoughts on “When Things Fall Apart

  1. I had a similarly shaped day yesterday … I ended up putting an inconsolable baby in his crib for half an hour while I got a quiche in the oven (he DID need sleep but it wasn’t happening). There have been many times when I’ve just stopped dinner prep until my husband got home, though! What an intense time of life. 🙂

    • I know! I keep apologizing to the baby, saying “I’m sorry, Sweetie, but sometimes you just have to cry.” There’s so much triage work when you’ve got several really little ones around!

      I thought of you the other day when I went to the grocery store. A woman stopped me and looked at all three boys crammed into my cart and said: “You have the hardest job in the world. The hardest job. I had twin boys when I already had a two-year-old. The hardest job.” I thought, “Hmm… who do I know of who had twin boys while she already had a toddler?” 😉

  2. This post is so, so good!! I love that you chose to give up – something so hard to do sometimes. And, in reality, you actually didn’t give up at all. Way to go, momma! I need to take your advice!

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