Last night I found myself crying in the bathroom. I was tired and overwhelmed and I felt like I just couldn’t do anything right. That, and my five-year-old had just spilled his cup of water onto my laptop (the one I didn’t recently drop and break), so I was prematurely mourning the loss of four little lifetimes’ worth of photos.
(Thank goodness, somehow Old Faithful withstood the spill.)
As I cried, I felt a miserable sort of irony at the scene. Here I was, fresh off a string of admiring “I don’t know how you do it” comments from friends and acquaintances, and the truth was that I’m not actually all that satisfied with how I do it.
“It” being raising four, almost five small kids. Doing the work necessary for their care and for the maintenance of a household and a marriage, all while putting on a smiling face for the world.
I don’t think I’m a wreck; I don’t think I’m a bad mom. I know that my kids are well cared for, that they feel loved, and that on many days, I truly am doing my best. (So please don’t feel like you need to affirm me here.)
But I also know my own heart. I know that I’m selfish and resentful and intolerant, and in some ways I’ve wasted these precious first years of marriage and motherhood by wishing them to be something other than they are.
I’ve resisted the limitations that these beautiful kids have put on me. I’ve railed against my constraints. I’ve reveled in the kisses and hugs and wide-eyed stories, but wished that even they could be limited to set, predictable hours of the day.
I’ve focused on what I don’t have: physical autonomy and a wide-open mental space for ideas and accomplishments and order. Freedom.
(Just now I jumped out of my skin at two boys who were playing too loudly while I was trying to finish this post. Like, “How dare you be kids while I’m trying to think?”)
A few nights ago I had a dream about my old workplace. I was visiting it for some reason, wanting to help out my old colleagues, I think. But underneath the official excuse (whatever it was), I know I was there because I wanted a taste of my old life.
I wanted to be in on interesting things. I wanted to push my mind, not just my physical stamina. I wanted to be around people who make things happen. I wanted to see my accomplishments listed out, easily numbered. I wanted to feel important.
Not that I don’t think I’m doing important things now. I know I am; I feel the awful, awesome weight of this responsibility down to my core. But in the day to day living of it, motherhood’s importance is the kind you can take for granted.
Shuttling groceries in and out of the house doesn’t feel important. Wiping crumbs from under the table doesn’t feel important. Dressing wiggly, screechy little bodies doesn’t feel important. (And forcing them to sit on the potty is downright miserable.)
And so the time passes. You focus on what needs to get done in the here and now, and you can lose sight of why you do it. Children grow quickly, but they grow slowly too.
If we could get glimpses into our futures, of the men and women our children would become, perhaps we would find the drudgery more noble. Perhaps it would be easier to set aside the daydreams of freedom and the memories of what our lives were like before they were tied up (or down) by the next generation. Perhaps it would be more tempting to see these years as precious.
I will admit that I’m not there right now.
Right now, I’m so wistful for space and freedom that I push away kids who want closeness. Right now, I’m made anxious and agitated by the mess, yet I’m unable to keep up the pace necessary to deal with it. Right now, I’m distracted by my own disorganization. Right now, I’m desperate for an active life of the mind, yet I can’t focus well enough to pursue it.
This gig is relentless, and I don’t take too kindly to Relentless.
While I absolutely do not regret giving my entire thirties over to the dishes and the diapers and the dirty laundry that come with having children and caring for them 24/7, I do resent it a little. I miss what else might have been done in these years. (Which is ironic, considering that I spent my entire twenties resenting the things I was doing instead of having children.)
For the first time, I think I understand the desire to pursue career alongside motherhood, or even instead of it. I know that those paths were not for me, but I see their attraction.
Now back to that bathroom, I guess. Last night I cried because my pictures might be gone. And because the kids were too much for me. And because I wasn’t enough for them.
I cried because I never get around to backing up the photos, or even printing them out to display in our home. I cried because I can’t be trusted not to break my computers. I cried because I haven’t had a clear kitchen sink in a week. I cried because my backyard gardens look like jungles and my driveway is growing over with weeds and I never get around to them, either. I cried because I’m behind on getting my kids to do their summer homework and I haven’t taken them to the library in years. (Literally: years.)
I cried because I’ve been feeling uncharacteristically jealous of other moms lately – the ones who print pictures and do yardwork and go to the library. The ones who travel and take their kids to shows. The ones who can count professional accomplishments alongside parental ones.
And then I cried because here I am, crying about overgrown flower beds and summer homework when we might be going to (nuclear) war with North Korea. And an entire generation of Syrian children have been scarred, forever damaged by a war thrust upon them by grown-ups who care more about power than people. And plenty of kids here in our own country go without food and love and stable places to live, let alone trips to the library.
I’m not trying to say that I regret my choices. I love my kids more than I could possibly express. I love my husband and I’m glad to be pursuing this worthwhile work alongside him. I love my life.
But somehow that doesn’t stop me from resenting it a little too. The world is big and our lives are short and there’s only so much we can fit into our day-to-day. I think it’s okay to mourn the stuff we can’t fit, as long as we don’t lose sight of all that we can.
And I know that I need to do a better job of that.