Tuesday, July 8, 2008

A trail of tears, and motherhood really is hard work.

Anybody who underestimates the job that a mother, who stays home all day long to raise children, does should be shot, by firing squad. No questions asked, no fancy defense lawyers- even if the glove fits, we will not acquit, you know what I'm sayin'?

Today started off as what I would term a "normal" summer day, which means by nine am, chaos reigned in every corner of the house. My oldest daughter was preparing to go cross country to California with my mother on vacation, so in addition to the normal hullabaloo, we had packing dramatics.

First things first, she put all of the clothes she had washed on my bed. With two hours and fifteen minutes left until my mother was coming to pick her up for the airport, she wants to know, "do I have enough shorts?" I begin helping her fold, suggesting she make piles, matching things up- not that she can't, but she wants me to help.

I like this top with your white Capri pants, I say in an even tone.

You think that everything that I have to take is ugly don't you?

Apparently, in the latest version of the teen to English dictionary, the word like actually means hate and find ugly. When I was a teen like meant similar to, but that was a billion years ago. Clearly, I can no longer talk the talk. Since she is preparing to fly half way across the country, I just smile and say, "oh is that what you thought I meant", "no, no dear, I love all of your clothes. As the words slip out of my mouth, I realize those words could set off a ticking nuclear time bomb... and then, all of the sudden, tock. Everything. is. fine.

The thing is, you never know how these things called teenagers will react to certain things, like approval.

As the bewitching hour approached, and it was almost time for her to leave, I had to tell her 3,650,007 times to stop reading her yearbook and get in the shower! I didn't know why she was not doing this. I figured she was just procrastinating and practicing her favorite game of make mom crazy. This summer she is doing particularly well at this game, although her brothers and sisters are gaining on her lead.

My mom rang the door bell, twenty minutes early, of course, and naturally my daughter was not ready. This left the other kids with plenty of time to ask my mother a million times, why they could not go to California? Right as my mother was about to walk off into the sunset, and go to California alone, the oldest emerged from her room and stood at the top of the steps.

It's time to go! My mother says to her from the downstairs hallway.
Come on, I yell, what are you waiting for?
And then it happens- the floodgates open. The little kids are crying because they are not going, and they are going to miss grandma, and now the oldest is crying because she is afraid to fly, and the baby is crying because, she is super tired, but who in the world could ever take a nap in a house like this?
I see the tears in my oldest daughter's eyes and not only can I sympathize, since after all, I haven't been on a plane since early 2004, but I also feel guilty. I know that I have caused this fear. In a lot of ways, I think that I have been a good mom, but in teaching my children to brave and not fearful, maybe I have failed. This makes me sad, and inside, I, too, am a little scared. I think that she will be fine, but, of course, the truth is that you never know. Looking at her tear stained face, I realize that she knows this now. She is no longer the little girl that I can reassure just by laying aside of her and stroking her hair. She understands that the world is a dangerous place; that living is a hazardous occupation; that nothing is ever certain, for sure or forever- and this makes me saddest of all.
As a mother of five, one of the questions that I am asked most frequently is how do you do it? Now that question can be pointed at how I do many different things, but most often, I find that what parents of one or two children mean, when they ask me that question, is how do you not worry yourself to death over all your children? Most recently, I was talking with a friend of mine who is a mother of two boys. She was telling me about all the hospital trips she has made with her sons, and she seemed really to think her situation was fairly unusual. I could sympathize with her, and so I began to tell her my battle stories of er moments with my children. By the time, I was finished, she just looked at me in amazement and said, "I don't know how you are not out of your mind."
The truth is, of course, that most days, I am out of mind with the five kids, but in a good way. I am so busy with all of them that I can't get caught in my own mind and my own thoughts. Gone are the days, when I had one or two, and I would ponder the what ifs for hours and hours on end, until I was truly crazy. Strange as it may sound, having five kids has actually made me a lot more sane, if a lot less sober- if that makes sense?
Today, however, was an exception to the rule. After the oldest left, I didn't have much time to dwell on the sadness I mentioned above. There was lunch to make, and lunch to clean up. There was a nap to be given. Laundry, dishes and dinner needed to be started. The floor needed to be swept, and we were going to attempt a trip to the pool, which meant I had to: shower, shave, remove my toenail polish, what little there is left of it from the pedicure I had nearly two months ago, apply sunscreen, put bathing suits on, wash,dry and fold beach towels, and blow up a set of "swimmies".
Midway through this routine the phone rang, and it was another friend of mine on the phone that I hadn't talked to since school was out of session. It was a simple conversation of catch-up- how's your summer going? what are the kids up to? Are you ready for September?
The baby was sleeping, the boys were, presumably, getting swimsuits on, and Isabelle was dressed appropriately, as usual because she actually likes to change her clothes, when all of the sudden, and yet again, the water started to rise.
I am still on the phone when I hear the boys come crashing down the steps. They are both screaming, but I am not alarmed, initially. This happens, at least, three times a day. As the younger one opens his mouth, I figure that he is about to tell me how his older brother teased or hurt him, but instead the words, Checkers died, come out of his mouth.
I'm sorry, I tell my friend, but I have to go.
The two of you who read this blog may remember my story of Jeff the frog and how he met his demise earlier this spring. That was sad, but the death of Checkers was catastrophic. Checkers, our found baby snapper turtle, was a real pet.
My older son, who is ten, is very philosophical and also somewhat of a pessimist,and again I am to blame for both of these things, and so again I feel guilty. This turtle was "his". He found it at the creek- its mother was dead next to it, and he brought it home a couple of months ago to save it. I knew that he really liked it, but I didn't know to what extent he loved this animal.
As he and his brother sobbed uncontrollably, I did, however, begin to understand. "Checkers was like my best friend, I could tell him all of my secrets", he said, in broken breaths.
It reminded me of the summer when my cat Pumpkin died, right after she gave birth to a litter of six kittens. She didn't die in child birth, but on her first trip back outside after having her kittens, she got hit by a car crossing the road. I loved that cat. I used to lay her down to sleep at night in a little cat bed and she would stay. I bought her with my own money that I had made at my mom's yard sale.
The morning after she was killed by a car, I knew nothing of her death. I was outside calling her, because I knew that she must be around somewhere. My dad soon came and told me the news. Both my brother and I were so sad. My mom's reaction was that she was "just a cat". Needless to say, this did not make me feel better. When a child's pet dies, I think that they mourn not just the loss of that life, but the loss of life in general. They mourn what it means to be mortal; they appreciate for real what death means, and they come to understand that all of life's surprises are not sweet.
I thought of all of this as I watched my son bury his tiny turtle tonight. I wanted to pull him away as he held it up to his face. The germs, ughhhh!!!! but I knew it was more important to let him have his moment. I let him lay with me tonight, and I tried to cheer him up. We watched a movie in my bed and I even let him drink a Sprite- but nothing made him smile. "I think I'm going to be depressed for a while, mom", he said.
Any moment now, my daughter will land safely in California, and I know that she will have a great vacation. Some time tomorrow, my son will laugh, in spite of himself, at some ridiculous cartoon, or bodily function, or quite possibly, at his brother or sister. We will all go on from this day, and maybe even forget it. Tonight, however, I realize, that as my children grow up and realize the truth about this world and this life, they will feel sorrow and pain and sadness that I will not be able to heal. Even the noise of five kids can not distract me from this reality.

Motherhood becomes a lot tougher when mommy can't just make it all better. It as if some of my magic is wearing away, and all I have left to give is my wish, that if I could, I would, make everything better, always and forever-and I hope that is enough. And I hope that tomorrow is a better day, and that I lose my mind again in the chaos of raising children so that I don't really go crazy.


Anonymous said...

wow. what a beautiful, powerful and moving story. Thank you.

Mrs. Tantrum said...

I am sending you a big hug. For you, and for the boys. You are a wonderful mom, friend, storyteller, and person. Those five kids are going to be amazing when we get into the White House!

Amy said...

I'm sorry about Checkers. Truly. And good for you with five kids. I am one of those ones with two that wonders how you do it. Your daughter will have an awesome time. It's nice your Mom is taking her. My daughter is 10, I will be checking in with you, looking for clues as we move into "those" years.

Manager Mom said...

Oh... that is very poignant. I am still at the cusp of mine at the age where I can still make things better with a kiss...I wish I could hold onto this age forever.

Robin said...

What a beautiful post. My older child is just moving into the age where I can't just make it all better anymore and sometimes it's really hard. Much harder on me than on him.