The middle one of my three turned four-years-old on Monday. Ellie and I have been counting down for weeks; we built a paper chain, had the birthday list written out, invited friends over to help celebrate, did all of the things to anticipate a birthday such as this with all of the right fanfare.
The night before The Big Day, I’m sound asleep, 2:37 in the morning, and I hear Brennan at my bedside say “Mom? My tummy is being funny right now. I think I need to throw up.”
It’s a fascinating thing, the human brain, that I can go from dead asleep in the dead of night to flat-out running a Kindergartner through the master bedroom with such speed in order to make it to the toilet on time. We do indeed get to the bathroom on time and blessing of blessings, it’s a false alarm.
Now that I’m awake, though, I’m in my zone. I pull her hair into a bun, rub her back and kiss her head as her body heaves, willing something to just get out already, whisper that Mama’s here and Mama’s with you and that’s right baby girl, you can do this. I’ve sprung into action and bring her water and a towel and a bowl and we crawl up in my bed together, just in case, scratching her back just the way she likes.
We go through several more false alarms, and with each one I whisper up a silent prayer of gratitude, knowing if she ever actually threw up, she’d have to stay home from school the next day and Ellie’s birthday festivities would be canceled and no friends would be at our house at 4:00pm to help me sing her Happy Birthday.
Well Brennan was sick and sick she did get and I wake in the morning and send out the sad text that the sickness has struck us again and thanks for wanting to celebrate Ellie, but we’ll have to do our own thing for the one who just turned four.
So here we are, the four of us girls, all home, one sick, not able to go anywhere or have anyone over and it’s up to me to make this birthday special still, special somehow.
I knew I had to be present and be a fun mom and make the day special the best way I could and do all of her favorite things packed into one twelve-hour period, I just knew it. It was her birthday, I had to make it count.
I, of course, felt the added pressure of Lane being gone- the double whammy of birthday let-downs. Dad’s deployed and sister’s sick and birthday party canceled and wah-wah, so sorry baby girl, looks like it’s a bummer of a year. I just couldn’t fold clothes and organize the garage and batch cook some freezer meals and scrub the kitchen floor and catch up on that phone call and get things done, I just could not allow myself to multi-task on her, not today.
Most days you know, that’s the way. Most days, I’m cruising through that check-list, battling against the clock for how much one mama to three babies can get done within the sunlit hours. Workout: Check. Get them to activities: Check. Clean bathrooms: Double check. Read and research and respond and clean and fold and bathe and organize and buy the groceries for the third time this week: Check.
She asks me to color with her or asks me to read or asks me to do her doll’s hair and my gut is: Nuisance, nuisance, nuisance. In my way, taking up my time, taking me away from all of the other things I could be accomplishing.
I think they sense that.
I’ve been yelling more lately than I ever have been. Oh, it’s so easy to justify it away: It’s the sleep deprivation and the husband that’s gone and the stress and the constant needs that are so constant and they’re in my way and they’re so messy and they’re so loud and of course you’re going to snap every now and then. Of course you’re done by bedtime, by the time morning comes, they’re not going to remember your final words to them through gritted teeth were “Go. To. SLEEEEEEP!”
And then I slammed the door. I swore I would never be a mom who slams the door.
Sometimes I don’t yell though, too. Those times, they know me well enough by now that I might as well be yelling at them with the damage I inflict. They sense my disappointment in my sighs, they hear it in my deep breath or my short words. I see Brennan try to overcompensate for me, walking on eggshells, trying to please and help with the baby and clean up because Mama’s about to snap.
And so here we are, the birthday girl and the birthday gone awry, and I couldn’t take them anywhere and or have anyone over and it’s up to me to make this birthday special still, special somehow, and I had made a vow with myself that she was going to be my focus this day; my new four-year-old deserved that much, at least.
I couldn’t fill the hours with tasks and I couldn’t do chores and I couldn’t put them in front of the tv all day long so I eventually realize that I will have to play with them.
Playing is hard. Playing is boring. I catch myself checking my phone every five minutes until I fling it across the room so it’s not a temptation. I had declared this to be a day that I would loosen up and loosen the reigns and be with my girls and be with my girls I shall.
The day that I was forced to let go of my agenda, I learned that my kids weren’t the nuisance I thought they were- they were actually a joy.
– We deemed Ellie as the “Declarer of Special O’Clock” and as the ruler with such an important title, anytime she wanted it to be Special O’Clock, she told us so and told us just what to do: Dance, eat a donut, listen to our favorite song, dream up something with her silly imagination.
– We had a safari in our living room, scouting out stuffed animals, watching nature unfold before us.
– We wrestled and had an hour-long bubble bath and they rode on my back and we played Adele as loud as she could sing and ate fifteen donuts all day long because we could.
The day I spent with my children- actually with my children, mind you- I noticed things I hadn’t yet seen:
– Mae has learned how to say “I did that.” Quite an appropriate first sentence for the wildest of all wild babies.
– Ellie’s hair is getting longer.
– Brennan is brave enough now to jump off the stairs from three steps up.
The atmosphere didn’t feel so toxic that day. I didn’t feel so tightly wound that day. We laughed. I enjoyed my babies, more and more as the day went on, surprisingly.
Here’s what I learned: I can totally choose to enjoy my kids. I thought I just had to be stressed always, be accomplishing always, be marking off the checklist, doing things, earning my worth. But then I learned it doesn’t have to be that way- there’s this whole other way to live: The way that speaks love and encourages their souls and revels in everyday ordinary simplicity and that’s fine and that’s enough, thank you very much.
I learned there are souls to raise and spirits to tend to and little babies who don’t quite know their place in the world yet and need someone to show it to them. There are little ones who want nothing more than their mama to get down on the floor with them and not be distracted and just be with them and it’s exactly as simple as it sounds. This is how our children will learn that they are valued, that they are worthwhile, that they are loved. They need to be taught creativity and imagination and how to do a cartwheel and how to jump off of a rock and land with both feet and that sometimes C’s and S’s are tricky because they can sound the same. How bout we be the ones to show them?
I am neither a hero nor a victim- I am simply a mama doing my best to raise my three babies and most days not feeling like my best is good enough. Absolutely it doesn’t require an all-day investment every single day. Maybe 15 minutes? Surely we can do 15 minutes.
Our babies will know we love them by the ways we tell them.
But also, and probably louder- our babies will know we love them by the ways we show them.
This is the most inconvenient thing of all- Love doesn’t let us stay still, love always compels us forward, it asks us to move toward each other. Love always requires a cost, it requires us to be selfless and giving and sacrificial and creative and put their needs above our own and sometimes put down the dish rag so that we can read Brown Bear for the millionth time.
Let’s be mama’s who love anyway.
Our babies will notice, their spirits will soar.
And ours will too.