I had forgotten: You have to forgive yourself everything.
My children are having a hard time getting my attention. I feel myself going inward, into my mind, where my blood buzzes, life pumps, where I feel alive, in my thoughts. I try to shake it off and hear M. She's telling me something, volubly, about a lizard. Daddy caught it. It bit him on the hand. M was too scared to catch it because it was so big. I try to stay focused all the way to the end, as she stutters, repeats herself, thinks of words, divides the air with her hands in tiny karate chops - in the way she does - sectioning off the parts of her story, helping me understand exactly what she means. She's very precise. Why would I want to be anywhere else?
But somehow, my mind is straining to escape.
The dishes are piled in the sink from last night's dinner. Shep said he woke up this morning trying to think of ways to motivate me to do them. (He's kidding.) (Sort of.) He says, "You're no Hazel." And I always say, "Who's Hazel?" It's an old tv show, I guess, about someone who kept a nice house. There's no rancor in it, though. I laugh. Before, I was trying to make like I was going to get it together. Now I think we both know it just is what it is - not because I don't love him - I just sometimes leave dishes in the sink over night.
Now, I have moments like this: I pick up S, and she lays her soft, soft face in the crook of my neck and very purposefully, kisses me there. She's proud and happy from doing "school" with me, learning how "L" says "llll" and that "lion, leaves, and ladder" belong, but "kite" doesn't. She even tells Daddy about it later in the car on the way to Nana's. There are definitely times like those.
And there are times when the kids are running around the house like crazy while I type and read and brood. They have to say things three times before I say, "Hm?" I remember my parents being like that. I thought I never would be. They pull all the blankets out and pretend to be caterpillars in cocoons becoming butterflies. (They're very creative.) J stumbles around like a drunken praying mantis - if you can imagine - exploring. When he goes too far out of sight, I investigate. I tell the girls to go make their beds and they just keep playing. As long as they're happy, I let them. But when fighting breaks out, I bring down the law, and there might be yelling. I have to stand over them, gesticulating and threatening to get them to go upstairs and do as they're told. Now J has his hand stuck in the trash can lid. If I wait a few seconds, he gets it out himself. Is this good parenting? It does foster creative, independent play. But I probably should get up before them in the morning instead of letting them get in bed with me and telling them to be quiet while I sleep a few more minutes, then stumbling out after them to make breakfast. Wouldn't it be better to greet them bright and shining in the morning, all dressed like June Cleaver, with a smile and hug and breakfast already made/making? Perhaps. Probably. Pray for me.
Coming back to full-time motherhood from being in the theatre, even just for those two little months, I feel like I've had to start again from the beginning, only this time I don't have one small infant but three lively pre-schoolers. It's like being dropped into an ant's nest. Nothing makes you pissier than when you go from morning to night feeling like a Failure every moment of the day.
I have to remember the fundamental key to motherhood: complete clemency toward yourself in everything. The not-often-disappearing constantly-reappearing trails of clothes and toys and other clutter on tables, floors, and stairs, the constantly-interrupted tasks, the wandering of your mind seeking intellectual stimulation, the glacial pace are not things to be fought against. They aren't distractions from your job; they are your job. Once you embrace this, you stop saying to yourself "I'm a Horrible Mother" every time someone is wailing on the floor at your feet, any time a person is a little late to the bathroom (I'm not talking about myself, by the way), or on the occasions one of your children does a face plant into the sidewalk. It's not your fault. It's not that you aren't organized enough or on top of things enough or safety-conscious enough (though you can improve in all those areas.) It's just life. So bring it on.
I'm loading the dishwasher. There's a busy little baby alternately climbing on the dishwasher door to unload everything I load, and stretching his arms up my leg to beg me to pick him up. I pat his greasy little towhead and run my finger across the soft, soft skin under that perfect little chin just below the scab from where he tumbled into the side of the stairs. He grins at me, and I grin back. He grins bigger, and I grin bigger. He laughs. His laughter sounds hilarious. Well, you know baby laughter. There's nothing better. You can't help laughing back. The music is playing on Pandora - the Hillsong station. Suddenly, I actually know what he's doing. He's asking me to dance. I put one more bowl in the dishwasher, then swing him up to my hip. He puts his tiny hand in mine and we take a turn on the family room rug - due to be vacuumed - but let's not think about that. Let's just groove.