Everything was going along just fine…the baby slept in his swing for two whole hours, during which time I got some reading done and played “Pretend Safari” with the girls. I got one whole load of laundry folded and sort of put away and managed to both pick up our bedroom and make the bed. The rest of the house still looked like a tornado hit it, but hey, baby steps.
Then, one hour after the Ogre got home…bam. Headache.
Yeah, I’ve still been having those dreadful headaches. They seem to have decreased in frequency but not in intensity, and since I’m in the process of switching insurance I haven’t been able to see a doctor about them, nor do I have any meds to take when they get bad. And they get really, really bad.
The thing about me is that when I’m in pain, so is everyone else. The Ogre is wonderful at keeping all discomfort, annoyance, and sadness to himself. If he’s ever stricken by a cold or just general ennui, you’d never know. His silences are, perhaps, a little more dour, but otherwise he’s just as loving, caring, considerate, and playful as ever.
I, on the other hand, seem to think that everyone needs to be just as miserable as I am.
I’ve really struggled with this and prayed a lot about it and spent lots of time in the confessional hashing it all out, and believe me when I say that after three years the improvement is…very slight. But it’s better than nothing.
Anyhow, I managed to keep it together until the girls were asleep and Liam began his nighttime cranky fussing that generally signals bedtime. So I got up to go to bed and then…I just lost it.
I didn’t want to take the baby to bed with me. I wanted to be able to lay down by myself, without a baby or a toddler or a four year old, and just sleep in silence. Alone. As soon as that thought crossed my mind, I realized that I also didn’t want to live in this tiny apartment with three kids, with no family and few friends nearby. It was like the floodgates opened. Everything about our life suddenly seemed miserable and unbearable, but instead of calmly washing my face and going to bed and letting sleep take care of the headache and the despair, I turned around and let the Ogre have it.
I let him know, in no uncertain terms, exactly how I felt about this whole “living in poverty while he finishes his dissertation so that in the future we’ll have some sort of job security (maybe)” business. I let him know that even though he agonizes daily over the decisions we’ve made and the financial straits we’re in, it wasn’t good enough for me. No sir. I had had it. Because, after all, we’re living in a tiny apartment in an unfamiliar town with nothing. Nothing! I even had the audacity to say that I was so, so tired of trying so hard to do the right thing (namely: NFP and the like) and having nothing to show for it. Nothing!
At this point, my wonderful, funny, patient, long-suffering husband took three steps backward to avoid the lightning. Then he turned the baby boy in his arms to face me and said, “This is nothing?”
I LOVE the man I married.
At that moment, though, I hated him. Because I knew he was right.
So I did what any mature 26-year-old mother of three would do: I turned on my heel and stomped all the way down the hallway to our bedroom, where I shut the door a little harder than necessary and flopped down in bed. And to further get revenge on my sensible husband, I picked up Harry Potter instead of the book I should be reading.
This is how lucky I got when I married the Ogre: he kept the baby for three hours. Three glorious hours, during which I read and slept and snored completely, blissfully alone. And I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that the baby was hungry and fussy during those three hours, because he never goes three hours without eating.
Also, the Ogre told me he was fussy the next morning. In fact, I think those were the first words he said to me.
Nevertheless, it was a wonderful night’s sleep. And you would think, after that, I would have awoken with some gratitude on my shoulder instead of the enormous chip that had been there. But I didn’t.
The next morning was September 11. I sat at the computer early in the morning, reading the news posts about the stupid Koran-burning, the stupid Ground Zero mosque, and the terrible tragedy that happened nine years ago. I sat there and thought about what I would do if the four most wonderful people in my life, all this “nothing” that I “was sick of”, were suddenly gone. I made myself feel exceptionally guilty about my tantrum the night before and promised myself that it wouldn’t happen again, ever.
At that exact moment the girls, who had been playing quietly in the living room, suddenly burst out into a cacophony of squealing, shouting and hitting which immediately awoke the peacefully sleeping baby who also joined in the auditory fun. I decided that it was time to get Daddy up to lend a hand, walked down the hallway to the bedroom, and tripped over his shoes that were in the middle of the floor. As soon as I hit the ground my phone rang and someone knocked on the door. It was ridiculous.
I got up and picked up the screaming baby while shaking the Ogre and pleading with him to get out of bed. Then I abandoned those attempts for the moment, answered the door (no one there), answered the phone (telemarketer) and separated the girls. I thought that perhaps the Ogre would be more amenable to waking up if I made him some coffee, so I put the baby (who immediately started screaming) down, put on a pot of coffee, and separated the girls again. This time I also took away all their toys so they had nothing to fight over and told them to play quietly together without toys. I thought this was a wise solution at the time. I know better now.
No sooner had I picked the baby up and returned to the bedroom to tell the Ogre that there was coffee and ask if he could please get up and hold the baby so I could make breakfast than the youngest girl bit the oldest girl, who retaliated by picking up and dropping the youngest girl, who retaliated by screaming bloody murder at the oldest girl, who retaliated by yelling “Mommy! Charlotte bit me! I’m going to give her a spanking!” So I stopped shaking the Ogre, put the baby (who immediately started screaming) down, and went to separate the girls. Again. But I didn’t make it very far before I tripped over the Ogre’s shoes, which were still in the middle of the bedroom.
Then I lost it.
It was like “Tantrum Rerun in HD,” and given that this was what the Ogre woke up to, he was pretty upset. But not as upset as I was.
After we spent most of the morning yelling at each other I stomped off to the study with the screaming baby to consider in silence how unfair my life was. The Ogre stomped outside with no baby to consider in silence how unfair his wife was. The girls voluntarily took naps early.
After about an hour of silence, the Ogre came into the study and we had a rational, calm discussion. I’m not really going to give you the ins and outs of said discussion because you’re probably not that interested. Actually, I’m kind of amazed if you’re still reading this post at all.
But I digress. It occurred to both of us that we spend too much time online, on our phones, letting the girls watch movies, etc., and that we tended to get really irritated if our blogging/reading online/watching Netflix/whatever else time was interrupted for whatever reason. It reminded me a lot, actually, of a conversation I had with a great African priest once. He told me that my family is like a lake, and if I continually take water from the lake without putting any back, the lake will soon run dry.
So that afternoon we packed the kids up and went for a long walk to the park, where we played hopscotch, blew bubbles and just generally hung out together.
It was a great afternoon. I felt more at peace with myself and my family after that than I have in a while.
After the park we went to Trader Joe’s. Usually Trader Joe’s is a wonderful experience; all the staff know us by name (not kidding; I like grocery shopping) and usually take the girls and let them run around or give them candy so I can get the shopping done. But on this day, they were really busy and the baby was getting cranky, so we decided to just swoop through quickly and get what we needed. Unfortunately, this did not happen.
Charlotte insisted on wandering down the aisles looking behind her, which resulted in lots of people having to stop to avoid running over her. I was trying to shop and soothe the baby, and the Ogre was trying to fend off Sienna’s relentless barrage of “can I can I can I can I?” while keeping tabs on wandering Charlotte.
The problem is, the people she wandered in front of weren’t very friendly.
I’ve heard a lot of mothers with many children claim that people seem to hate them just for having lots of kids. I, personally, had never experienced this until that shopping trip. Even people Charlotte wasn’t wandering in front of shook their heads at me in irritation as she passed by. Everyone near me in the produce section stopped selecting fruits and vegetables to stare in annoyance at me and Liam, who was grunting and giving off a little wail every few minutes. When Sienna passed a lady with a dog in her shopping cart, Sienna said, “What a cute little dog!” The lady glared at Sienna and said, in the rudest tone I’ve ever heard anyone use, “It’s a service dog.” Sienna said, “May I pet him please?” and I jumped in, explaining to Sienna that dogs used for service can’t be distracted by petting but this did not appease grumpy lady, who glared at us and stood stock-still in the middle of the aisle until we all went around her. When we came around the corner a few aisles later and ran into her again, she made a big, huffy show of turning her cart around and leaving the aisle to avoid us. When we were checking out, the Ogre was bagging the groceries and paying while I was sitting on a bench with Sienna, Charlotte and Liam. Charlotte climbed off the bench and went over to the Ogre, but characteristically she walked while looking backward at us. She managed to sort of wander right in front of a very tall man, who, instead of going around her, stood still, glaring at her, as she ran into his shins. I was calling for her to come back or pay attention the whole time, and when she fell and began to cry he stepped over her and re-directed his glare to me. Then he and his wife grabbed their groceries, shaking their heads and meanly muttering about uncontrollable children as they walked past me. Mind you, this is the little girl who was called “uncontrollable” and who was apparently not worth moving aside for:
Not a fun trip. We finally made it home, and during the whole ten-minute car trip the Ogre and I had fits of indignation about how rude all those people were to our children. But it wasn’t until we got the girls fed and in bed and I sat down to write this blog post that I realized something.
The way those people treated my children, children they don’t know and have no interest in or concern for, is frighteningly similar to the way I treat them sometimes. How many times have I gotten irritated at Charlotte for running into me, standing right behind me, or stepping on my feet? How many times have I snapped at Sienna for doing something that she honestly didn’t understand she wasn’t supposed to do? How many times have I sighed heavily and thrown my hands up when Liam starts crying? And if that grocery trip had happened on any normal day instead of a day when the Ogre and I had started to re-assess the way we treat our kids, would we have been so indignant?
I’m not really sure what the moral of this post is supposed to be, but I do know that trying to guilt myself into treating my family better doesn’t work. Trying to imagine how horrible I would feel if something bad happened to them doesn’t actually make me value them any more. What does make me value them more and treat them better is simply the act itself. Getting down on the floor with the girls. Laughing when they laugh. Listening to a story the Ogre has told a million times as if it’s brand new. Asking about his day and then actually hearing the response. Singing to Liam when he’s upset, instead of just trying to quiet him down. Going to the park or having a picnic instead of watching a movie or blogging. These are the things that I remember, that my kids will remember, that will make five biologically connected people into five people connected by something much greater. These are the things that keep our lake full.