There are some things my children do that really test the limits of my love. Sienna, for instance, is a world-class pouter/stomper/door slammer. She can stick out that lip and stomp off to her room and our friends at the end of the street will hear the door slam. It’s really difficult for me not to fly off the handle when she gets going, but the more I practice (which is, unfortunately, a lot) the better I get at remaining calm while grounding the sh*t out of her.
Charlotte’s thing is picking up. Every afternoon at 3:30, it’s time to pick up the toys. And every afternoon at 3:30, she begins sobbing hysterically and saying, “but it’s hard, Mom! It’s hard for me to pick up!” while flopping around the living room like a dying fish. We tried everything to combat her Victorian fainting spells and histrionics in the face of picking up three frakking toys, but the Ogre finally hit upon the solution. The timer. He’ll set the timer for fifteen minutes and then studiously ignore Charlotte’s hysterics. When the timer goes off, if the living room isn’t picked up, she and Liam get punished. It’s so effective, in fact, that the last few days just the threat of “I’m going to set the timer!” has been enough to propel Charlotte’s rotund little behind into motion and save me the effort of screaming at her like a deranged mental patient.
Liam has been altogether different. He’s generally pretty obedient. I mean, he’s started in with the typical 2-year-old “No!” as an answer to every question, statement and proclamation, but that’s just a 2-year-old being a 2-year-old. Otherwise, he’s a remarkably sweet, good-natured, even-tempered miracle of a child. I love him so much, in fact, that I was beginning to think that with this particular little boy, I would not have to be tested. I could just love him and snuggle him and appreciate him and never ever would there be anything he could do that would make me wish I were the nanny so I could hand the kid off to his parents.
Alas. ‘Twas not to be.
Before I was a mother, I was pretty repulsed by children. They seemed to be these loud, obnoxious little creatures who were constantly dripping some form of goo from their noses and/or mouths, and I couldn’t imagine how a kiss from one of those dirty little mouths could possibly be any kind of reward, let alone one that would make the raising of them worthwhile. I babysat, sure, because it was the only way for a teenage girl in Suburbia to earn a couple dollars, but babysitting was literally the bane of my existence. In all the time I babysat, there was exactly one child that I became even remotely fond of, and he was pre-verbal and mostly slept while I was there. I suspect I was actually a lot more fond of his parents’ satellite dish than I was of the child himself.
But having my own children transformed me into a slightly less grinchy person. I love my own kids. I even like other people’s children sometimes, much to my surprise. And yet, objectively, children can still be pretty gross.
Last week we had this plague of a cold that cursed us all with congestion, coughing, headaches, sore throats, and mucus, mucus, mucus. We went through a whole box of Kleenex in 12 hours. All our noses were red and raw from constant sneezing and blowing and wiping, and we were swilling orange juice and bone broth like nobody’s business. Sienna sneezed once, I think, and then played outside for the rest of the week because she’s basically a superhero. The other two kids alternated fighting and watching movies with a steady, low-level background whine just in case I forgot that they felt horrible. Charlotte is old enough to wipe her own nose and even blow it occasionally, but Liam isn’t there yet, so every time he passed by I had to grab him for a quick swipe. Luckily for most of the week it was just clear, albeit copious, snot.
But then. On Thursday, he really was feeling awful. He didn’t even have the energy to fight with his sister. Mostly he spent the day curled up against me on the couch, sneezing and coughing and occasionally getting his nose wiped. When Sienna gets sick, she keeps playing, she just takes on a slightly more manic aspect. When Charlotte gets sick, she shuts herself in her room and sleeps for hours. When Liam gets sick, he gets overly affectionate. He wants to be held constantly, given endless kisses, and cries when I have to put him down to nurse Lincoln. After a few hours of juggling the two boys, I put Liam down for a nap around noon and he slept for three solid hours.
He woke up crying. Usually he wakes up in a pretty good mood, but today, he woke up and began sobbing hysterically and calling, “Mommy! Mommy!”
I rushed into his room to get him. Instead of standing up in his crib, like he usually does, he was still laying down on his stomach, his face buried in the mattress. The poor kid was covered in sweat and his sheet and blanket were soaked through. I picked him up and immediately panicked.
There, dripping down his nose, were two walrus tusks of snot. Thick, yellow-green twin pillars, stretching from his nose to his upper lip. I had nothing in my hands to wipe them with, and didn’t have time anyway, because my poor little boy was lifting his face up and reaching toward me for a kiss.
It was a moment of reckoning. His adorable little face was streaked with tears, and his eyes were still brimming with them. His chin was trembling, and his chubby arms were locked desperately around my neck. He wanted nothing more, at that moment, than for his mommy to kiss him and hug him and comfort him.
But the snot. The thick, disgusting, neon-bright snot. In a split-second, I ran through my options. I could dodge his kiss, take him to the bathroom, wipe his nose and then kiss him. But I knew how fragile he was at that moment, and I knew that if I refused to kiss him he would be crushed and heartbroken. I could kiss him on the cheek or the forehead, or turn my own head and let him kiss me on the cheek, which might work, but it wasn’t what he wanted, and besides, I would have to obviously maneuver my head away from his little lips. He had no idea that he was dripping snot and making me nauseous. He only knew that he felt horrible and he wanted his mommy to kiss him and make him feel better. In that instant, I knew that this was my trial by fire. With my eldest son, the limit of my love would be tested not by disobedience or door-slamming, but by affection. Could I face my worst, most deep-seated child-related fear and let my snot-covered son kiss me? Did I love him enough to let my own face and possibly even my own lips come into contact with the goo oozing thickly from his nose onto his lips? Could I do it? Would I do it? Would I make the choice, in that moment, to be the mother who braves snot for the sake of her son?
My indecision ended up making the choice for me. As I stood there, plumbing the depths of my love for this child, his face grew steadily nearer my own and he planted a wet, sticky, gooey kiss on my lips, and then slid his face down my cheek to nestle his head against my heck. I held my breath, kept my lips firmly closed, deposited Liam on the couch and bolted to the bathroom to wipe the snot off my lips and cheek with all the toilet paper in the world. I briefly considered disinfecting my face with bleach but settled for soap and scalding hot water.
When I walked back into the living room, Liam was curled up on the couch underneath a blanket. I wiped his nose gently and then sat beside him. He climbed into my lap, wrapped his arms around my neck, looked up at me and said, “Tanks for kiss, Mama.”
Worth it. Definitely worth it.