The first time was on the heels of a horrible dream, one of those that should have served to make me unfathomably grateful for the gift of my life.
Instead, by naptime, I was screaming at the top of my lungs. Not shouting. Screaming.
That was bad enough. Worse still was the fact that it happened again three days later. At breakfast. Only this time, I wasn’t screaming. I was wailing, in tears, delivering a Shakespeare-worthy monologue about how I cannot do it all, they have got to help, I set out to clean one thing and by the time I turn around someone’s left one or two more messes. Nobody listens when I talk, I have to issue every single instruction five times per child (and though that sounds like an exaggeration, I’ve counted, and it isn’t), and only when I escalate to shouting does it actually get followed, and look at this horrible mess in the kitchen, that’s been sitting here three days, and look how it’s taken us FOUR DAYS to get the upstairs clean, and I AM NOT YOUR SERVANT! Families help each other! You’ve got to start helping me! And (barely-restrained expletive) why am I even bothering to talk, when the only one who understands me is the one who’s not the problem?
As a parent, you know it’s bad when the madhouse is silent, and everyone’s in the room. When no one will meet your eye. When your seven-year-old starts weeping because he feels so bad for hurting you. I had to sit down and pull him on my lap and have an adult moment with him, explain that life is particularly difficult right now because I’m way overcommitted, and I’m frustrated because the other three are so little that they’re really needy, and there just isn’t enough of me to go around, and I’m really not mad at him, I’m just frustrated.
After that (in)auspicious start to the day, we loaded up and went to cardiology. It was our…let me stop to count…no, I can’t remember, let me go check my calendar…ninth appointment in four days, three of them medical in nature (the rest were lessons, wedding meetings, school evaluations, etc.)
The last time we visited cardiology, it warn’t pretty, and I couldn’t imagine doing it with a needy baby at naptime on top of everything else. So our sitter came to help corral the masses and then followed us home. And, because I knew there was a good chance she’d hear about Mommy’s meltdown from the kids, I thought I’d better give her the, ahem, cliff notes version, the one in which I flipped out because of the mess in the kitchen I haven’t been able to attack all week.
After I confessed, I went to work.
Half an hour later, she poked her head in the office. “I’m going to do the dishes,” she said. “Just because the kids are eating lunch, and I’m not doing anything anyway.”
I nearly cried. But after that act of kindness, things didn’t feel so hopeless anymore. The mountain only looked enormous, not insurmountable.
It’s been a soul-stretching kind of summer. I’ve learned my limits, in a big way. Or maybe I should say, I still don’t know how much I can do, but I know how much I can’t. I’ve tried to make sure the only image my kids have of me is not the one where I’m barricaded behind the computer telling them no, we can’t (fill in the blank), Mommy’s working. We’ve gone on field trips every week, we’ve done some chores…though clearly not enough to stop the slow slide of the house into a state even I can’t stand. It’s been a good summer, in many ways, but this pace can’t be sustained, and that truth informs much of the writing I’m doing now, for my new book on the Beatitudes. Not to mention making me skittish about next year’s editorial calendars.
This summer has been a reality check. Every so often I need a reminder of my own brokenness, my own sinfulness, lest I get complacent. The sick feeling in my stomach during those two meltdowns, the knowledge of the depth of my sin, well, it’s good for me, but not particularly comfortable to face.
Prune me, Lord, because I never want to face that look on my kids’ faces again.