A Theory of Relativity

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From our family portrait session on Sunday: one of the many shots that won’t make the wall, as Nicholas was too busy minding Julianna’s business to be bothered looking at the camera

I remember a day, long ago, when we had a long list of household essentials we needed, and having nothing else to do, Christian and I went out after lunch to run errands. It was a gorgeous day, so we impulsively hopped over to the state park and took a hike. By then it was getting late enough in the afternoon to be thinking about dinner, and we hadn’t gotten anything out at home or even thought about what to make. “Feel like going out to dinner?” one of us asked, and the other one shrugged and said, “Sure!” During the course of dinner, we decided to go see a movie. The upshot of all this spontaneity was that our errand run, which began around 1p.m., turned into a date night lasting until eleven.

Such profligate use of time is my Shangri La now. Parenthood is such a strange bird–children evoke such conflicting reactions. You feel shackled to a routine you can’t escape, and you long for freedom, and yet you know if you had that freedom it would feel unsafe, empty, shallow. Pick any five-minute window during the day and you’re guaranteed to feel within it insurmountable frustration and breathtaking sweetness in quick succession.

On Sunday, the three oldest kids all went to Children’s Liturgy together. Christian was holding Michael, and as the kids left the pew I glanced over at him and found him a full six feet away from me. I scooted down the bench, which felt an oddly conspicuous thing to do, and as I snuggled into his arm for the Liturgy of the Word I looked toward the group of kids preparing to head across the hall. Alex was holding both his little siblings’ hands. Nicholas and Julianna stood half his height–Julianna had maybe two inches on Nicholas, but no more. “Christian,” I whispered, “they do look like twins.”

It was a moment of clarity, illuminating why my life is as chaotic as it is. For the last couple of years, I have focused my sights on this fall as the point at which “the worst would be over.” I knew it would be hard with Julianna lagging so far behind developmentally, shepherding Nicholas through the terrible threes while nursing a baby. But the point at which Julianna went to kindergarten and Nicholas began preschool–I expected a real breath of relief when school started this year. And it hasn’t really worked out that way. In part, it’s because I instituted changes at home–beginning to practice my flute again (however little), attending a class for my own spiritual development, which wipes out one of Nicholas’ school days.

But it’s also because the kids are getting older and having their own activities. Cub Scouts is so much more intensive than I anticipated, and those swim lessons for Julianna–brutal. We quit after one session.

Frankly, these days I think of having one child as a Shangri-La of freedom. And as I contemplate the relative perspective on life of an overwhelmed mother of one and a juggling-it-all-sometimes-successfully-sometimes-not mother of four (Mommy, I’m going poo-poo! Nicholas interrupts me from the bathroom by calling–twice, because you know, good news always gets better with repetition), I’m beginning to wonder if relief from the chaos is only going to come with the onset of the empty nest. To wonder if between now and then, it’s never going to get any better, only worse–that even the school days will never settle down and offer me the freedom to sit still for a while without thinking of the ten dozen things I should be doing instead.

It’s not a thought I find comforting. But maybe I’m overreacting. After all, even with his activities, Alex isn’t high maintenance anymore. Nicholas will reach independence before Julianna, but someday even she will be able to get dressed and go to the bathroom without my help. And maybe, when that Shangri-La day arrives, things will look quite different.

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11 thoughts on “A Theory of Relativity

  1. Kelley

    I totally felt like this last night. I said to Mike, “We didn’t waste a single minute of time after school and we still couldn’t get everything done that is necessary.” How do parents keep their kids fingernails trimmed, homework done, food on the table, activities attended (we only have a few for the kids, but it seems overwhelming) and still have time to just enjoy each other? How do people manage their lives? Seems impossible sometimes.

  2. And then those days will come and you will have so many of them that you will miss the days when you were so busy with those sweet little ones. Mine are all adults now and I do miss those days when they were little.

  3. I think every transition in life brings chaos. Even with kids going back to school, settling into the new routine takes six weeks or so. Once you’ve got it all figured out, you’ll have a spare moment with nothing pressing and you’ll think, “What’s wrong? What am I forgetting? Surely there’s something I have to get done!” I find it funny how EVERYONE thinks they’re crazy busy – including those mothers of one. I guess we all fill our time with as much as we can do, and we all say, “God won’t give me more than I can handle, right?”. Take heart in knowing that He trusts you enough to give you so very much!

  4. My gosh, I have voiced these same concerns to John…that relief will only come when they’re completely gone and then they will be…gone. (imagine the last working echoing). The other day, I was sorting through a pile that had been sitting for a long time. I didn’t realize how long until I came across a series of pictures of my youngest (who will be four in December) taken when he was just a few months old. There was an 8 x 10 collage of pictures and I was sad to realize that I could not…for the life of me…remember having bought that collage. I vaguely remember when it was taken, but that is all.
    Anytime one of the kids does or says something especially funny, I write it down on a piece of paper so I can put it in their baby or school days notebooks. I can think of at least two pieces of paper at my house right now with “kid-isms” written on them. I can’t even find the time to transfer them to the baby books.
    All of this blathering is to say…I totally get what you’re saying, Kate.

    • I “get” it, Jenny…I think the hardest part for me is that the very chaos everyone tells me I’m going to miss is what prevents me from living fully in the moment and really enjoying the stage we’re in. I don’t do well with chaos. I really don’t do well with noise, and there’s So.Much.Noise. I think it’s that sense of having missed out on something that makes people always tell us we’ll miss it when it’s gone, but I haven’t figured out any way to calm the brain and emotions down in the middle of the chaos. When my kids are screaming “Mommy I need” (in whatever dialect they use) I physically *cannot* prevent my brain from shrieking inside. I get frantic. It’s like, in the future we’re going to be nostalgic for the chaos, but the present, the chaos is what keeps us from breathing in and out long enough to enjoy it. It really is like there’s no winning.

      • My oldest (eleven in January) has developed the “feelers” to know when I’m reaching (or have reached) that critical point and has even started admonishing the others when she senses it. On the same token, she will just as easily pounce on me the minute I come in from the garage after work, still loaded down with bags (funny how I always thought it was my flute stuff that kept me loaded down) and start telling me about projects she wants to make. I am happy she’s so enthusiastic and can’t wait to talk to me but, for goodness’ sake…can I put my bags down and go to the bathroom first? Throw in the 7 yr. old who is usually outraged about something the 3 yr. old is doing and the chaos is immediate and intense. I haven’t seen them all day, and I already want them to go downstairs for a bit. I just hate that I feel that way.

  5. Well. after 18 years pregnant or nursing and often both together and 25 years with children 10 and under, for the first time in 34 years, I have time to write and commiserated with you. But guess what? It is the same phenomena as what happens after labour and delivery, I mainly rember the sheer joy of living with little people.

  6. All week the same thought has been weaseling its way into the back of my mind: “I can’t wait till all my kids are in school all day.” Even though I know intellectually that life will not slow down one iota then, it’s my Shangri-La dream as of late. It’s always good to know I’m not alone in half-wishing these years away, half-wanting to cling to them for always.

  7. evanscove

    Maybe I’m crazy to actually want to get married and have children of my own…. But as the song I learned as a child goes, “Boom, boom! Ain’t it great to be crazy!” 😉

    I appreciate more and more what my parents went through raising us. And I’m actually seeing that a parent’s work is never truly done, especially if you have grandkids!

    Thanks for sharing all of this!

    Evan

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