For weeks after Alex was born, I cried every day. I was hormonal, overwrought, and overwhelmed, and every time someone called and asked, “How are you doing?” the faucets turned on.
When Michael was born, six years later, I cried two dozen times a day for over a week, though that was the NICU’s fault. In fact, the only one of my children whose birth was not accompanied by extended periods of crying was Nicholas. (He was saving all his tear-worthy moments for the age of three.)
I’m not really very far removed from those years, but the feel of our home is very, very different than it was when Alex, and even Julianna, were babies. Specifically, it’s a lot louder, more chaotic. Just when I think things are settling down so we can have a peaceful hour or so as a married couple before bedtime, something erupts again: a child with a bad dream, or a baby with a cold. Someone wanting permission to get up and go to the bathroom.
Tonight, as I type, I am losing my voice again, so I put Julianna and Michael to bed and tasked Alex with reading to Nicholas. And since school’s out for Thanksgiving, I let them stay up. I said goodnight and came downstairs, exhaling the tension of another busy bedtime. And then, Nicholas came out into the hallway, right in front of the room where Michael was trying to sleep off his cold, and shouted, “HEY YOU GUYS, WE AHY WEADING A BOOK!”
I lost my temper.
This little vignette illustrates a truth about myself that makes me squirm. Parenthood has taught me patience and forbearance for the big things, but as the number of children has increased, my tolerance for the little things has grown thin. To handle the witching hour in the late afternoon, the time when children bicker and complain and babies cry while I’m trying to make dinner for the family…to handle that with grace requires a long fuse.
I used to have a long fuse. When there were only a couple of them, I was much closer to the memory of how I had longed for children, and how long I had waited for the gift of their presence in my life.
I still love them fiercely, each and every moment, but it’s so much easier to take them for granted these days, so much harder to hold on to that awareness of them as a gift. It’s that awareness that mitigates frustration and allows me to approach things calmly. These days, the fuse is always short; it never gets a chance to recharge. The baby hurling Tupperware lids and emptying the trash can, the three-year-old tattling on everyone in the house, the developmentally delayed child who puts on a great dramatic show of heartbroken wailing whenever her movie ends, and the mess, mess, mess–word cards and marble run pieces and socks and videos and papers everywhere, the mess I can’t keep up with–and how blasted hard it is to force them to clean it up themselves–the constant chaos wears away every incremental gain in my “fuse” almost immediately.
I feel guilty for even admitting it, because it’s more fodder for the “you have too many %^&* children” argument. The chaos can be beautiful, too. The kids adore each other, and there are blissful periods of respite every day when they chase each other around the upstairs, giggling hysterically. There are wrestling matches and Michael toddling along behind his big siblings with hero-worship shining in his mischief eyes. None of this short-term frustration changes my vision of the essential long-term good of having a “large” family. But the short-term is where we live, and it’s not always easy to look beyond. I feel nostalgic for the days when we could actually get done what needed doing before bedtime, and the hour and a half between their bedtime and ours was open for spousal communication, not hamstrung by dishes and lunch making and fixing whatever darned thing is broken now.
These are inappropriate reflections for the days before Thanksgiving, so I’d like the more experienced moms to weigh in. Surely you’ve been here. How do we (because I’m sure I’m echoing other moms’ sentiments today!) shift our attitudes to a default state of thankfulness, of calm and patience?