On Thankfulness and Chaos, Stream-of-Consciousness style


Parenthood (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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?

8 thoughts on “On Thankfulness and Chaos, Stream-of-Consciousness style

  1. I want to say something profound and insightful, but I will say this 1. time to recharge without the children, was always helpful for me. 2. This too shall pass, so don’t beat yourself up about it. 3. try to make the good of everyday outweigh the bad,

  2. I get what you’re saying about the little things building up and causing you to lose patience. But as a mom of 5, I have to say…it is okay if you are not perfect in this area. And sometimes, though it’s not ideal, it can be beneficial for your children to suffer a little bit because, it’s (dare I say) good for them. They have to understand that life is not always about them every second of every day. I know that takes a bit from their innocence. I know it makes us mommies feel bad when it happens. But when you have four or more children, it’s just going to be part of it. I noticed within a few months of having #5 that I was yelling an awful lot at my kids. I made a conscious effort on that end, but the yelling hasn’t ceased completely. Part of that is because I have a preteen daughter and she needs to “feel my wrath” every once in awhile. I mean, as the kids get older, you have much more limited options when it comes to discoursing with them and punishing them.

    Anyway, cut yourself a break. These moments are most likely not the bulk of their (or your) existence. They are sticking out to you because you have probably, like many of us, idealized how you want to handle everything with your kid. You want to be the patient, loving mom who never lost her temper. Perhaps you remember your own mother that way. But if you were to really comb your memories, there were probably times when your mom yelled incessantly (maybe you have blocked it out, LOL). I hope I don’t sound condescending, but I remember going through a similar gamut of feelings over the past few years and I always end up at the same conclusion: I do the best I can, and I’m human. Anger isn’t perfect, but it is a valid emotion and sometimes it’s important to express it (appropriately, of course…and I think as long as abusive language isn’t a huge part of the yelling, you’re probably expressing appropriately).

    One final thought. The first year maybe even 2 years of a baby’s life are kind of chaotic in general. Add in three older children and it’s just going to be a bit harder to keep up with. I’m learning it is that way even with 5 (and now on my way to 6) and while I expect myself to grow and get better, I do give myself a break every now and then and remember that my mother wasn’t the epitome of the Virgin Mary, either. Not that it’s OKAY…but that, it’s bound to happen and I’ll try harder next time.

    Longer than I intended

  3. Moonshadow

    The “you have too many children argument” – sheesh, my own young children have mentioned that to me on occasion! 🙂 When I forget things or get things mixed up between them.

    I can relate to the mess. I just don’t have the wits left to sort through it. Deciding what to keep and what to toss because I can’t keep everything. What to pack away as keepsakes and what to display.

    I do catch myself fantasizing about the coming “empty nest” years now and again. But I’d settle for the time when the kids are old enough to clean up after themselves consistently but young enough to still live at home. Which, in this economy, may extend well into my retirement years! LOL

  4. I am a grandmother, and when my children were young I “lost it” more often than I care to admit. I have no wise words, no “answers,” but I do remember seemingly ENDLESS chaotic, frantic times. What is amazing, however, is that my grown children don’t seem to remember those the same way I do. From what they tell me, they remember more of the good times than the wild ones. They recall (fondly) the-time-we-went-to-the-aquarium and bedtime stories and gathering seashells, while I’m continually remembering the day I shouted angrily at child number two in the car (who has no recollection whatsoever of the event). I think God must cover their minds with a coating of love… 🙂

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