A few weeks ago I got a text from my sister, who had her third baby in February. The text said, “Tell me you have days when you just can’t handle it. When walking out of the house is all you can do to survive. I just need to hear it from another human.”
I laughed out loud, even though I knew she was dead serious. And in my head were responses like “every damn day” and “just this morning” and “on a minute-by-minute basis.”
Parenting is hard. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and I used to run 6 miles every morning in 10,000-pound humidity before commuting an hour to downtown’s Houston Chronicle office. I used to marathon-train on 10 miles of hills, pushing a double baby stroller that carried a 4-year-old and a 3-year-old. I used to work for a narcissist.
Parenting is still the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
There are so many hours of my day that I just feel like giving up and hitch-hiking to downtown San Antonio’s Riverwalk, where my husband and I had a life before children—a life that didn’t include a panic attack every time a kid steps too close to the edge of the path and I imagine having to jump into that dirty black water to save him.
Like the morning last week, when the 3-year-old twins went outside into our very safe (normally) backyard while I transferred a load of laundry from the washing machine to the dryer. Two minutes, tops. That’s all it took. By the time I finished, one of the twins had come back inside, and the whole house smelled like gasoline.
“Why does the house smell like gasoline?” I said, to no one in particular. The twin looked at me. I looked at him. He had his guilty eyes on.
“What were you doing out there?” I said.
“Nuffing,” he said.
I knew it was definitely something, because of those guilty eyes. A mom always knows, after all.
His twin brother came in smelling like a gas pump, so I looked out on the deck, where they didn’t even have the foresight to hide what they’d been doing. There, on a deck chair, was their daddy’s gas can used to fill up the lawn mower the three times a year he mows. That gas can is stored behind a locked door. A locked and sealed door that somehow, somehow, these Dennis the Menaces had cracked open in less than 2 minutes.
They poured gasoline (less than half a gallon, for those who are concerned) all over the back deck, the grass and themselves. It’s a good thing no one in my house smokes, because we all would have been blown to high heaven.
I put them both in the bath (which was not on the schedule for the morning) while the baby stayed downstairs in his jumper seat wailing because he doesn’t like to be alone, and washed them, rinsed them, scrubbed them, rinsed them and washed them again. My husband sprayed off the deck (which also wasn’t on the schedule for the morning) and saturated all the grass, because a Texas summer hits 4,000 degrees, and we were afraid the sun might make the gasoline-drenched grass spontaneously combust and blow us all to high heaven anyway.
That morning was one of those give-up days, because there’s no way to be one step ahead in my house. There’s no way I can fully toddler-proof every room. There’s no way I can keep them out of every single thing they find to amuse themselves. It would take 23 of me.
That morning I wanted to walk out and let them fend for themselves in gasoline-scented clothes that spread their stench all over the house in less than 2 seconds.
I used to feel guilty when feelings like this crept up. I used to beat myself up for sometimes wishing that they just weren’t twins, that there weren’t two of them all the dang time, that they weren’t so insatiably curious and 3-years-old and nearly impossible to parent right now.
But there is something important I’ve learned in my years of parenting: Just because there are moments when we want to run away, when we want to flat-out give up, when we want to trade our kids for easier kids for just this little moment in time so we can catch up and learn to appreciate them again, it doesn’t mean that we don’t still love them with a love that is never-ending.
These little, irrational humans can be the best and worst people we know on any given day, at any given moment.
There are days when I want to sit down and color next to my 3-year-olds, because they’ve just been playing so well together and the morning’s disasters have been minimal, and, gosh, I just love them so much, and then there are mornings when I want to put them on the Craigslist free page. (I’d have to lie to really sell the idea, though. Something like “Two well behaved twins, of undetermined age.” Because what kind of crazy person would want two 3-year-olds voluntarily?)
There are hours when I love to comb through those old picture albums that show these two hooked up to machines because they were premature, and remember how I fretted and cried and tried my best to help them learn how to eat, and there are days when those first moments feel like entire lifetimes apart from this moment, when they stuck their whole arm in the just-used toilet to see what poop floating in pee feels like. (They already know. We’ve done this drill before.)
There are minutes when I pull them into my lap and kiss all over their faces until they’re giggling uncontrollably, because they’re getting so big and so fun, and then there are minutes when I’m half-heartedly holding their big brother away from them so he doesn’t clobber them for marking all over his journal with a giant red permanent marker they found lying around somewhere. (Who keeps giving us permanent markers? Please stop.)
Parenting is not for the weak. This is the hardest responsibility we will ever have in our lives. Raising another human being to be a decent person is not easy, and there are many times along our journeys when we will feel like giving up and giving in and giving out.
It just comes with the territory.
So I fire off my response to my sweet sister. “Yes,” I say. “Just about every day. Doesn’t mean you’re a bad mother.”
Because it doesn’t.
These moments when we feel the tension between wanting to give up and knowing we can’t make us stronger parents. They make us better people. They drag us into a deeper understanding of love.
Good thing, too. Because my toddler just figured out how to open a can of paint my husband left unguarded and now the pantry wall has a Thermal Spring–colored scribble-masterpiece drying on it.
I’m going to be one amazing person by the time this is all over.