You know that scene in Cinderella where she’s in the kitchen trying to get things ready for the day, and on the wall there’s this collection of bells ringing incessantly, signaling that people who are depending on her (mostly because they’re lazy) need things? Every morning, my kitchen fills with its own chorus of little bells, too, except those bells are walking around in the form of two 3-year-olds, a 5-year-old, a 6-year-old and an 8-year-old, and I can’t just simply leave the room to get away from their clanging, because they have legs and will follow me to the edge of the world without asking any questions about where I’m going.
“Mama!” the 5-year-old will say in the whiniest voice I’ve ever heard (and that’s saying a lot, because I’ve really cleaned up my act.). “I can’t find my shoes.”
He’s not even out of bed yet, so I’m pretty sure he hasn’t even attempted “looking,” which I put in quotations because “looking” for a 5-year-old consists of sometimes seeing what’s right in front of his face, sometimes not. He tripped over one of those missing shoes, and he still hasn’t found them.
His bell is followed closely by one of the twins saying, “Mama, my brudder beat me down the stairs.” If only I could turn back time.
This is followed, almost in the same breath, by his twin brother saying, “Mama, I firsty. I need milk, Mama. Mama, I need milk. I firsty, Mama,” without even the slightest pause so that I can let him know that his milk is already on the table if he would just “look.”
“Where’s my blue folder?” the 8-year-old will ask, even though I’m not the one in charge of his blue folder, and there’s a designated place for it, and I can see it sticking out from that designated place right this very minute.
“Oh! I forgot (fill in the blank),” the 6-year-old says on a regular basis. Usually that fill-in-the-blank looks something like forgetting that he’s VIP student this week and he needs to bring a poster with pictures of himself and his family on it so that all the other students will know who he is and what he wants to be when he grows up. Or he forgets that he’s supposed to have his book club book finished, and he still has 75 pages to read. Or he forgets that there was a birthday party he was invited to this weekend, and he didn’t get to go, and how can we possibly keep track of all this? (To be fair, some of this isn’t even his fault; it’s our fault for failing at school. I haven’t signed a folder in weeks. Sorry, teachers.)
Get me a drink, I hungry, I can’t find my shoes, where’s my library book, please hold me just because, help me, carry me, push in my chair, where’s my folder, sign my papers, I’m cold, I’m hot, I’m hungry, I need my vitamins, bring me my blanket, where’s my backpack, can you turn on the light, I need more toilet paper, I want more, more, more.
With all these children and all their constant demands, sometimes I start feeling a little like Cinderella, except I’m a mama—Cinder-Mama. It’s like the fairy tale I always wanted, except it’s not. Motherhood has begun to feel like servitude, and I’m desperately searching for that slipper.
Brush my hair, wash me off, wipe my bottom, what’s 10 plus 10, I want my coloring book, the baby’s getting into the crayons, button my pants, tie my shoes, help me up, kiss this hurt, when’s dinner, can we go to the store because I have $2 to spend, I need a snack, I can’t open the toothpaste, aw, man, it’s the minty toothpaste, I like the strawberry toothpaste, what are you doing, are going to the bathroom, you don’t have a penis, where does your peepee come out.
Motherhood is intrinsically demanding, and there is something inherent in a mama that hears a need and wants to meet it, desperately, right that minute. But the thing is, if I try to meet every single need in my house, I will go a little crazy.
Because one minute the 5-year-old will need someone to show him how to tie his shoes, again, and at the same time, the 6-year-old will want help pouring the milk, because it’s a new gallon, and I’m really thankful that he’s asking because the last thing I want is a whole gallon of milk dumped out onto the floor. But there’s no way in the world that I can be in two places at one time, and so one of those needs is going to have to remain unmet until I can manage it.
I tried to be in two places at once one time, and I ended up feeling resentful and angry that they would ask me to do so many things at the same time even though there was only one of me and six of them. So I had to take a step back. I had to breathe. I had to say it was OK that I couldn’t meet every single need the first time they asked, or even the fifth time they asked, or ever, sometimes (they did, after all, wish they could have gone to that party they missed. I was Cinder-Mama, not Fairy God-Mama). It was good for them to learn how to wait. It was good for them to learn to do things for themselves. It was good for them to realize they were fully capable of doing what I could do.
So they started tying their own shoes, because they figured out they could do hard things. They started pouring their own milk, even if it was a brand new gallon, because they knew they had permission to screw up and spill, as long as they cleaned it up. They started writing their own events on a calendar and waiting to be hugged and kissed and taking responsibility for their own backpacks and shoes and school folders.
They don’t always remember, of course. There are mornings when it still sounds like there are shrieking bells wrapped around my ankles. There are days they forget “Mama” is not synonymous with “servant,” but they are learning, day by day by day, that they are fully capable of handling the world on their own.
No more Cinder-Mama—except for my indescribable beauty, of course.