I heard the screaming outside—I always hear screaming—but I knew it wasn’t the result of pain or anger, so I ignored it. Then I heard the banging. WTF? It was 7:45 AM and I was still rushing in and out of the house, grabbing backpacks, swim gear, lunchboxes, and the mess of things I needed for the day. I have three kids, a 7-year-old and 5-year-old twins, and it takes multiple trips to load the van. It also takes multiple reminders, threats, and decibel levels of my voice yelling at any and all of them to just put on their effing shoes and get in the effing car.
This is our baseline—our normal. Sadly, because my family is a goddamn circus, so was the scene happening at the end of the driveway. The one with the screaming and banging.
All three of my kids were armed with old badminton rackets and were using them to hit and “shoot” the garbage bin on the street because they were pretending to be Power Rangers and the trash waiting for pickup was a monster. Then it escalated, because it always does. They got louder and started throwing the rackets while shouting “DIE!” and “KILL!” and “POW POW!” For the record, we are a fairly peaceful family, and my partner and I don’t generally encourage throwing things while siblings are near.
It wasn’t even 8:00 a.m., and my kids were already at the height of their fuckery. If I was a parent with more patience or was capable of at least reserved annoyance, I would have calmly but sternly asked them to stop, to respect our neighbors, and to please get in the van. But if this is my circus, then I am the ringmaster. There is little room for demure words when dealing with nonsense, so I said this instead:
“KNOCK IT OFF! Someone is going to get hurt, and I don’t want to deal with it.”
*hears laughter, sees racket zip by my head, grabs child by the hand and puts them in the car*
“ENOUGH! Do you think Dave wants to hear any of this!? GET IN THE VAN!”
*hears children giggle, watches asshole children run in circles*
To be clear, Dave is our neighbor. The poor guy. Poor everyone. While I respect other people’s desire for environments that are not full of our chaos, I also know our chaos fills most environments. It’s who we are. And before you tell me I need to change my parenting approach, I have tried, people. I have tried so many techniques, words, approaches, and systems. The only thing that seems to work is me losing my shit. I won’t say I have accepted this, but I don’t fight it anymore.
It used to be that before we went out in public, or if people came to our house for dinner or a visit, I would get extremely anxious about how loud my kids can get. Every word seems to need an exclamation point and to be said at a near shout. It was exhausting to constantly ask them to quiet down. They can’t. They are fighting over each other to be heard, they have no filters, and they just don’t care. They are kids. I get it. So I let them be loud. We either visit really, really family-friendly locations or we stay home. And when people come to visit, they need to be able to ignore my kids or tolerate them as well as I do.
When we flew to see my in-laws, I dreaded being in a plane with my kids and other people. But as I herded three kids, carry-ons, and a much needed cup of coffee on and off planes, somewhere I lost my ability to care. When the kids plugged in to their tablets or the airplane TVs, they shouted over whatever was playing in their ears. They demanded snacks and then spilled them. And they announced very loudly every time they had to poop, which was usually when we were not supposed to unbuckle our seatbelts. People around us thought they were funny and cute; I thought they were annoying. I was also annoyed at my partner who managed to nap through most of this. Like mouth-open napping.
I could have been nicer, but I demanded she wake up to help me. I didn’t feel bad because snapping at each other is part of being together for 20 years. It’s part of not taking things personally. It’s part of parenting. During our twins’ first year of life, we had a deal that anything said between midnight and 6:00 a.m. didn’t count. There was no pretending that having three kids under three was easy or even enjoyable most of the day. There still isn’t. The kids are older, but just as exhausting, so we are bitchy at each other. Not all of the time. But our sighs, eye rolls, and bickering is not reserved for the privacy of our home. Just as the kids are all out there, so are we.
A shit show seems to lead and follow my family. The dropped ice cream cones, the shitty underwear thrown away in the park bathroom, the backpack of snacks, water, and extra underwear on my back, the wagon full of sports gear and Happy Meals, and the noise of my usually filthy children, probably being yelled at, are all part of it. It’s a damn circus.
And yet, once I decided to embrace it, I noticed people smiling at us. I saw signs of relief on the faces of parents around us. I heard words of solidarity. I realized that a life lived out loud is also a life of loud love. And if that is what makes us a traveling circus, so be it.