He’s asleep in my arms, his sweet bald baby head resting on my bare chest. He’s milk-drunk and sighing heavily in his sleep. There’s music on the radio and his big sisters dance, tiptoe, twirl, and giggle their way across the living room floor while I sit and watch, enjoying this quiet, perfect moment in time. To an outsider, some stranger standing on our porch and peering through the kitchen window, we must look straight out of some made-for-TV movie, happy and carefree and living everyone’s idyllic fantasy.
But what no one knows is that this week, I have yelled at these children — all three of them. I have yelled, screamed, cried, sobbed, begged God, prayed, and swore silently and aloud to whomever would listen. Maybe because we were sick last week, or because it’s almost a full moon, or because of some other unknown force at work, we have been a disaster here for days now. Every last one of us.
My 5-year-old is doing everything in her power to make the rest of us miserable, snatching toys from her sister just because she can, running from the room as soon as she realizes I’m going to ask for her to grab me a burp rag, and just generally being an impolite, insufferable little brat.
My 2-year-old, sweet gentle angel that she is, has become a wailing vicious she-devil who flings her bowl of applesauce across the room at breakfast and lunch because she doesn’t want me going to the bathroom while she eats.
And the baby? The poor, defenseless, snot-nosed little thing whom I was just bragging about because he sleeps from 10 p.m. to 10 a.m. every day — he is proving to the world what a comedian he is as he now wakes at all hours of the night, screaming at the top of his lungs, and then refuses anything more than a 30-minute nap during the day.
And I have lost my mind over it. I have said to the baby, “Well, you’re just going to have to cry because I’m not picking you up this time,” even though I didn’t mean it. I have wished away all the years ahead of me — of hugs by chubby arms and toddler lips saying, “Me love MomMom” — just so that they would grow up and all this madness could be over with.
I have thrown more than one adult tantrum. The rage that I have felt has scared me. I could have hurt my children. I didn’t — thank God, I knew enough to stop myself before I reached that point — but I could have. I wanted to. And afterward, as I rocked our sweet baby boy to sleep yet again, I said to my husband, “This is how it happens. This is how babies get shaken or thrown across a room. Parents just can’t take anymore.” I understood.
I hate myself for that. I hate that I understand. I hate that I can’t handle as much as I thought I could and that I reached my breaking point so quickly. Have I bitten off more than I can chew? I wonder. And what about the fourth baby that I yearn for? The fourth, and maybe the fifth and sixth? (Because even at the lowest point, I’m still thinking ahead, still wanting more.)
How do moms do this? Is it just me? Am I the only one flailing in these choppy waters of parenthood?
There are days when I hate this mothering gig. I know I shouldn’t. My ovaries don’t work and we fought so damn hard to get here, to have three children call us “MomMom” and “Daaaaaad.” I should be thankful. I should soak it in. I should cherish every moment of it. And I do. Mostly. When it’s good, it’s good. The kids sleep and snuggle and laugh and say “thank you” on cue. We go to the zoo and the park and read ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas and eat unbaked cookie dough. I take photos (lots and lots of photos) and the kids smile and we put the photo in a frame and we remember the good times with warmth and a lot of love.
But the good times don’t make the bad times any easier. The kids scream or cry all at once. My girls won’t share. Someone is up all night, needing me. No one likes what I put on the dinner table. The baby requires constant bouncing, wiggling, tickling, and rocking all day long, day after day after day. And over and over again, I trip over a tornado of toys and swear I’m going to throw every last one of them in the trash because I just can’t stand the thought of picking up one more Disney princess figurine or itty-bitty Lego.
I’m tired and in over my head. At the worst of times, that’s the truth: I am in way over my head. I’m drowning. And there’s no going back. No undoing this. No fixing it. Somehow, I just have to suck in a lungful of oxygen when I can and keep doggie-paddling and hope that’s enough.
But here’s what I fear: It’s not. Surviving isn’t thriving. It’s not enough. Not for my kids and not for me. I’m a failure. I’m defeated. I’m weak. My kids deserve better. All the ugly things I tell myself…the list is long. I’m a bad person. There’s something wrong with me. I should be punished. I am worthless. It gets worse and worse.
And yet, behind each one, there is another voice. The voice of reason. What I hope is the voice of truth. A whispered echo of hope and redemption that says:
Tomorrow is a new day. Tomorrow, you can do better.
And I will. Or at least, I will try.
I will always try.