I cried over spilled milk. Whoever said that there was no use in it was wrong.
It was the third liquid spill of the day, and at least the 99th spill of the day total. This included the Cheerios cereal box, the container of crayons (one of which was then used to draw in a sister’s school textbook), the contents of my makeup bag (no, my trendy teal eyeliner did not look so great on the nose of my 4-year-old, despite her best efforts) the entire box of blocks, the contents of my purse, a container full of fucking expensive organic baby yogurt, the motherfucking tube of toothpaste (how is it — in this day of modern technology, robots, space ships, automatic vehicles, and all the rest of it — that no one has invented a damn childproof tube of toothpaste? A fucking tube of toothpaste!), and an entire shelf of food (he was attempting to climb the shelf to reach the Goldfish cracker box).
Anyway, you see where I’m going with this. I cried over that single cup of spilled milk because if I hadn’t, then I would have surely lost all semblance of sanity.
These kid catastrophes didn’t happen because I’m some novice at this whole parenting thing. I’m a seasoned veteran with four kids and over a decade of experience under my belt. No, these things happened because that is parenthood. Sometimes there are just days (weeks, months, years) like that.
My husband is awesome. He’s an awesome partner and a fantastic father to our kids. The problem is he’s not home most of the time. I am. And when he does come home, it’s usually just before dinner and bedtime. So who is left running this circus all day? I am. Only instead of being the ringmaster, I was running around from one disaster to the next, more like one of the bumbling clowns.
Not that there are always disasters happening. I absolutely love being a mother. We have pretty good kids, despite their overuse of toothpaste, and there are moments of pure bliss. The problem was I’d lost sight of the big picture when it comes to parenting. Let me explain.
From the time they take their first breath, we, as parents, feel this overwhelming need to protect, provide, and care for our children. While they, in turn, learn to come to us in need, whether that be for comfort, sustenance, guidance, or help. And before you know it, you’re in the thick of things and you’re so in love with this little being of yours that you’re ready to jump into action at a moment’s notice. And you jump (and sometimes run) when they call out for help.
But what is the big picture when it comes to parenthood? Our job is to get these children prepared for life, so they can have the happiest, most successful lives possible. The thing is, in order to accomplish the big picture, our children need to learn how to take care of themselves. And in caring for them, we often times “do” for them, because, well, we are so much faster and more efficient than they are, and we love them and want them to be happy, and so our instinct is to run to them when they call for us.
I was so caught up in the everyday small details (Do you need a coat? Gee, thanks for handing me your booger! Let me brush your hair. Stop fighting with your sister!), that I forgot about the big picture, until the day the milk spilled. And I cried. And I opened my eyes to find two sets of worried eyes.
And then something wonderful happened. My 6-year-old ran and grabbed the paper towels and started wiping up the milk her sister had spilled. Then the 4-year-old began helping too. And when they were done, it was still wet and sticky but that was okay.
It made me realize that here I was, attempting to be super mom and flying into action anytime they called me for help, when what I needed to do was stop. I needed to stop helping my kids when they wanted my help. I needed to stop waiting until they “are older” and start teaching them how to “be” older. They don’t have to be fast or efficient yet. They have years to learn. But they can try.
Now, when they spill a glass of milk or a box of Cheerios, I tell them to clean it up. Sure, I have to go around behind them and wipe it up properly. But guess what? It takes me half the time.
If they are fighting, I don’t always intervene by yelling to be heard (and secretly wishing for Captain von Trapp’s whistle). I hold up two fingers. They have two minutes to sort it out among themselves, or else Judge Mommy intervenes, and the cost of her ruling is an hour-long ban on electronic devices. They are quickly learning to be masters of diplomacy.
If the bathroom walls are smeared with a mysterious brown substance, I don’t automatically vomit in my mouth a little. I am, after all, a seasoned parent (seasoned in every kind of disgusting bodily fluid known to man). I confirm that my prayers are answered and that it is, in fact, Nutella, and then I leave them to clean while I go rewash the same load of laundry for the third time and check Facebook.
If they want to eat a packed lunch for school, they’d better pack it themselves. In case you’re wondering, 6-year-olds can make a sandwich when you stock their supplies at a reachable height. And sure, I’ll cut up fruit for their lunch and check to make sure they aren’t eating just Oreos and animal crackers.
And when they really need me, I’ll always be there to help — with important things, like chasing away closet monsters at night.
If the fucking toothpaste tube has once again resulted in my bathroom being covered in bubblegum-flavored paste, well, it’s probably going to result in a hysterical tirade and some stress eating of large amounts of chocolate, but that’s okay. We are working toward the big picture and still have a way to go. And I’m going to enjoy nearly every minute of it.