Each summer, I have high hopes of achieving greatness in motherhood. And each fall I realize that greatness is highly overrated. Sometime in August I become very okay with mediocrity and the whole “just keep them alive” method of parenting. (It’s okay to judge me if you must. I’m far too tired to care anyway.)
I start out the summer being a “Yes” Mom. I tell the kids they can have the second popsicle, that they can use the playdough without supervision, that they can stay up late to catch fireflies. And by August I am back to my “No” Mom self, swiftly denying all access to Dad’s tools, things that require all of my batteries, nail polishes/paints/anything that stains, and all things that are sugar-based.
I’m unsure why I feel that each June will be different than the last – that my children will have matured magically in the previous 9 months, that they won’t fight incessantly, or that they won’t suck my love for summer away once again. But each summer I test out my re-found optimism, only to realize that it doesn’t quite fit in with me and my special needs family. Because in a home filled with our specific kind of nuts, we don’t have the strength for continual optimism.
No, in our home, we have roles that we hold tightly to – ones that don’t allow for much deviation from out callings. We have myself, The Enforcer – I’m the rule-setter, consequence-maker, and death-glarer. We have my husband, The Worker – the one that is gone all day and then gets to play with our spawn, giving him the extra title of The Fun One. Then there’s my oldest, The Bully. He’s the one that taunts, teases, and pinches the minute my back is turned. But its okay, because my next oldest is The Tattler, also known as The Instigator. She is the reporter of all things (necessary or not), the one that loves to hear her own voice, and the little shadow that begs to be pinched so she has something else to tattle about. And finally, we have The Toddler. He’s 2, he tantrums, and he’s supposed to be my “normal one”.
Yeah, optimism is quickly replaced by realism each and every summer. But before you think we are too pessimistic for your taste, let me give you a glimpse into one particularly warm July day…
The Toddler woke promptly at 6am, ensuring that he could start his energetic throwing of toys before the heat became too great. But hey, since he wasn’t throwing the toys at the dogs or the television, I continued to pay bills and do laundry before the Bigs woke up… which was naturally 20 minutes later. The rest of the morning was spent reminding children to do their morning routine, the very same routine they’ve been doing every day for years. I stared at their shocked faces when they were informed that yes, indeed, their underwear needed to be changed every day. For always.
We did daily homework assignments to ensure that no one became stupid over the summer… this meant that I spent an hour arguing with The Tattler that 10 +23 does not equal 1023, all the while The Bully wailed that he couldn’t understand his story problem: “Billy had 18 apples and gave Tommy 6. Tommy then gave 3 apples to Judy. How many apples does Tommy now have?” Meanwhile, The Toddler ate all the crackers and screamed every time a commercial interrupted his Paw Patrol marathon.
We finally finished all the assignments and my bills got paid (sort of) so we promptly got ready for The Tattler’s library program that morning. Only, where was my phone? I had it earlier while I did the banking, but where was it now? No worries… we found it a half hour later… in the refrigerator, courtesy of The Toddler.
We were the family running into the library drenched in sweat, A) because we have no air conditioner and B) because we are incapable of attending any library program on time. I don’t know why and I no longer have the motivation to care. I handed my middle child over to the sweet ladies in charge as I avoided the irritated glances at their watches. The Bully began looking for a new book while The Toddler attached himself to a handful of cars at the train table.
I sat anxiously, waiting for the inevitable tantrum that The Toddler throws each and every time we enter the library. It’s the place where he had his first injury (last summer, banged lip off the train table, bled all over their carpet), where we screamed bloody murder in the bathroom for ALL to hear (two summers ago, while trying not to smack his head off the toilet paper holder as I had to nurse him in the bathroom because I was asked not to nurse him in the children’s section), and where he continues to dominate all the toys because by being the baby of the family, it’s basically survival of the fittest.
That day was no different. I watched in slow motion as my small child grabbed a toy away from a sweet little boy with Down’s Syndrome. The boy tried to get his toy back, but my child in turn hit him with the toy. It was like I was moving through jello, unable to run through the sea of scattered toys fast enough, when the other boy began to scream a high-pitched wail that was not only warranted, but appreciated (because, hey, it wasn’t my kid screaming for a change).
I promptly grabbed up The Toddler, apologizing profusely as I handed my purse off to my oldest. I ran my now-screaming baby out to the parking lot as he hit and kicked, flapped and hollered. Outside it was a balmy 831 degrees and my child’s sweat was making it impossible to hold him as he raged. And, as I fought to control a person 1/4th my size in the public library’s parking lot, a police officer pulled up alongside me.
“Everything okay, ma’am?” he asked with concern.
Sweat dripping into my eyes, making my hair stick to my running make-up, I tried to smile as I responded, “Oh, of course! Just a bit of a toddler tantrum is all!” I made a slight attempt at a chuckle, but it ended up coming out as more of a maniacal laugh than anything.
Twenty minutes and a two walks around the block, The Toddler was still being a jerk, but it was time to go in and claim my daughter from her program. It was then that I looked down and noticed that, amidst the struggle with my youngest, my wide-necked t-shirt somehow had managed to be pulled all the way down, underneath my left boob. I had talked with our local law enforcement and walked two blocks with my one of my breasts completely hanging out. (And no, I didn’t feel a breeze, thanks to my super unattractive full-coverage mom bra.)
Defeated and repositioned, I threw my kid over my shoulder and marched through the library to claim The Tattler. The sweet librarians once again eyed me with fear because my child’s screaming was interrupting their announcements. I forced a smile and said something clever like, “Kids, what do ya do, right?” before grabbing all of my children and running-not-running for the door.
We arrived home just in time for The Toddler to take a nap, which means that he pulled his weenie out and peed through his crib like a boss just before drifting off. But I didn’t care. The pee would still be there when he woke up and there was no way that I was going to wake him to change his sheets. So I turned the fan on him in an attempt to dry up some of the wetness, like any mediocre, realist mom would do.
I came back down the stairs to see The Bully pinning down his sister as he wrenched her arm behind her back. Grabbing him up by the scruff and then swatting his bottom, I sent him immediately to his room. The Tattler proceeded to tell me that her brother had just pinned her on the ground and wrenched her arm behind her back. (Yes, thank you for stating the obvious. Would you care to do any other work for my eyes, like tell me the color of the walls or describe to me my own outfit?) But because I still had just a smidgen of Good Mom still in me, I refrained from the sarcasm and reminded her that I had just taken care of the issue, assessing her arm as we talked.
It was then that I noticed the dog poop on the floor. Just because of life.
Meanwhile, The Toddler was awakened from his nap by a mooing Bully who refused to calm himself down. Not that it mattered, because we had a church event to leave for and there was still the whole pee incident happening upstairs in the crib.
All bodily secretions sufficiently cleaned, we managed to make it to the church on time. Naturally The Toddler proceeded to push down another baby in our church and scream at the top of his lungs when redirected. To keep the peace, I put him in the nursery's pack-n-play for a time-out. However, The Tattler proceeded to inform me that I was a bad mother for just leaving him to cry without getting him out. At that point, I gave her one of my infamous death glares, reminding her that she was insanely out of line and should probably keep her well-researched parenting advice to herself.
The Bully sulked in the corner and refused to talk to anyone, The Tattler cried for being glared at, and The Toddler’s screams could still be heard 3 rooms away. It was then that a sweet friend of mine from out church mentioned that I should get my youngest checked for autism.
Tears welled in my eyes, not at the thought that my son could have autism, but at the fact that I had already asked his pediatrician this very question and was assured that he was completely NOT autistic – leaving 2 options: He was either a terrible child, or I was a terrible mother. Either way, the tears were there and I did my best to hold them at bay while I made small talk and acted like everything was fine.
We left the event early because… well, because I have kids.
Upon arriving home, I noticed that the temperature had cooled ever so slightly, so I told the kids to play outside. And as I stepped through the grass to set my purse on the patio, my foot got stuck in a hole that one of the dogs had dug and my ankle painfully rolled until I heard a snap. Since I was in my own yard and there was no sense in holding back anymore, I cried until I couldn’t breathe.
Terrified, The Tattler ran inside and got me every ice pack we own. The Bully attempted to keep The Toddler from crawling on me like I was a jungle gym… because normal toddlers take crying as a call for playtime, apparently?
My husband arrived home minutes later to me sitting in the yard with ice packs surrounding my swollen ankle. He saw my puffy eyes and listened as I told him about the library and my boob, the police and the wrenching of the arm, the poop and the pee, the church and the hole. I told him that I was a bad mother, incapable of achieving greatness.
After sending me to my room to recover, The Worker/Fun One played with the kids in the yard. I heard them laughing and following directions. No one pinched or peed on anything. No one screamed or tattled. Everyone just played. In the distance I could hear a dog vomiting, but I didn’t go downstairs to clean it up. It would inevitably still be there in the morning.
Two weeks later, I went on vacation with my kids, my parents, my brother and my nephew. I did a lot of sleeping and a lot of unwinding. The Toddler only peed on things twice and my parents took over when The Tattler and The Bully got into it. I relinquished my crown as The Enforcer for almost 9 days and found myself laughing with my children. I even got to be The Fun One a few times!
So, as August has begun to wind us down to those last few moments of summer, I am okay with my mediocre status. I realize that it doesn’t make me a failure to not reach greatness each summer. It’s okay to say “No” and to hide the hammer and nails and to take naps when The Toddler finally goes down for his afternoon sleep. It’s okay to reclaim my batteries and make bedtime earlier. And it’s certainly okay to be The Fun One sometimes.
But whatever the role, whatever the situation, whatever the daily liquids I get to scrub… I can rest easy, knowing that I kept them alive for one more summer. And that, my friends, is greatness redefined.