When I was pregnant with my first child, I heard this a lot from mothers: “Being is a parent is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.” I would smile and nod, secretly thinking that these women must have led pretty cushy lives if the act of raising a child could lead them to such a conclusion. I was confident that my experience would be completely different. After all, at the age of thirty-five, I had survived more than my share of drama including a wilderness lifestyle, near-death experiences, and truly disastrous parenting. As a model, I’d succeeded in an industry notorious for failure, had traveled the world on my own from the age of fourteen, and lived through many of the issues associated with bad childhoods and jet-setting lifestyles. I was certain that I would, if not breeze through parenthood, at least find it a lot easier than life’s other challenges.
Nine years and three children later, I am here to tell you what you’ve probably heard a million times before: Being a parent is the hardest thing I’ve ever done–by far. In fact, I sometimes wonder if everyone else has a secret to making it easier that I’m just not clued into. Mind you, I’ve never had childcare and I’ve looked after my children at home while running a business and writing a book, but even the “easy” days with the children often seem difficult. I know from observing other children and other parents’ comments to me that my children are, if anything, normally on the more “well-behaved” end of the spectrum. But still, I sometimes find myself thinking, oh my god, this is just too hard. Is this normal? Do other people’s kids have this many meltdowns/tantrums/fights/ per day, or do I just have a harder time coping with it than other moms?
So I decided to do a little experiment. On one particularly awful day about six months ago, I decided that instead of crying, I would document it. While the kids slept, I wrote down everything that had happened that day. My intention was to use it to compare notes with another mom, which never actually happened…until today. I am going to share it here for two reasons–first, because I would love to hear your own thoughts and stories, and second, because I want other parents out there to understand this: if you are ever struggling, you are not alone.
Let me preface this by saying the most obvious thing in the world–that I love and adore my children beyond description, and that the following story has nothing to do with my love for them or my understanding that they were simply going about their business of being normal children. And no, this was not a typical day–my husband being out of town and my being ill, among other things, contributed to the mayhem. But to be honest, it was also not the worst parenting day I’ve ever had!
I wake up at 8AM, exhausted from not enough sleep. When I say “wake up”, I mean the time I actually get out of bed, as opposed to the five or six times I’ve been awoken in the night by children and insomnia. Quite simply, my two youngest children are horrible sleepers.
As I change Ayla’s (17 months) diaper, Emerson (3) goes to the bathroom. I go in to check on his progress, as he has recently been potty trained. The toilet seat is covered in pee from his attempt at emptying the potty’s contents into the toilet. Mixing praise with admonishment, I clean up the mess. He throws a tantrum when I won’t let him unwind the entire toilet paper roll. While this is happening, Ayla hits her head on the corner of the countertop and starts screaming. I run to her, which only increases Em’s cries. I end up with both of them in my arms, each screaming in an ear.
Breakfast time. I get Em’s cereal, which he proceeds to spill all over himself and the counter. I clean it up and get new clothes for him. He throws a fit when I try to dress him, though, because he wants to wear a shirt that’s in the laundry. I finally get him settled with a toy and head to the bathroom for a shower. I put Ayla up on the countertop to play with the water and toothbrushes to distract her while I shower. Halfway through she starts screaming because her leg gets caught behind the faucet, so I get out of the shower to help her–and see that she’s put enough toilet paper into the sink to make the water nearly run over the edge. Soaking wet, I fix the problem and get back in the shower, even though she’s screaming inconsolably by now because I’ve done away with her beloved TP. The cries continue as I dry off, put lotion on, and dry my hair. No makeup for me today, as I can’t bear even one more minute of this crying. I scoop Ayla up and bring her into my bedroom, trying to distract her with my hairbrush. As I’m getting dressed, Em wanders into the bedroom and starts jumping on the bed. Ayla joins him, finally distracted from her misery, and there is peace for exactly one minute, which I use to pull my clothes on and attempt to accessorize. Then Ayla pulls Em’s hair, and all hell breaks loose. I spend the next twenty minutes alternately comforting and scolding each of them.
I make my way into the kitchen, and get myself a coffee and a piece of toast while I try to check my email. As I’m doing this, my phone rings. It’s Avery’s (almost 8) school, saying he is sick and would I please come and pick him up. Avery, who has a different dad than my other two kids, was dropped him off at school this morning by his father and it’s my day to get him back. It’s pouring rain out, so I stuff the kids into boots and jackets and head out the door. Before I pick Avery up I need to hit the post office, a place that’s famous for bringing out the worst behavior in my two youngest. Bracing myself, I get them out of the car and speak to Em about expectations, good behavior and subsequent rewards, which he seems to understand. But the minute we get in line, my worries are founded. The store is eerily quiet, the silence punctuated only by my children’s gleeful laughter as they try to rip envelopes from hooks and the sound of my own manic voice demanding they stop. There are four women in line ahead of us and one behind. I watch as one by one, their eyes avert and their lips purse. Emerson finally settles down when he discovers a cool card on the counter with coins in it. I warn him to be careful, and miraculously, he is. He turns it over in his hands, asking questions, until the post lady plucks it from his fingers and says, “let’s not ruin it, or no one will want to buy it.” Steam emits from my ears as I pluck it out of her hand and pointedly return it to my son. “Since when is looking at something ruining it?” I growl at her, slamming my package down on the counter. Yep, told her.
When we get to Avery’s school, I park thirty feet from the entrance and ask Em to wait in the car with a now-sleeping Ayla, because I know I will be back in two minutes flat and getting them in and out of the rain again will be a huge ordeal. He agrees, but by the time I get back into the car with Avery (who seems absolutely fine to me, btw) Em is screaming as if he’s been attacked by an ax murderer. I comfort him, apologize, and drive to the grocery store to pick up some soup for Avery. Once there, Ayla commandeers a mini shopping basket on wheels and starts running wild with it. As I chase after her, Em decides it’s all a big fun game and grabs his own cart, mowing down unimpressed shoppers as he runs in the opposite direction from me. I put Avery in charge of going after him while I round Ayla up. I pick her up and she starts to scream, so I put her under my arm like a football, where she writhes furiously. Ignoring dirty looks, I herd Emerson to the cash register while Avery badgers me with requests for gum and chocolate. As I’m typing my info into the pinpad to pay, Ayla and Em start ripping the wrappers off chocolate bars. This is when I yell. Loudly. Stuffing the bars back into their wrappers, I throw Ayla over my shoulder and grab Em’s arm and pull them out to the van, Avery in tow. When we get to the car, Ayla tries to escape into the backseat, so I grab her and plunk her into her car seat. As she screams and arches her back, I manage to buckle her in only by pressing my elbow into her chest while yanking the straps around her body.
Back at home, it’s lunchtime. Avery likes the lentil soup I bought, but Em and Ayla both take one bite and ask for pickles instead. I bribe Emerson into finishing his soup by promising we’ll make cookies later, but Ayla is a different matter. I give her a bowl of mashed carrots and peas, which she normally loves, but she protests by throwing it across the room and leaving a splattered orange mess across the floor, window, and chair. As I’m cleaning it up, Em asks if he can watch The Incredibles. I put the DVD in, and then make the huge mistake of turning it on for him. He utterly and completely melts down, insisting he wanted to be the one to press the PLAY button. I concede to temper the storm, even though this means ten minutes of pressing buttons to get back to the beginning of the DVD, all the while listening to Ayla scream because she slammed her finger in a door, she can’t get a toy from under the bed, and the cat ran away from her. Em finally gets to press his beloved PLAY button, he settles down, and I run to Ayla. As I’m comforting her, Avery comes by with the cat’s toy and randomly whips it at Ayla’s face. It doesn’t hit her, but she starts to scream, so it’s time for a teaching moment with Avery.
It’s cookie-making time. The kids clamor around me, competing for counter space. I turn my back for a minute to use the microwave, and Ayla gets hold of the egg carton. I make a lunge for it, but it’s too late. Three eggs fall onto the counter, breaking into a messy puddle of yellow. I look at the clock, wondering if it’s too early for a glass of wine.
While the kids eat their cookies, I finally manageto check my email. There is a message from my editor that needs to be attended to. As I’m responding to it, Ayla climbs up beside me and starts pressing buttons on my laptop with her chocolate-smeared fingers. I bat her hand away, so she tries to close the computer screen as I’m typing. Just as I’m finishing up the email, my husband, who is out of town, calls on Skype. Em and Avery come rushing in at the sound of his voice. We chat for a few minutes, me bridling Ayla all the while as she tries to kiss the computer screen and hammer buttons. Suddenly her laughter turns to a cry, and she throws up all over the keyboard. Lightning fast, I grab a cloth and clean it up before it can drip into the cracks. Remy tells me he needs to head to a meeting and says goodbye. The minute his face disappears from the screen, Em melts down into an inconsolable puddle of misery because he didn’t get to press the hang-up button. I let it ride for a bit, but when his tune hasn’t changed ten minutes later, I try to call Remy back. He doesn’t answer, which sends Em into such a state of outrage that I carry him into the bedroom, place him in a chair and close the door so he can cry it out.
By late afternoon, the clouds have magically disappeared along with Avery’s mystery ailment, so I send all the kids outside to jump on the trampoline. Ayla, wise for her months, decides to don her helmet. For the next thirty minutes, I act as umpire and nurse as my children collide, laugh, scream, and sustain injuries the likes of WWF.
Dinnertime. I’m currently battling a cold and a pulled muscle in my back, so I go on a house-wide search for Advil. As I’m looking, the children follow me everywhere like pint-sized groupies, getting underfoot and front-of face, pulling everything from cabinets. No Advil, no Tylenol. The thought of piling the kids into the car to go and get some is unbearable, so I call upon my neighbor, who kindly dispatches a bottle of Tylenol over via my messenger Avery. Hooray–the best thing that’s happened today.
Since Remy is out of town, I’m making deli pizza and broccoli for dinner. I set the kids up with building blocks and leave them in the living room. As I put toppings on the pizza and chop the broccoli (about ten minutes time), I intervene no less than four fights between the three of them and assign two time-outs. At one point, Em yells at the cat when she retaliates against a fur pull from Ayla. “Don’t hurt my sweet baby girl!” he says. It’s adorable, but I can’t help thinking of a cartoon I once saw of a hunter running to the rescue of a lion stuck on some train tracks because he wanted to have the thrill of the kill for himself. And I’m right, because a few minutes later Ayla is screaming bloody murder about a swat over the head from Em.
My phone rings as I’m sliding the pizza into the oven. It’s my friend Shannon, who I’ve been trying to catch up with for two weeks. Within five minutes, Ayla is shrieking to get up in my arms, Em is yelling about a show he wants to watch, and Avery is tapping me on the shoulder because he wants me to input my password for an update on a video game. I pick Ayla up and put her on my boob (17 months old, sooooo ready to wean her) and input the password as I’m talking. Em finally gives up and announces that he needs to poop. I actually relax for a moment, until Em comes out of the bathroom, bottomless, and proceeds to make a long brown smear on the sofa with his bum. I excuse myself from my phone call, grab his arm and haul him back into the bathroom. There, I review potty procedure with him, but by this time he’s moved onto more pressing matters. “Mommy. My wee-wee is too long!” he says, gazing down at it in horror, and indeed it is. I assure him it will shrink back to its normal state once he stops touching it, and then I go into the kitchen and open a bottle of wine. It’s only five o’clock, which means three more hours until the kids’ bedtime.
Since Poppie is out of town, the kids get to sleep in bed with me. Em drifts off and Avery lies still, but Ayla is hell on wheels, rolling around and kicking her brothers. I get up with her, put Neil Diamond on, and she finally settles into my arms. While I’m dancing around the darkened room with her, Avery gets up twice to report first a tummy ache and then a headache. I know he’s looking for sleep-time stall tactics, so I simply tell him to go back to bed. When Ayla finally drifts off, I lay down with her. Like magnets, the boys roll toward me. I sit up and look at the landscape of our bed. We have a king size mattress, and four bodies are crowded onto one-third of it, leaving me with a pencil-like sliver of space at the very edge. I lay down again and close my eye, reflecting on my day. I think of Em this morning, when he saw me in my nightie and said, “I like your dress, Mommy, it’s really cute!”. I think of Ayla, who stubbed her toe and then spent the next few minutes trying to kiss it better. I think of Avery, who told Remy he looked like a Minecraft head when his picture froze on Skype. And then I think of the key gems from my own mouth today, which included, “your sister is not a drum” “no playing on the iPad while you’re pooping” and “the toilet brush is not for brushing our hair”. And, despite my exhaustion, I actually start to giggle. Quietly, of course, so I don’t wake the little ones beside me. For they are angels, after all.
So, there you have it. Tell me, fellow mommies (and daddies!), how does this day rate compared to your experience…horrible, average, or (gulp!) better than normal?
My little angels on a better day