I spent most of my life with my wheels spinning, running on angst, pride, and selfishness. I was looking for the next best thing, new jobs, promotions, graduate schools, a good hairdresser. I devoted a considerable amount of time to lovingly pruning grocery-store bouquets, dusting, and straightening the art on the walls. I was young. I was, for a large portion of that time, single, and I was a very vocal product of the Me Generation and an only child.
I knew who I was, what I wanted, and where I was going. I knew what I was cooking that night. I knew I could work on my project on Tuesday, and that I would hop on the elliptical, using Program 4 for thirty minutes, before showering and leaving the house for groceries on Saturday afternoon. I knew. I knew everything.
And then, as you’ve no doubt heard before, children arrived and changed our lives forever.
Once our lives had changed so, circumstances begin popping up, rather randomly, to serve as reminders of what I’ve left behind, either by choice or by chance.
My reminders usually arrive in the form of houseguests and visitors. I sit back, silently, as they cloy at my children for affection, gather and relocate the toys in the living room for ‘safety’, and otherwise try to affect the situation into which they’ve been unwittingly placed. They do things like make sure both socks are on each child (and are not twisted), that no item of food touches the floor, and that everyone is smiling.
And I sit. And I watch. And I intermittently provide commentary that may or may not assist them in making further decisions.
And as I observe, I am repeatedly reminded that the decisions being made before me are, in fact, not for the well-being of my children, but for the sanity of the visitor. To make everything right with one’s world. To reduce the obvious measure of anxiety that accompanies caring for three toddlers.
“Well, what should we do?” they ask me, using the royal ‘we’.
“Whatever you think,” I respond. Stymied, they continue on their ways, fumbling blindly through a world dominated by that which they cannot control.
And I remember the grocery-store bouquets. And I remember the Christmas lights I wound, perfectly symmetrically, around the columns of my porch. And I remember taking the dog out to pee at 5:30 every night. I remember when my world made sense.
And I stifle the urge to chuckle when socks go flying over the couch, or two of the kids run into one another and then fall down, or someone gets ‘caught’ pushing a shade up and down. And they look at me. And I shrug.
And I know fully well that behind their eyes swirls a disquieting combination of frustration and confusion, at things not going as planned, at my letting things be, at my standing back, at my apparent neglect. And they fumble, and sigh, and continue to carefully reconstruct a house of cards in gale-force winds, surrounded by whirling dervishes with unpredictable orbits. And I leave them be, not out of cruelty or facetiousness, but because I know they’ll be okay. All of them. And they always are.
And I am at peace because in their desperate eyes, I see myself. I see myself planning and scheduling and whipping myself into a meringue making my life perfect, making myself comfortable, surrounding myself with desirable aromas, bright colors, and favorable light. And realize that I’m just as happy, if not more now, perpetually assaulted by chaos and not knowing what to do.
And I relish the fact that my son still smells delicious with a sweaty head. And one sock on. And his juice cup on the floor. And that I love my daughter just as much with that chunk of waffle stuck in her hair with syrup. And the toys are strewn everywhere, because, hey, that’s where they like them, and that I’m no worse of a parent because of any of it. And I’m not always clean. And my clothes are not always ironed. And I may or may not know what’s for dinner tonight.
But at the end of the day, we’ll snuggle on the couch, and I’ll kiss a head, or rub a foot, or tickle a thigh, and where the toys currently rest does not cross my mind. Small, warm lips will meet my cheek and impress it with a kiss. Hair will be soft, eyes will shine, and we may sing a song or two.
And when I lie in bed, I will think not about whether six socks are on six feet, or what residue lurks beneath the kitchen table. I will (if I’m not too exhausted to think, of course) think about the fact that my kids went to bed happy, under warm blankets, and are getting the rest that they need.
And think about just how far I’ve come, how much I’ve grown since becoming a parent.
Someday, there may be grocery-store bouquets again. But, for now, I’m growing my own.