Wiping down the table, re-stacking the ever growing (and ever-tipping) pile of homeschool books, I grumble. This week is too much. Too many nights away from home. Church obligations, house hunting, homeschooling, babysitting, client communications, editing, album design, portrait sessions, baby showers, house offers and house showings, two weddings coming up for the weekend.
This week is everything about my life, crammed into this moment.
(Oh, and my husband has a bad ankle that hasn’t been properly wrapped in days. Hobbling a normally very helpful husband, right at the very start of my busiest time of year, how very kind of your universe, thanks so much.)
The nagging voice in the back of my head mutters to me over and over as I wipe cereal bits and broken pencil tips in the the palms of my hand, shaking my head at hurt ankles and house showings and the long, long, ride to drama class. You could always say no.
This is the nagging voice that comes, sometimes from friends or family, sometimes from my own deep wells of mother-guilt. It chides me, as I juggle and fumble and go two days without a shower and wipe crumbs from the bottoms of my feet. This stress is all your fault. This busyness is all your fault. If only you could just let people down, why can’t you just say no when your hands are too full, why not just say sorry, but I can’t make it, (when really it’s just that you could but are choosing not to.)
You could not rush from co-op to karate. You could not try to cram in schoolwork and dentist appointments and house showings. You could not, book portrait sessions during wedding season. You could just…not.
I know. I know. I know.
Lila does her math problems at the table beside me. She wriggles and feigns passing out,over a review of subtraction regrouping. She is doing multiplication already, but this, this half a page of simple subtraction has her anxious. She touches her fingertips to her chest and tells me that when she feels so much pressure to get things done, it hurts, right here.
I bring her a cup of water and tell her to take deep breaths and just focus on the work, one simple problem at a time. Meanwhile, my phone chirps at me and I see an incoming email on my laptop screen.
She’s right. I touch my fingers to my chest, then to my neck. This pressure, this anxiety, it does hurt right about here.
But, on we go. Her to her math and me to my, well, mess.
At karate last night, I sat in a room with two young mothers, each with their younger children, waiting for their eldest to finish romping around in their gis. It’s so hard, one said, scooping her chubby one year old up from the ground where he was grabbing bits of something to put in his drooling mouth. I’m just always tired and there’s never enough time, going from dance to this, watching him while his sister does each class.
She’s a younger mother. I was her, just about seven or eight years ago. Two children, mid-twenties, trying to hold on to whatever sanity there is left to claim.
Staring at the string of drool hanging down from her son’s chin, as she reached to wipe it with her thumb, I thought – the selflessness of parenthood is not nearly as well advertised as the cuteness of round-cheeked babies and the warm-fuzzy quotes about hearts walking around outside our bodies or the vague wisdom of the words, parenthood “changes everything.”
And, I’m pretty sure, if it was as well advertised, far fewer people would be signing up.
Because all of this, is hard. All that I do for the kids, for my husband, for myself and for our lives together, it’s work. And it’s work that I can’t just choose to say no to, no matter how loud the nagging voice becomes.
Quinoa (for a salad for a baby shower tomorrow) is on the stove, coffee is poured, the house awaits, the editing awaits, the albums, the emails. The drive to drama begins in an hour.
The older I get, the deeper into this whole parenting thing I dig, the more I think of my mother. I remember her, busy. I remember her in the driver’s seat of our Ford Taurus, waving as we hopped out for soccer practice, basketball practice, softball games, girl scouts, youth group. I remember her, elbows deep in bills and bank statements, sitting at the kitchen table and mumbling to herself. I remember her standing at the stove, dinner preparation and clean-up. I remember her, gathering her coat and purse and walking out the door for work. I remember her, busy.
So, why did I ever have any sort of delusion that motherhood/adulthood would be any less than busy for me?
Why did I, as a young mother, not realize that having children does not make everything else that mattered in your life previously, null. It doesn’t stop any of the responsibilities you held. And it certainly doesn’t stop you from taking on new ones (quite the opposite, by it’s very nature.)
Do we need to sign up every time the church asks for volunteers to spend the night as part of Family Promise? No. But do we like to serve, and have our children learn to serve alongside us? Yes.
Do I need to homeschool? No. But do I want my children to be critical thinkers, readers, writers, and problem solvers, who also get to spend time with me beyond homework and driving to and from activities or babysitters? Yes.
Thing is, I am capable and I am able and I do have a few hours that can be put to better use and I do have flexibility where others might not, and I do need to pay for groceries and I would like to have enough savings to put toward a down payment on whatever house we’re going to move into next.
So, yes, Nagging Voice in my head, I could very easily say no, but I won’t. Because the things that I want, to accomplish and to have to give, require me to say yes – even when it hurts.
And making me feel guilty for working hard, for taking on more than, perhaps, it seems that I ought, isn’t helpful to anyone. So, be quiet.
I’m too busy to listen to you now anyway.