Every once in a while, I think, “I might have this parenting thing basically under control. I haven’t left a child at school or dropped them at the wrong activity in a while. The kids and animals are all vaccinated. It’s been a few weeks since we had Sponge Bob Kraft Mac & Cheese for dinner. Perhaps I could learn how to make bread…or figure out how to can some vegetables…or finally get a termite bond on our house.”
My mom has a term for this glorious feeling of competency: “having your bat”. She might have made it up, but it basically means that even though baseballs are flying at you, you have your bat and you are ready. You are knocking them down as they keep coming. It’s a good feeling to “have your bat”. I woke up today and could not find my bat anywhere. The balls are just clobbering me.
Even though I have four kids and fifteen years of experience as a mom, there are some days when I have no idea what I’m doing. No freaking idea. I wouldn’t hire me to run this household and raise these kids. I’m a mess. I wasn’t properly trained for this job. It’s a miracle that my oldest child survived infancy.
This is what these kind of days sound like in my head: “I majored in the wrong thing. Nursing, education, or abnormal psychology would have been better choices. I chose the wrong career. Why did I even bother to learn Greek and Hebrew? I got married too young and had too many kids. I’ve planted gardens I can’t maintain and now our house looks like a crack house with vines growing up it. Our hound dog keeps running away because we clearly love him more than he loves us. I let my kids eat Uncrustables, which is probably taking years off their lives. The twins’ hair is always a mess and the people who live here don’t flush.”
You know how when your gas light comes on and you just keep driving? That’s what I do sometimes with my own soul as a mom. I ignore the warning light in my heart and just keep going. I should know by know that this kind of catastrophizing about our life means I’m getting close to empty. Instead, I say, “Sorry, mom soul, someone else needs me. Get in line.”
I’ve learned from experience that ignoring the ‘empty’ light on my car isn’t a great solution to needing gas. Why do I think my own body and spirit are different?
I am an introvert who lives with four, sometimes five, tornadoes. My husband and all three daughters have energy spilling out of them. They are joyful and excitable and adventuresome…but no one wants to just sit and read. My son is the most like me and even he leaps through the kitchen, singing Hamilton. It’s a loud and lively house.
I know what I need to do to replenish myself and unfortunately it takes some time and space. Sometimes, my husband sends me away so that I can get my mojo back. This is a sacrificial act of love on his part. This usually happens after I state with certainty, “Well, we gave raising these kids our best shot and we’ll just have to visit them all in jail!”
Data in these situations is useless to me. Reasoning doesn’t change what I know in my gut to be true: the McArthur train is heading to juvie. The fact that none of my kids has yet to be sent to the principal’s office means nothing to me.
Sometimes, I just need to leave Athens to remember that it’s a whole big world out there and that I exist beyond my own household. Sometimes, I just need to go to a yoga class and set my intention to “not kill anyone in this room, especially the loud people.” Sometimes I need to stop looking around at other moms so much.
I am truly baffled when I see pictures of moms that I know finishing marathons or doing relay runs across state lines. I see pictures of families climbing mountains and wrestling bears or whatever and I wonder how they found shoes for everyone to wear before it got dark. I feel like weekends fly by for us with sports and theater practices. We are never regrouped enough for Monday. Fixing hair and feeding people sometimes takes up a whole day.
Some Sundays, I don’t have it in me to rally the troops and hear the weeping and gnashing of teeth that accompanies getting ready for church. Some Sundays, all six of us just aren’t presentable enough for church. Some Sundays, we go anyway. We have a terrifying Easter picture where our kids look precious and I look like I’ve just been released from the hospital. My hair is a greasy mess and I’m wearing what appears to be a Target bathing suit cover-up. I marvel at the other families who show up looking both tidy and un-angry. I am tempted to start rumors that they have a butler. How else are they so ironed and monogrammed?
I hit a rough patch a few years ago that woke me up to the downside of running on fumes. I know what depression feels like. For me, depression feels like waking up wearing a suit of armor and knowing you still have to do your regular day. This was different. I felt numb. I think the adrenaline of adopting the twins had worn off and I was a little vacant. That emptiness was pretty scary. I was reminded by a counselor that I was in the middle of a child-rearing marathon, but I’d been running it like a sprint.
I have gotten better at pacing myself. I say “maybe” now instead of “yes” to things I don’t really want to do. I’m working up to “no”. I’m training for it. When I feel my gas tank rapidly depleting, I know that I just need a little time to be by myself. I need to read fiction in the chair beside my bed. I need to plant vegetables and go out to the barn to visit our chickens. I need to read The New Yorker in my bathtub. My everyday life is mountain climbing and bear wrestling enough. I need to be still and quiet. Then, I’m ready for the next thing and the thing after that.
When I’m at my strongest, I know that I’m hearty enough for this life that we’ve built. When I’m not at my strongest and my family still needs me, I remember this Reynolds Price quote from his brilliant book, Kate Vaiden: “Strength just comes in one brand—you stand up at sunrise and meet what they send you and keep your hair combed.”Tomorrow, I’ll wake up and comb my hair. I’ll find my bat. I’ll be ready.