These days are so long, and they’re so similar that sometimes – more often than I care to admit, really – I lift my head and look around on a Thursday afternoon and wonder how it isn’t Monday still. Didn’t we do all this on Monday already? Has the sun really risen and set three times since then? Have my legs been shaved this week?
They don’t notice. They don’t seem to have any real sense of the passage of time. Joey goes wild with satisfaction when I acquiesce to his demand for a bedtime “two minutes later than John Paul’s.” Sure, kid, whatever gets you through to quitting time.
But they don’t have a real grasp on ‘hurry up’ or ‘slow down’ … and they sure as hell don’t have a handle on ‘Mommy needs five minutes more on the phone, please go restart Curious George and teach yourself how to read.’
I am bad at slowing down. I’m also bad at surrendering to the pace of a toddler driven day, marked by periods of intense involvement with a wooden train set and periodic fraternal sparring over said vehicles. One more drink. Hold me. I want up on your bed. I don’t want to go potty. I just peed on the floor. Don’t get my hair wet. Hold me. Don’t look at me. Et cetera.
I don’t know whether this is a terrible thing to admit, but I hate reading aloud to my children. I hate reading aloud, period. To revisit the same Curious George (why is that monkey such a fixture in my life?) story over and over again is a special kind of hell for me. It’s definitely a death to self. But it’s an unwilling death, not freely given. I feel acutely that my life is taken from me, in these moments, rather than freely surrendered. And that sucks. Because I want to love my children better than that. I want to give them the best of me, and to give it willingly.
I want to want to sit cross-legged on the floor reading the same book over and over again and marveling over his delight with the cadence of the story. But those moments are fleeting, and the feelings they invoke are unsustainable. Most of the time I’m lucky to keep myself from swearing in front of them or raising my voice to a full-on yell. I try to kiss them often, and squeeze their fat little thighs while telling them how precious they are. But I also spend way too much time on the computer while they’re awake. I say terrible things about their behavior while I’m on the phone with my mom (who always admonishes me) and to my sister (who sympathizes with me).
In short, I’m failing them. Every day. I’m also serving them the best I know how… most of the time. I’m trying to teach them to love Jesus: we go to Mass and I sweat and wrestle and threaten and coax. And I pray that something is soaking down deep into their little hearts, and that it will grow and bloom. Today we took Aunt Claire to St. Peter’s and we stumbled into Mass on the St. Joseph’s altar, in Italian. Against all better judgement we stepped behind the velvet rope and joined in. Because it had just started and I needed the Sacrament today, just like Christy wrote about.
They both fought me most of the time, escaping from the pew, flirting with nuns, running away from me and climbing into the stately wooden confessional and kicking sandaled feet gleefully against the penitent’s kneeler. In short, they were toddlers. As we were leaving the basilica, threading our way through massive crowds of sweating tourists, Claire asked ‘was that normal?’ And I could only laugh.
Oh yes, it was normal. It was every day. And it was awful. And yet, completely what I expected. These years are hard. They’re fleeting and precious and something I’ll ponder in my heart when I’m 50 years old, I know…but they’re hard. And I’m just trying to live in them, to be in them, to not constantly try to escape from them. Because I know, if my vocation is here, then my salvation is here. And I mean that in the least saccharine way possible. I firmly believe these children will get me closer to Heaven than any other thing on this earth. And yet, I want to run from them. Often.
I hope if the internet is still a thing 10 or 15 years from now and they happen to stumble onto something I’ve written about this time in our lives together, they’ll see how loved they were, in spite of the insanity and proliferation of bodily fluids. More importantly, I hope they’ll remember a sweet, patient Mommy who didn’t mind reading one more story or getting one more glass of water at bedtime, rather than the yelling, un-showered Mommy who is threatening to lock herself in the bathroom with a laptop and a bottle of red wine until Daddy gets home.
I hope they know how much I love them. And I hope they don’t feel ignored or hurried or slighted or a million other emotions I unwittingly inflict on them on a daily basis.
I hope I can learn to be here. Because, in the words of one of my favorite saints, “We have only today. Let us begin.”