The last weeks of summer have been full. Full of emotional highs and lows, full of travel, full of plans, full of activities with the girls, and in that paradox of motherhood, somehow also full of long hours to fill.
Time flies and time stands still. When we have an empty afternoon at home, I tell the girls, “go play outside, it’s beautiful out!” We get shoes on, apply sunblock, pack up carrot sticks or grapes. The girls stay outside for five minutes and then come inside saying they are thirsty, hungry, tired or want to watch PBS kids. But if it’s time to go, like to go get in the car right now for a date or appointment that’s in twenty minutes, suddenly they are biking in the driveway, going down the slide and otherwise collaborating in fantastic and elaborate imaginative games, begging for just a few more minutes. Bewildering.
So, I’ve started telling the girls it’s “time to go” about twenty or thirty minutes before it’s actually time to go. It’s working like a charm except for the fact that we usually pile into the car wet and dirty after thirty minutes of hard play. But I’ve decided it’s an acceptable tradeoff for what its buying me: thirty minutes to quickly vacuum the floors or type out a couple of ideas before they’re lost.
It’s an adventure balancing the drives and tendencies of my active little girls with the demands on my time as a mother, wife, friend, rental property manager, personal chef and housekeeper. But the added challenge of new levels of energy, stubbornness and emotional volatility are worth the work for the independence I have gained from their development.
I dropped dinner off for a girlfriend of mine who just had her second child. Seeing her standing in the doorway, television on, hair wet, and whispering at 12:30 in the afternoon, brought me instantly back to those first weeks of being a mother of two. I remember scowling at the telephone when it rang as if its choice to make noise (no matter what time of day) was of the utmost distaste. Showering was optional, even more so than these days, and sleep was a commodity to be grasped, searched for at any time of day and hoarded. Each day the internal battle between the potential for a couple more hours of sleep and the possibility of a hot cup of coffee was epic and constant.
The visit reminded me how far we’ve come. With rare exception, everyone sleeps through the night, we actually have a social life that doesn’t include the couch, a glass of wine and the television, and I can get to the gym with some regularity. But the biggest milestone I’ve observed this summer is that my two little girls, the little girls who just yesterday were a jealous toddler and an unaware infant, are now playing together, actually playing together, I mean collaborating. It’s absolutely delightful to watch. They are funny and adorable together. They pretend they’re puppies, they play “stop and go” down the driveway, they rock towel babies, they even tricycle together. Twila is, of course, the ringleader and Jada happily plays along, with a big smile, adding a key phrase every once in a while like “go!” or “bye mom!” she also has perfected her puppy pant with her tongue hanging out.
The other night as we stood in the driveway watching Jada balance on the back of Twila’s trike, I said to Ryan “This, is why we had two kids.” It might have been the pinnacle of my summer.
Of course I am also continually amazed by their ability to clutter a house in less than half the time it takes me to clean. Sometimes the chaos seems endless. Some days, their needs are constant and conflicting with each other’s needs so at no time can they both be happy. Some days I feel like I am breaking up fights all day long. The job of motherhood is unpredictable and that is the very thing that can make it joyful and can also make it incredibly stressful.
As Deborah Lewis points out in Motherhood Stress, all of the factors that make a “regular” job stressful are present in motherhood.
·An excess of novelty and uncertainty
· Lack of Control
·Ideals versus Reality
·No Clear Guidelines or Measure for Success
· Low status and Low Pay
And I have to agree with Ms. Lewis, motherhood remains the most stressful job I’ve even held. And I’ve been a school teacher, a server at poorly run yet expensive restaurants, a pet groomer, a vet technician and a nanny for extremely obstinate and spoiled children. The only job that’s made me brake down in a puddle of angry and guilty tears or lashed out with shouts and threats, that I will later regret, is motherhood.
But that’s how adventures are: they are unpredictable. And sometimes that means stress and sometimes it means excitement.
So motherhood is still an adventure: new challenges at every turn and startling frustrations sprinkled with great joyous victories and rewards; emotional highs and lows. And at the end of each day, I feel like I’ve done battle. But usually, as I sit on the couch each night, exhausted and worn out, I feel gratified that I not only made it through another day, I invested time and energy and creativity in my children and got to participate in their adventure.