Thursday, October 27, 2011

Chaos is the new Calm


My stress has been at maximum capacity almost one hundred percent of the time this past month. And just when I think I am completely maxed out, someone pours pee on the ground.

To backup, this last month has been the busiest one of the year for Ryan. And this year has been a particularly busy year in his career. So this last month has been historically busy. What this means for me as a mother of two is lots of late nights, lots of overnight single parenting. It means that when Ryan’s home, he’s often fielding calls and emails and I’m wrangling and shushing kids and when he’s not home, which seems to be a lot, I am juggling two girls with very strong and very strongly different needs.

This is what we’ve been calling a season. Certainly it won’t last and we all do our best to be positive and hang in there, make the most of our time together and create new routines for the girls to look forward to like meeting out for dinner before Dad’s flight, or staying up late and having a popcorn party when he’s gone. I know we’ll see the other side of it soon and in a big picture sense, I’m sure we’ll hardly remember it in a few years.

But, on a myopic level, in the right here, right now, in the this moment feels like it will go on forever sense, the busyness is causing a great deal of chaos and unrest in our home.

The discord is taking its toll on all of us. Normally a very calm, easy going and empathetic child, Twila has been known lately to sneak treats and vitamins out of the cupboards, lay on the floor wining until she gets her way, or my personal favorite: whispering rule-breaking directives into Jada’s ear and then shrieking with delight when Jada gets in trouble for dumping her water on the couch or climbing naked onto the dining room table.

Things climaxed for me the other day when Jada refused to put her diaper on. This is nothing new. Jada has never been a big diaper wearer and it quickly became one of Twila’s favorite games to scream for Jada to “run!” every time she noticed me holding a clean diaper. Lately Jada has been going potty on her potty chair pretty consistently which is fun and great and she feels so proud. But it was one of those “stubborn toddler” afternoons and Jada was half naked insisting that she wanted to use the potty. Just as I was closing in with a diaper and pants (because we were supposed to leave ten minutes ago) the phone rang. Twila answered it and handed it to me before I could protest.

It was a mom from Twila’s preschool, one I had not met before so I felt I needed to pay attention, not to mention the fact that we don’t have caller ID and I certainly wouldn’t have been able to find a functioning pen to write her contact information down. As I was trying to listen to her and sound half-competent, Twila approached with a bag of freeze-dried strawberries (why do kids have such important demands the second we get on the phone?). I nodded vigorously waving her away. Just then Jada screamed yeay! And clapped her hands, a sure sign that she had had success with the potty. I mimed a congratulations to her while ‘uh-hu’-ing along with Twila’s friend’s mom. Just as I was writing down the information for her classmate’s birthday party, I heard the sound of chips pouring onto the kitchen floor. I dropped the marker and raced around the corner to find Twila standing in a pile of freeze dried strawberries. This made no sense to me then and it makes no sense to me now. But I didn’t have time to ask. I had to finish writing down the address.

As I said a hasty goodbye, I heard Jada shout from the hallway, uh-oh mommy! I ran in to find that Jada had attempted to empty her own potty chair and was now standing in a pool of her own urine. I took a deep breath, fighting down the hormonal wave of frustration that made my deep breath more like a gasp for air.

Lets clean it up! I said as brightly and calmly as I could. Jada loves to clean, so we got spray and paper towels and started cleaning together. Just as we were finishing up, I heard what sounded remarkably like water spilling. This couldn’t be. Jada was right there with me. As I rounded the corner to the family room, I found a nervous looking Twila, an empty glass and a cat under her arm. “Honey knocked my water over,” Twila apologized.

“Well, clean it up!” I said curtly trying not to be more frustrated with Twila just because she’s got three years on Jada. I went back to gathering clothes and shoes to leave like I had been doing before the phone rang. A few minutes later I walked through the family room and stepped straight in Twila’s puddle, soaking my socks. A hand towel lay casually beside the puddle, the apparent remains of her effort in cleaning up the mess.

“Twila!” I shouted.

“What?” She shouted back from the kitchen.

“Why didn’t you get this mess—?” I stormed into the kitchen as I yelled but as I rounded the corner, I stopped short. There, all over the kitchen floor were slices of turkey and cheese. The girls were on the counter pulling K-cups out of the coffee cupboard where they know they are forbidden to play.

I’ll spare you the litany of lecture/threats that ensued. It wasn’t my finest parenting moment.

And that pattern seems to be our new norm: chaos, shouting, and lecturing leaving the kids feeling dejected and me feeling guilty.

Twila insisted that she had just been trying to help Jada get a snack—that it was Jada who dropped the turkey all over the floor. But weren’t you watching her? I had to know. Weren’t you aware that I wouldn’t like this? I can’t seem to help but pile responsibility onto Twila, I guess just because it makes me feel less alone when the chaos strikes.

That’s the really hard thing about being a stay at home mom, or maybe any kind of mom, I don’t know. It’s when things really fall apart, when things just spiral out of control, you can’t go knock on your coworkers door and sit on the corner of her desk and say, “hey, can I bounce some ideas off of you?” When the stuff hits the fan, you’re on your own to sort it out and you have to know how to act—right now.

As always, I’m trying to find a way to be Zen about sticky drinks being spilled on my jeans, snacks dumped daily in the backseat of my car, poopy diapers forgotten for days in my trunk, scattered, homemade confetti all over the floor, collaborating between my daughters that is as loud and disruptive as their fighting, and all the stress of getting nothing done and handling nothing well.

My birthdaughter’s mom once said to me, back when she had three kids under the age of five and I had just one two and a half year old, you just have to embrace the chaos.

“Oh yes,” I had agreed thinking that my active toddler was the embodiment of what she must have meant by ‘chaos.’ I had no idea.

Even on a good day, the action just doesn’t ever stop. Twila hasn’t napped in three years and Jada’s naps are sporadic at best. The girls are busy (crazy), persistent (pushy), great negotiators (demanding) and emotional (winey). So my brain never gets a rest. In fact my brain rarely gets to do something that I want it to do. Most of my brain power is spent on constantly managing feelings, mediating fights and trying to calmly and rationally redirect the “energy” that fills the house.

And it doesn’t take much (a little too much coffee, a little too little sleep, one too many screams in the ear, one demand too many) to tip the balance of patience and calm, leaving me a manic, screeching, power-struggle-engaging, wreck, yelling in a high pitched voice and trembling as if I’ve been shot with adrenaline.

One of the healthiest things I’ve learned to do about ten percent of the time, is to walk away from the petty disagreements of my children, to walk away from the potential spill or mess instead of trying to keep it from happening, to walk away from temper tantrums instead of trying to placate them. When I am able to do it, I am a calmer person and I realize I actually am capable of letting things go sometimes. I sometimes realize that messes can all be cleaned up and kids are just kids, not tiny embodiments of the weakest aspects of our character sent to torture us and reveal our shortcomings.

That ten percent of the time, I am a better mom than normal, staying calm and easy-going.

The rest of the time I just try to embrace the chaos that Sandy talked about as my new normal. Not forever, but for now.

Epilogue:

Little did I know as I wrote this pee on the floor would be a vacation compared to the mess I encountered two nights ago. I would be remiss to exclude the ongoing chaos and anxiety-inducing bedlam that has daily kept me from actually finishing and posting this entry.

My girls, it seems, are on a two-woman mission to make my hair grey before I turn thirty one.

The discord hasn’t stopped for two consecutive minutes since I originally finished this piece. From fights to demands, playing ‘tag’ on the counter, dancing on the table while dinner is being served, chasing the cat, hitting each other, from complaints to refusals for cooperation, the girls have reached new heights of crazy-making.

Two nights ago, Ryan was at work. Twila has been working on wiping herself when she’s done with the potty which has had mixed success. It’s been working OK but for three specific times when she clogged the toilet with an excess of toilet paper so badly, that it required professional help. And by professional help of course I mean, my husband.

But this night, Ryan was at work.

Ryan was at work and Twila made an epic clog in our toilet. It’s a toilet that is not supposed to be clog-able. Yet, it was so clogged that I could not get a plunger into the toilet to fix it. But let me back up.

I didn’t realize we had a problem until Jada came into the kitchen saying, “Wet, uh-oh, wet, mommy.” I looked at her pants and saw that they were indeed wet. So naturally, I offered to help her out of them.

“Uh-oh,” she kept saying and pointing to the bathroom.

When I finally left my attempts to organize the cupboards to see what she wanted to show me, I found that she had flushed the toilet at least four or five times after the terrible clog had taken place.

It was about four o’clock in the afternoon and I realized, this was not going to be a good night.

I abandoned my plans for making dinner and shut off the water valve behind the toilet. The water was, thankfully, clear but the situation in the toilet bowl was messy.

I called Ryan for help. But not before I realized that the toilet overflow was leaking all the way to the basement and had caused a huge pond of toilet water to accumulate on the floor down there. I began mopping up contaminated water with bath towels. I began the mandatory screaming at my children to stay away from any water on the floor.

After they had been quarantined to their room, I began the job Ryan had recommended of bailing out the toilet bowl into the bathtub so that I could get a plunger in to the toilet without overflowing it.

“But,” he had warned, “if the water is not clean, it has to go in our toilet down the hall. You don’t want that going down the drain of the tub.”

I was able to dip clear water out of the toilet and pour it into the tub. It gave me the willies but I reminded myself Ryan had fixed this problem two other times. After the water level was lower, I got the plunger.

It only took a minute for two things to happen. One, I realized I had not bailed nearly enough water, and two, the water turned to a nasty, dirty muck.

It became so gross so quickly that I did not at first accept that there was too much water to plunge it. I was at the point of no return, I decided, and kept at it. This created one of the grossest messes in and around the toilet I have ever seen.

Right about that point Twila yelled from her room that she needed to go potty. I screamed in the tone of a banshee that I could NOT help her right now.

Next thing I knew, as I furiously plunged causing water to splash and spray, Jada was crying from behind their bedroom door. My hands were wet now with the mucky water and stray drips were catching my face and hair.

I started sobbing. As I plunged, I screamed in anger and disgust like a wild beast. I couldn’t believe I had been dealing with this for over an hour and was no closer to a solution. The realization slowly settled on me that I was going to have to bail more water out and this time, I was going to have to bring it down the hall to our room to put it in the toilet. At the notion, I cried harder.

“Stay! In! Your! Room!” I screamed at a pitch that hurt my throat. After making a path of towels

All the way down the hall I began the nastiest job I’ve ever had, and I was a vet tech assistant.

I have a stomach made of iron after five years of motherhood. But as I bailed dark brown water from the toilet into a bucket that I then slogged down the hall to pour into the toilet, I gagged and thought I would throw up.

Needless to say, when all of this was over, the entire house smelled of bleach.

But somehow at the end of the day, this job of parenting ends up seeming worth it. Last night T and Jada and I were sitting at the table for dinner and Twila, holding her cat on her lap, asked calmly, “is a cat’s penis tiny?” she showed me a tiny space between her thumb and forefinger to illustrate how tiny she was picturing.

After regaining my composure, I told her yes it probably was.

After thinking about this for a moment she said, “Is any creature allergic to humans?”

This completely cracked me up. Jada was just standing in her chair quietly eating giant romaine leaves dipped in dressing, making her cheeks puff up like a squirrel. She looked curiously from me to Twila.

I laughed and laughed until there were tears in my eyes. I told her that I don’t know; that someday she’ll have to ask God that question because I don’t think we have any documentation of animals getting allergy pills so they can be around people. But Twila simply carried on in a quiet voice, ignoring her food.

“Did you know my ice melting is making the room warmer?”

I’ll have to contact someone in thermodynamics to confirm this one.

Even though they are demanding, loud, intense and pushy, they also love vegetables inexplicably and are hilarious with their brilliant questions and observations. The curiosity and wonder of my children is the closest thing to magic I experience on a daily basis and it (and the two hour shower and the big glass of wine) are almost enough to make me forget the traumatic and disgusting moments of motherhood.