There are days when you give everything you have and it’s nowhere near enough for anyone. And it’s okay, in the long run. You tell yourself a true tale about how healthy it is for all of us to have moments when we know we are loved tremendously and yet cannot come first, for good reasons. These are the very best life lessons, as long as they don’t last forever. And yet they feel like shit.
This too, is alright. Feeling horrible after doing your very best is 90% of mothering, as far as I can tell. Okay, maybe not 90%. But it was a shockingly new feeling for me as a competent childless adult, and has become utterly quotidian.
It’s those days when you have a sleeping toddler chewing on your nipple and your six year old comes downstairs quietly to tell you he’s not feeling well (after just spending the whole morning with his bed-ridden grandmother and infant cousin, who have now all been exposed to whatever summer crud he was incubating).
His big eyes are bright and he energetically tells you how strange it is to be freezing cold in his thick Harry Potter robe when it’s nearly 80 degrees, with much hand waving. And the fever just goes up and up over the course of the night. By 1:30am his fever nightmares awaken him and your spouse spends the rest of the night with him downstairs on the couch because you have a teething piranha on top of you.
You wake up with the baby at 6:45 am (well, you also woke up at 3:30, 4:30, and 5:30…and of course several times before midnight) and feel kind of guilty for your spouse who never came back to bed but at the same time know that you would sleep all day if permitted. But you aren’t. So you get up and tell the distraught toddler where his sibling and father are, because it is a Big Deal that they aren’t where they were supposed to be when he woke up.
The fever breaks and then comes back with a vengeance. Your spouse showers and leaves for work. You watch him walking to the car like one of the poor souls on the Titanic as the last life boat cuts loose.
And it turns out that the newly minted two year old deals with distress and anxiety by hitting. He loves his big brother to pieces and doesn’t know what to do when his wild and boisterous super brother–by some evil magic–turns into a sad, vulnerable, miserable small child. So he runs up to him as he lies pathetically on the couch–eyes closed, breathing shallowly–and slaps him in the face as hard as he can. And then leans over and kisses him on the mouth. Every time you turn around.
It’s not like you are doing your nails, but people need feeding, your sick baby needs a wet wash cloth on his forehead, you HAVE to drink some coffee. But you feel your heart being ripped out every time you turn your back for a second and realize your 2 year old is savaging his sick sibling. You acknowledge his feelings and talk about how hitting hurts, you sooth his brothers’ tears, you try to distract the toddler with activities and food. Nothing works. Your sick kid is too sick to be alone, he needs you, but having you means having his brother–who at the moment is an evil gremlin hell-bent on destroying everything good and decent in the world.
You tenderly lift all 60 pounds of your first born and carry him up the stairs and put him to bed. Sick babies are light as a feather. Unfortunately, taking him away from his brother means taking him away from you and that is so not okay right now. Cooing at him through the monitor is not enough by half. You are at home full time with these two kids every day and you’ve never felt so incompetent.
Your partner has only been gone two hours when you call and ask him to come home. You feel like a failure because how can it possibly take two parents to take care of one sick kid? He has to keep working but at least he can be a warm body in the room so that when your sad boy wakes from his delirium every 30 minutes, he doesn’t wake up scared and alone.
The icing on the cake is when you hear the distressed clucking of the hens that means the fucking black snake (that you know you are supposed to love because it eats rodents and probably the baby copperheads that almost killed your children, but you can’t because it eats your eggs everyday and you are just pouring greenbacks down its throat) is in the nesting box. You sling the sleepy toddler you just woke up from his nipple-chewing nap across your hip and stomp out to the chicken yard, snatching up one of your son’s many homemade swords on the way.
Yes, you literally battle a fucking 5 foot black snake in shorts and flip flops with a big wooden sword and a baby on your hip and it hisses at you and rattles it’s tail like a rattlesnake and eats the egg you just shoved out of its mouth anyway, all while staring at you with total sass.
You stomp back inside, throw the baby at his grandfather (really it takes three adults to care for a sick kid), put on more appropriate clothing and head back to the fray. You trap the snake and it escapes. You shake it from its hiding place and accidentally drop a pallet on its neck, which makes you feel like a horrible human being. You run for the shovel to finish the job so you will at least feel like a decent person, but it’s gone by the time you get back.
You spend an hour literally shuttling back and forth between the toddler destroying the house and reading to the sick kid. At 5pm you leave your toddler screaming to attend a school meeting. You only stay for an hour. But it doesn’t matter; it was too long. When you get home your husband looks like he’s been dragged behind a truck for several miles and the sick kid has a glazed semiconscious expression that tells you he should have been asleep hours ago. Probably before you left. The toddler is very happy. He wants to be held while you pee because he loves you so much.
You put the sick kid to bed. You finally eat dinner. You nurse the toddler. You start writing. You accidentally delete what you wrote even though it perfectly expressed your complex emotional state. You don’t cry, you just start over.
Because this is it. You have had way worse days. Your worst days are better than so many women’s everydays. It’s all worth telling. It’s all real.
The snake got the egg, again. But my little baby boy saw me fight a big fucking snake with a big fucking sword and if that’s not a win for feminism, I don’t know what is.
None of my beloveds got what they needed from me today and they all felt the loss. But they know they are loved and they know that today is one of the days that happens.