The sweet, beautiful, drippy love that comes from being a mother.
Honestly, I feel so despondantly sad for people who cannot have children, and so helplessly sorry for people who think they don't want children. This love I'm talking about is really not something you can experience, learn about, or imagine unless you are in it. It's the best, most powerful, strongest, fastest love there is. I love this love.
So yes, I was going to write a whole post about this: the beautiful, irreplaceable, mind-boggling love that mothers feel for their children.
I learned this love in a flash, as most mothers do on their first birth-day, but under the most desperate of circumstances: the confluence of birth and death. Holding Charlotte, and feeling that irrepressable urge to swallow her whole, to inhale her, to wrap myself around her and cling to her for my very life, and knowing I had to release her, that was quite a beginning.
But it was that very love that inspired me to do it again. I could have easily laid down and died after she died. It would have been simple, and would have saved me so much heartache. But I was absolutely desperate to feel that again for someone else. I could hardly fathom how it would feel to love somebody that much and get to hold them to your heart whenever you wanted to. To feel them breathe and dare to imagine you might get to hold them again tomorrow. So I held out, and made myself keep breathing, keep eating, keep walking.
And then I did it again.
Which brings me to what I am going to have to write about instead of love, and that is parenting four children. Today, the 14th of February, the day when many wives find themselves with flowers, or chocolate, or a card, or at least a little pat on the back, I am by myself in the house after having single handedly put all four children to bed. This is not a brief process. It began at 5:37 and finished at 8:34. I burst into tears once and now I am drinking wine. Sometimes four feels like a lot.
There was this amazing honeymoon of ease after Maeve was born. She was small, she was quiet, she was always happy. Nestled in the Moby wrap or a tight sling she slept her life away, waking from time to time to peer out at her most interesting surroundings, gulp down some milk, and sleep some more. Meanwhile, Fiona, who was a peaceful and compliant 18 months, toddled around happily in her little world. Free will was not on the table yet. She did as told, joyfully, and things ticked along just fine.
I remember this fall practically singing from the treetops. Things were going so well. I felt so competent. I was so thrilled with my life, my children, my home. I felt on top of things. The weather was fine, the baby was happy, the toddler was delightful, and the two big kids were as chipper and pleased as could be.
Simultaneously, the baby came out of the wrap and the toddler turned two. Suddenly, I had a baby on my hands who needed rocking in order to sleep, a proper nap outside of her sling, and time to play. Meanwhile, her older sister was discovering the meaning of the word "no" and experimenting with the concept of independence. Also at the same time, Liam became fiercely addicted to sports as his sole pastime, spending hours outside in the driveway with a hockey stick or baseball bat, begging for an adult to pitch to him or put on the goalie pads, or anything that would engage him in any sort of game. Aoife, struggling with her transition to school, was everywhere all at once. The walls began to crumble. I was teetering. Where had the peaceful ease gone to, and how would I get it back?
Now four months have passed. Aoife has returned to her fanciful, creative, joyful self, and for this I'm just incredibly grateful. Liam is learning a thing or two about flexibility and has come to know that there isn't always going to be somebody who can throw to him all afternoon. We're learning how to work with Fiona and I'd say she's really quite swell, all things considered, and of course Maeve is busy and plenty of work but she's delightful and happy at all times.
But it's just. so. busy. Maeve is crawling all over the place, scooping things into her mouth at a rapid rate (one trip to the ER already: diagnosis made the next morning: swallowed a plastic coated sticker which lodged (and subsequently dislodged) itself in her esophagus). So I have to really be on her all the time. Fiona is two, and not two and a half: she's still a baby, and creative and with no common sense at all. She's wonderful at playing by herself and keeping herself entertained, but it's really not such a great idea to actually let her play alone. Her rate of destruction is pretty swift. The older two are in school all day, but when they are home I am so desperate to spend some time with them and actually play with them, somehow, doing something that feels fun and meaningful for all of us. Many days, this feels like a challenge. The four children are in such different places. It's hard to mix over anything but a Madonna dance party (and there are many of these). Winter is hard. I yearn for outside and warm sun. But I do my best.
Somewhere in here, while trying to keep everyone happy, I have to do all the things we have to do: laundry for six people, all the cooking, food shopping, cleaning up, folding of clothes, organizing of tupperware, washing of dishes, putting away of six people's belongings, paying the bills, take out the garbage, get the mail, wash the diapers, put the diapers away, take out the compost, sweep the tiny stuff off the floor so Maeve doesn't choke. There is so much every day stuff I really can hardly imagine things like changing sheets and scrubbing the bathtub and taking a shower and other things that really do need to be done, but in the grand scheme of where I'm at right now end up feeling optional. All of this excludes the fact that I'm also running a non-profit somewhere in there.
I'm really feeling the pull downward tonight, to the place where I'm saying I need a break.... but knowing there is no break in sight. "Can't you work something out, so you can have a break?" Not really. I really can't. My baby can't really manage without me, she doesn't sleep reliably for more than 3o minutes at a time, and I get panicky and strange when I'm away from her for too long. So I've set myself up into this situation, and I'm willing to live with it.
I'm just saying.
I'm just saying this here, because there is nowhere in my life where I can say this: I have so much to do. I don't have another friend with four children. I sometimes will begin to express when I'm feeling overwhelmed to my friends, and they say, "I know how you feel." But I don't know if they do, because they have two children. And two is actually much less than half of four. And three is a bit less than three-quarters of four. I know this because I have had these numbers in my household before, and somehow there is a tipping point that we've crossed, and suddenly it just got a lot bigger very fast.
For one single second, I don't feel that I've had too many children, or that I wish I had less. I know that I am at a very challenging point in my parenting journey. Having two babies at once with two older children, with varied needs, just presents a situation where I'm very busy all the time. I have almost literally not been without a child during the day for almost eight years. During the fall that Aoife was in nursery school there were FOUR occasions before Fiona's birth where I had a morning to myself. That is the sum total of my "me" time in the past seven years and ten months. Four mornings. Of course I can't remember what I did, but I can dream.
I keep fantasizing about next fall: when Maeve is 16 months, and Fiona is almost 3, and we can have one, streamlined bedtime for the babies, and then an hour or so before it all begins again for the big kids. Right now we have four, extensive, high-powered bedtimes, none synchronized, all perfectly tailored for a sweet, cozy, loving goodnight for each child that is sweet, and lovely, and perfect, until one parent goes out for the evening and then everything goes to hell in a handbasket. This is every Tuesday for me, and I'm venting tonight.
I was going to write about love, but instead I just told you how it is. It's all about love, really. I spend all day cozy, reading, smooching, caring for these people, and I love it. This work is beautiful work because it's maintaining what to me feels like the best family on earth. But it's hard work, and sometimes the best way to wrap your head around a challenge is to just lay it out on the table: this is hard. Hard, but I'm going to keep going. Just as I pressed through the agony of my childless year after Charlotte's death, knowing that there was more beauty in store for me, I continue to press through challenges that arise because I know that around each corner there is something amazing waiting for me.
Today was actually a beautiful, sweet day with our children. Maeve took a long morning nap and Fiona and I made a very cool tent out of rolled up newspapers for her to play in. I made vegetarian chili and cornbread at lunchtime and so there was no dinner prep. Everyone was happy and joyful all day, and even into the evening. It was just me, it was only me. It was just four hours of sleep last night and a long, but happy, day making me feel like I needed an out.
If I started the post again right now, I'd probably write about love.