The interesting thing about being a mother is that everyone wants pets, but no one but me cleans the kitty litter.
– Meryl Streep
Haley is playing Jingle Bells on the piano. It’s been less than a week since the girls schlepped their backpacks home stuffed with months of worksheets, book reports quizzes, science projects, a clay pinch-pot (penny holder? soap dish?), and a smashed cupcake from the last-day-of-school party. There are no buses to catch this morning and at 8:00 a.m. they’re still in pj’s. Sydney sits eating at the breakfast table, but her steady, methodical routine is disrupted by the percussive volume coming from the front room.
“Haley!” I yell, “It’s June, for heaven’s sake. Play something else.” Sending the piano stool spinning, she jumps off and comes sliding into the kitchen.
“I’ve got the Power!” she sings loudly, growling the word power and adding a kick and a punch for emphasis.
Dancing around and under my feet as I move from fridge to sink to coffee pot, she belts, “I’ve got the Power! I’ve got the Power! I’ve got the Power! I’ve got the POWER!”
“Ha-ley. You’re annoying me.” Sydney says quietly. “Your . . . singing. You are, you are giving me . . . a headache.”
“I’ve got the Power! I’ve got the Power! I’ve got the Pow-ow-ow-ow-er!” Haley scoots undeterred out of the room. Sydney sighs, placing her palm on her forehead.
In preparation for summer fun with my girls, I cut back my hours at work. My fantasies consisted of less routine and more freedom, less busy-ness and more togetherness, less time spent working and a whole lot more spent playing. But that was before summer actually started. I should know better by now.
Because, truth be told, I am a psychotic mommy; a June Cleaver meets Joan Crawford version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The fact that only my children are capable of triggering this instantaneous shape-shifting is oddly comforting and disturbing at the same time.
My youngest, in particular, with her brilliant mind and astounding zest for life, pushes my buttons, and is (coincidentally?), like me; multi-dimensional. Living with ADHD, she is challenged by impulsivity, inattention and hyperactivity. While Sydney needs time to process, room for flexibility and a slower pace, her sister needs constant stimulation, a high level of structure and detailed feedback.
Being with Haley is like living inside a pinball machine; a jarring barrage of sounds, words and thoughts. Continually absorbing her environment, what she takes in, she remembers forever after. When she was 5 she said, “I have a camera in my head,” a perfect way to describe her photographic memory. Her brain fires rapidly and her mouth interpolates a running narrative.
“How do you make your own fossil?”
“Is wood a plant?”
“Why do we say 9 ‘oh’ 4 instead of 9 ‘zero’ 4?”
“Who answers the questions that scientists can’t answer.”
Incessant talking, questioning, exploring and exclaiming; Haley is compressed energy.
Sydney tries to interject between the words, but it takes her longer to get her sentences out, “Um, Mom? Mom? Um, am I going to Camp Barnabas on June 17th?”
“Yes,” I answer for the 700th time, “you are.”
Sydney is needy for attention because her sister commands it all.
“Haley! Stop! Mom, I didn’t get to talk. She’s talking across me.”
Managing the lives of not one, but two, children with special needs—diametrically opposing needs—has made me the crazy mom I am today.
But, I vow this summer will be different. This summer I don’t want to get angry and turn green, ripping my clothing to shreds. I need a plan. When I’m putting away freshly folded laundry and I find mildewing towels on the bathroom floor piled on top of inside-out clothes, globs of toothpaste on the counter, and a specimen floating in an un-flushed toilet bowl and I feel a familiar chemical reaction, an adrenaline surge through my body, I need to Breeeeeeeathe. I need to Stay. In. Control.
And, how can I make it different? That is the million-dollar question. Being with my kids 24/7 reminds me that there is only one time they drive me nuts, and that’s when I’m with them 24/7.
One strategy is to keep moving. We are booked day after day and frequently into the nights. My Google calendar is colorful with appointments and events and practices and play dates. I can’t stop or even slow, because, at that moment, sensing weakness, they will circle for the kill. My mind repeats, ‘just keep moving, just keep moving.’
Yesterday we made it to swim practice (almost on time), picked up milk, dish soap and a birthday present at the store, had a friend over to play and went to the library. I managed to get dressed, but I think I may have forgotten to brush my teeth.
Realistically, I can’t keep up that pace and honestly, I don’t want to. I crave down-time and I will get it, even if it’s forced on me by exhaustion. They need down-time, too, so scheduling relaxation at the pool seems a perfect strategy. The kids can swim and mommy can lie in the sun; it’s a win-win! However, another mother has messed with my plans this year; Mother Nature.
It’s been a cold, rainy spring in Mid-Missouri but despite the temperatures and weather alerts for thunderstorms, floods, and even a tornado watch, swim team practice has been held. The little troopers sit at the edge of the pool, shivering and hugging themselves; their lips blue, teeth chattering. Yesterday the sun broke through the clouds for 5 glorious minutes, then, a crack of thunder, and down came the rain. Again.
My last and best strategy is to simply let go. Surrender. Give in, but not give up. Flexibility is the mother’s F-word. It feels like a relief to embrace that things won’t go as I’ve planned, and in fact, that’s not what I want anyhow. There’s an elusive truth somewhere in the back of my mind—or heart—waiting to hand me the key to the best summer yet. Like I said, I should know better by now and maybe I actually do.
As I renegotiate my expectations, time for myself mustn’t be excluded, because what I do know is this: ‘neglect my own needs repeatedly, mercilessly and I will crash and burn.’ Prioritizing time alone is worth any effort it takes and my spoiled princesses will learn that everything is not always about them; that their indulged desires need to be balanced with others’ needs. And for me, space from my little darlings can be the difference between Super Mom or Mommy Dearest coming to stay; the difference between me surviving the summer or relishing it. My house might not be clean, but I will be rested and happy and appreciating my children, who won’t ever be this young again.
“Mom, can I borrow your boxing wraps to make something?” Haley asks as I type an email. Because of her tendency to rip through drawers and closets in search of some specific item, leaving destruction in her wake, she has been told and warned and threatened to ask before she commences digging.
“Okay,” I say, not looking up from my computer, “but only one pair.”
She starts to move, and I look at her over my reading glasses, “I will get them for you.”
Sheepishly, she says, “I already got them.”
She lifts her whole leg and sets her heel heavily on the coffee table, revealing a makeshift cast, my white wraps wound and Velcro-ed over her foot, around her ankle and all the way up to her knee.
“I broke my tibula and fibula. Can you show me how to limp?”
Eventually, the sun has to come out, right?