Today started out like it was going to be one of the worst in my parenting history. My husband was away on a quick overnight trip, and I was home alone with the kids. I had the brilliant idea of having both kids host a play date yesterday after school, thinking this might alleviate some of the single parenting burden I was carrying for the next 24 hours. I picked up four children between the ages of 5 and 6 after school and trailed them home as they sped down the street. When we reached the house a few minutes later, I laid out the ground rules: “The two of you can play together, and the two of you can play together. At no time are you to be in the same room as the other two, nor are you to go into your sibling’s bedroom.” They agreed and ran off to play. Things were good for about a half an hour, so I foolishly thought I could call up a friend. As soon as we started chatting, my daughter informed me that my son had spit on her friend. Excellent. I bid adieu to my friend and went to broker the peace. I don’t know where this spitting thing has come from, but he’s been doing it all week. I had a nice chat with my son, one that ended in his tears as he thrashed on the floor so I know it must have been a success, and the play date returned to normal.
As I think I’ve mentioned in this blog before, I’m a little bit OCD. I decided it would be much easier for me to take the four kids out to the pizza parlor around the corner than have a pizza delivered and have to constantly be yelling, “Use your napkin!” or “You know you’re going to have clean that up, right?” We walked down, ordered our pizzas, and settled into a nice game of “Name an animal that starts with A…now one that starts with B…” Thank god for the iPhone, which helped us out when we couldn’t think of Kimodo Dragon on our own. The photos and tales of venomous saliva helped keep their minds off their appetites, and I’m sure it enticed my son to test the mettle of his own venomous saliva at some point in the near future.
The pizza arrived, we ate, and walked home. Both kids were picked up, and my kids willingly got into pajamas, brushed their teeth, and settled into bed without protestation. I felt like the king of the world. I had conquered four kids easily after a full week of work with barely any tears. My husband could stay away for days and I’d be singing like Mary Poppins to while away the time. Before heading to bed myself, I set my alarm early enough to give me enough time to work out on the elliptical in the basement, shower, and prep breakfast before the kids awoke.
When my alarm went off, I felt refreshed and alert. I decided to stay in bed for a few more minutes, check my email and such. My son knocked on my door. He said my daughter needed Poppy. “Well he’s not here kiddo. I’ll be down in a minute.”
I took my time getting my workout clothes on, and headed down to check on my daughter.
“Don’t be mad Daddy. It was an accident.”
She only says this when she’s wet the bed. Awesome. I pulled back the covers and it looked like someone had let loose a fire hose on her bed. I could feel my single parent stamina starting to crack. “Why didn’t you get up and go potty?” My voice was rising. My daughter was starting to cower. This is why she had asked for Poppy.
“I don’t know.”
“I’m just really frustrated honey,” I said through grated teeth. “I’m not mad at you,” I lied. I looked at the time. Two hours. I could still clean up this mess, work out, shower, and get breakfast cooked before we had to leave the house for soccer. “Okay, quickly get undressed, and jump in the shower.”
I texted my husband, secretly hoping my distress message would keep him from sleeping in: “Our daughter wet the f***ing mattrees. What the hell do I do with it?” Rather than take the bait for a texting war, he calmly responsed: “Put two cups of baking soda in a bowl. Slowly add about 4 cups of white vinegar. It will fizz up a lot if you just dump it in. Top it off with some hot water. Use the big orange sponge from the kitchen bathroom. Scrub the area with the solution. Tip it up and turn the fans on to blow at it.” (Have I mentioned that my husband is amazing?)
Looking at the clock again, I wasn’t sure that was going to fit into my schedule. I am someone who makes lists and plans. I typically have plans that need to be executed within the next ten seconds, ten minutes, ten days, ten weeks, etc. Seriously. I have it all worked out. When something, like maybe two unassuming kids, throws a wrench in those finely made plans, I tend to freak out a bit. My husband has learned to stay calm in these situations, but his text sent me slowly toward the precipice. I reached for my Ativan and popped a pill.
I decided I needed to first work out. I got my daughter out of the shower, laid out her soccer clothes, and told her and her brother to hang out in their rooms for 30 minutes until I came back upstairs. I took those 30 minutes on the elliptical to calm down. I came back up, conjured up my husband’s anti-urine potion, and went to work on the mattress while my son got into his soccer clothes. After working my magic, I propped the mattress up in the tub with a fan forcing cool air directly on it, and ran upstairs to shower myself.
By the time I was ready for the day, we only had about 30 minutes before we had to leave for soccer. I was clear with the kids, “Daddy’s a little stressed out this morning, so I need you both to listen to me very carefully. No fighting either.” They are used to these warnings, and I’d like to believe they’re beyond being scared of them.
30 minutes later, we were out the door heading to soccer. I had taken on more Ativan to help me through the morning (my therapists says that in moments like this taking two is totally okay), and we made it to soccer without missing a beat. I even had time to make my chai latte, pack the folding chairs, and a blanket to keep warm now that the fall chill has set in.
It’s taken me a long time to know that mornings like today are totally normal and that given my own personality and ways of dealing with stress that with mornings like today I sometimes need some help to get through them. I grew up in a dysfunctional environment, one riddled with my mother’s substance abuse, and I think I’m just starting to realize–at 36 years old–how much my childhood was defined by my attempts to make sure things were moving smoothly, something that I clearly feel is my duty as an adult within my own family.
While there are times that this feeling sends me hurtling over the cliff, fearful for the impending impact. But then there are times like tonight. I had made it through the soccer day and put the kids down for nap. (Yes we still nap…mostly for the adults.) My husband arrived mid-nap, and joined me in our bed. I woke up, and decided we needed a special family night, which of course meant we needed to cook a delicious stew and serve them in hollowed out pumpkins, a la Martha Stewart. (We did in fact use a Martha Stewart recipe.) I took my son shopping, and we arrived at home to start the long process of making an elaborate meal. When I arrived home toting several grocery bags, my husband said, “You know if I pulled this on you without any notice, you’d be in a puddle on the floor.” I smiled in agreement, and we set to work. The kids helped scrape out the sugar pumpkins while I cooked the sausage and vegetables. My husband prepped the husks for baking and then set to work on the carving pumpkins for the porch. Three hours later, we not only had an amazingly delicious white bean and sausage soup served in baked hollowed-out pumpkins, we had helped the kids carve their jack-o-lanterns for the upcoming Halloween festivities.
And this evening, I did it all without narcotics.