My alarm rang at 5:30 yesterday morning to begin the daily grind, and the very first thought that bounced through my head was I’m so thankful it’s Friday. Jude barged in the bathroom soon after I got out of the shower and asked if he could go downstairs to watch television while I got dressed. He’s obsessed with these Minecraft tutorials on Youtube lately. I made coffee and took the dog out, and then soon enough Norah came down the stairs in her underwear. She claimed she was hot in the middle of the night and took off her nightgown to throw it on the floor.
So there we were: tired mom with coffee in hand, kindergartener watching Minecraft tutorials, and almost-naked preschooler piled on the couch before sunrise. She picked It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown from the shelf – of all things – and asked me to read it. A Halloween book in April at 6:20am wearing nothing but underwear. It’s how we roll these days.
When you grow older and look back on your own childhood, the smallest details can bring nostalgia – the particular plates you ate dinner from every night, the music you listened to on a certain road trip one summer, the curtains that hung in a kitchen window for years, or that singular dish your mom would make in a way that only she can.
I wonder sometimes about the bizarre list of things my kids will one day remember about our daily lives together: the loud hum of the wheat grinder because it’s how I insist we make Saturday waffles, the predawn cuddles on the couch, my books scattered everywhere and stacked on every surface, the board games we always spill out in the same spot on the foyer rug after school, the lettuce pots we pick from on the patio in the spring, the lakeside spot we visit in the summer, the old graying dog that snores loudly enough to drown conversation and follows us from room to room.
Some routines are habits I’m happy to see them absorbing. Norah draws pictures on tiny scraps of paper sometimes to add to my gratitude jar and calls it her “happy thing,” knowing what it means for me as a nightly ritual. And I’m sure there are other habits that I don’t even realize they are observing and taking on as their own patterns. It’s one of the scariest things about parenthood, a concept you can’t dwell on too heavily. The notion that they are always mirrors, always sponges. Reflecting and absorbing.
Truthfully, this house feels like Crazytown more often than not. I cling to routines because they give me something to hold onto. But in between the daily milestones and markers on the clock and calendar, we walk a path that closely borders chaos.
Sometimes I would give my right arm for some help in this house. I crave the comfort and certainty of having a partner to discuss parenthood with, and more than that, a partner to lend a hand when bath time and dinner time and clean up and homework are all happening at the same time. Single parenthood is no joke – especially for the primary custodial parent doing the daily work required to get everyone where they need to be, literally and figuratively.
But sometimes I feel so clearly that this is a unique season. Even if I stay single forever, this is our only time that he will be 6 and she will be approaching 4 and I will be exactly where I am in my own life and it is just the three of us. Always, just the three of us. I’m grateful for this time and the memories it’s giving us.
We had something to do almost every night this week – a neighbor who stayed with us as his parents needed help one night, the usual speech therapy appointment, and an annual art show at Jude’s school. I pushed aside the usual dinner plans one night for an impulsive stop at a Chinese restaurant the kids love. It is greasy. And predictable. And mediocre at best. But it felt like a treat as I pulled in the parking lot unplanned on a school night and the kids fumbled out of the car and ran in to look at the fish tank while we waited on a booth. We indulged in whatever made us happy in that moment. It felt good.
We were reading descriptions of all the Chinese zodiac signs that were printed on the place mat and assigning them to each other based on birth years. And Jude said of one of the descriptions (The rabbit, maybe? Now I’ve forgotten.) you are that one, mom. It says shy and a peacemaker and you are those things. It’s funny that he sees these things in me. I am not shy with them as I have to be the voice asking questions and moving and advocating for them, but he’s right in a sense. I’m an introvert at heart, and I hate conflict. When life’s demands calm down and I can breathe a minute, I am exactly as he sees me. I worry that they will only ever remember me as the frantic orchestra director, the air traffic controller, the drill sergeant, the one giving orders to everyone else to keep all the balls in the air in our crazy juggling act. But kids see your true nature, I think. Even when you have to push it aside to tend to all the fires that await you as a parent. I guess they can see it shining through a bit.
It’s tiring. And one day, I hope to arrive back on a sure footing with less worry and uncertainty and perfectly balanced meals on the table every night and a house that stays clean more than chaotic. But maybe that never happens until they leave home, and I’m starting to accept that with gratitude. I find the glimmers in the smallest seconds, pausing images in my own mind and recording them here. And I’m just going to trust that they can sometimes see the real me through the madness.