So, the move is over, and we’ve had a month in our new home. We’re slowly moving out of the “getting settled” phase and into simply “living.” I still pinch myself every morning, amazed at our good fortune and that the whole grueling sale and purchase and moving processes are over. The kids are healthy and happy. I have a steady stream of client work. (And I heard a rumor that spring is actually coming to New England someday soon, even though this photo shows you what the world looked like from my front door on Tuesday morning.) All things considered, life is good. Very good.
Still, as I always have, I struggle with my intense desire to get things done and the reality of motherhood. It was hard for me to accept that I couldn’t just go crazy and unpack the entire house in four days, as I have in the past. This time around, I have two very young children in addition to my three older ones — and the domestic front is just too demanding to ignore for very long. Then there’s the sleep deprivation; until this week my 10-month-old baby was still waking to nurse three or four times a night. While my capacity to be productive is on the high side (the way too high side, according to my husband), even I can only do so much.
And then there are moments when I realize I’m misguided in my determination. Getting things done may make me feel good, but even I know that the point of life isn’t simply efficiency. Having a to-do list with every item checked off doesn’t do much to make me a better person or a better mother. I feel guilty about not spending enough time with the children, not giving them enough undivided attention, not giving them enough good memories. I tell myself that I’ll have more time to get on the floor and play “after the holidays” and then “after we move” and then “after we really get settled” and then “after I finish the tax planner” and then “after all the birthday parties” and then “after the big client project” — and now that I am approaching 40 years old, I am finally accepting that there is no “after.” There is only now.
I tend to put off my creative projects in the same way that I put off my children. If motherhood and creativity are two of the most important elements of my life, how do I let that happen so often?
Baby steps. I’m learning.
Some of you have heard me observe that my 18-year-old is just months away from leaving for college and the start of life as a young adult. I gobble up most opportunities to spend time with him, painfully aware that they are waning. That’s an easy one. What about the other children?
On Sunday, despite having “tons of stuff to do,” I took my nearly 15-year-old out for some “middle child time.” He’s not really the middle child anymore, seeing as he’s number two in the string of five, but he’s in there somewhere — and he’d been looking forward to some one-on-one time. We go to KFC, his chosen destination. We hit the drive-thru and park the car. Mainly our conversation centers on my son’s relationship with his girlfriend, and his many questions. I find myself sounding like a taller, American version of Dr. Ruth. As my son forks through a family-size container of mashed potatoes, I study his hands. I don’t know his hands well enough. I knew them so well when he was a baby, and now they are somewhat foreign to me. I have not paid enough attention. I need to learn them better. I need to know all my children’s hands by heart.
This Monday was my preschooler son’s fourth birthday. As part of the fun, I promised him a trip to Dunkin’ Donuts after his morning at school, before our trip to the grocery store. The morning had been tough for me — too many things to do and a baby who decided not to take a nap, which I had been counting on (silly me). Of course, as soon as we got back into the car and headed to school for pickup, the baby fell asleep — and stayed sleeping as we arrived at school and his older brother clambered into the car, excited about our trip to Dunkin’ Donuts.
I recently switched the baby to a front-facing seat, so my days of easily removing him from the car while he sleeps in the removable infant carrier are over. I wanted him to get a good nap, but I wasn’t sure I could easily placate the birthday boy, who was eager for his doughnut. What to do?
God bless Dunkin’ Donuts drive-thru, even if we did have to drive way out of the way to reach one. Ironically, it was right next to the KFC that I’d taken my other son to the afternoon prior.
My 4-year-old prefers to go inside and select his doughnut from the available selection, but I managed to convince him that the drive-thru was our best option, given that his baby brother was sound asleep. In a flash of flexibility, he agreed to try it. So we ordered him a “sprinkle” doughnut and a half-caff for me (bliss in a cup!) and found a spot in the parking lot.
As my son munched on his doughnut and my hot coffee fogged the windows over, I worked on the grocery list. The morning had been so hectic that I hadn’t had time to plan the week’s dinners or make the shopping list. I normally make my list when I’m at home so that I can inventory what we already have in the cupboards and the fridge, but oh well. I forged ahead, trying to remember some of the things I cook for dinner. (Nineteen years of “homemaking” and I’m still always stumped by the dinner menu.)
The doughnut devoured, my son started getting antsy. I put down my list. (I am not by nature a playful or spontaneous person, but every now and then I have a moment.) I reached out to the windshield, now fully opaque with condensation, and drew a birthday cake with my forefinger. “What’s this?” I asked my son. He perked right up. “A birthday cake! With four candles!” Then I drew a wrapped present. My son was enchanted. I drew balloons. He was thrilled. I was surprised by the level his excitement; you would of thought I was conjuring up REAL cake and presents and balloons. We then brainstormed all the things that were missing from our two-dimensional birthday party, and I drew them one by one. When we couldn’t think of anything else, my son asked to be released from his seat so he could climb up front and draw too. He showed me that he could make a 7, which is new — and I showed him how to make a 4, which, based on his reaction, was apparently like learning the location of the Holy Grail. (Note to self: spend more time working on numbers and letters with son.)
It was just a simple thing, a blip in the middle of a busy day — an event that many of you probably wouldn’t have found noteworthy in the least. But for me, it was a reminder that there is fun and laughter in letting go. A minor creative opportunity turned out to be something wonderful, because it was wonderful to my son. The rest of the day followed in the same vein of delight and enjoyment (despite the nearly inedible Spiderman cake).
OK, so two of my best motherhood moments of late took place in the car, while sitting outside Dunkin’ Donuts and KFC. I’ll try not to read too much into that.
So I’m working on a new list. Me, the lover of lists. Spend time with your son today. Put the laptop down and play. Dance. Schedule home pedicures with your daughter. Be open to creative magic. Breathe and just be right here, right now. Even if you’re just sitting in the car after a trip to the drive-thru. Or, maybe, especially then.