I understand people who look at the path I've chosen in life and think I have it easy. I do! I understand how they think I don't do anything all day, how I just essentially babysit the kids, because almost every day when I come down the stairs after getting everyone to bed, I look at my wreck of a house and I think, "Annie! HOW can you be tired!? You have gotten literally NOTHING accomplished today! NOTHING!" Yet, here I am, sitting at the kitchen table, staring down the day's mess and just not having any thread of energy left to deal with it.
Wondering about that--about being so exhausted after doing basically nothing day after day-- has prompted me to consider the differences between parenting little children and parenting bigger children. Gone are my days of being the only one around to read "Moo Baa LaLaLa" on repeat all afternoon--that's a job I can delegate to one of the four Big Sisters who are more than happy to snuggle up with their baby sister and read the day away! Neither am I yet to the part of parenting where I'm helping choose prom dresses, managing big life decisions, driving teens to their jobs, etc. College is not quite on our radar yet, and few are our activities. Really, I have it pretty good! I feel I'm in a quiet stretch.
No, the difference is that instead of the mind-numbing exhaustion of wiping up spills and round-the-clock nursing, these days parenting is just one huge mind game. Every moment is a mental exercise, and I feel like the stakes are oh so very high. You might think that simple questions require simple answers, but YOU ARE WRONG. Simple questions beg all sorts of other questions in my head about how to answer correctly. Example: "Does this shirt go well with these pants?" I might look at the shirt-pants combo and think they are just a regular shirt and plain khaki pants, and wonder how they woudln't look good, or why on earth my opinion matters on this. But I have to be ridiculously careful with my answer. I can't say something like, "Of course they look good, it's just a shirt and plain pants." That sounds condescending. I can't just say, "Yes, they look fine." That may come off as dismissive. I do, after all, WANT my daughter to feel she can come to me with personal questions. I don't want to say "No," or suggest an alternate garment, because even though that would show adequate attention, the outfit is really fine. It's just nothing. It's fine. And so, I have to work out in my brain (in about three seconds, because delay is the same as "you think I'm ugly!") how to manage this VERY SIMPLE QUESTION. Today I feel I did a good job with this one. I said, "Your outfit looks great. I know I tell you that all the time, but it's because you really do have good style and it's not often that you choose an outfit that is terrible... I have been honest with you before when I've thought your clothes didn't look great, so you know I wouldn't be lying--I think you look good."
WHEW! That was a lot of mental work for a green shirt and khaki pants!
There's another one that I remember from today, and this one is trickier because it involves Elka, the most sensitive human being on the planet. As you probably know, I really believe in letting children play instruments whenever the mood strikes them. Elka is an extremely self conscious child, and almost never plays instruments or sings with other people around. She also can't handle (I mean, CANNOT HANDLE) any sort of criticism (AT ALL. IT IS MADDENING!) so every teensy interaction is a delicate situation. Also, she gets offended very easily. She is difficult on many levels. So, this is a situation I think I did NOT handle correctly: We were all getting jackets and shoes on to go out, and Martin had just fixed a few of the broken piano keys, so the piano was all opened up. I guess instead of that fact being a clue for Elka that probably the keys had been glued (this isn't all that unusual of an occurrence,) it instead piqued her interest, and she went over and started playing on the piano. Now, what I should have done (hindsight!) is let her play and if the keys had to be re-glued again, who the heck cares. (I'm saying keys--maybe I mean hammers? I'm not sure, Martin is the piano surgeon around here, I just play the thing.) Instead of taking that road though, I said in an extremely calm and nonchalant tone, "Ooh, yeah, maybe don't play the piano right now because Daddy just fixed the broken keys."
The ear-piercing scream actually made Sylvi cry and the children all left on a sadder note than was necessary for their outing.
But do you see how quick I have to be? Every interaction feels like an emergency. All these emotions. So delicate.
Here's another thing that happened today: I spent like six million dollars at Target when I only went there for some broccoli and to see if they had Harry Potter costume glasses. I ended up with a giant squid costume, a Stitch costume (from Lilo & Stitch,) a pretty cool light-up mirror mask, and a freaking huge teddy bear.
So, here's how it happened. The Harry Potter glasses were supposed to be for Ingrid for Halloween, but she actually had really wanted to be Stitch. So when they did not have anything Hogwarts related, but they DID have a one-piece Stitch costume that was super simple and I knew she would love, I said she could get it. (This was worth the ridiculous price because it meant I could stop looking for Harry Potter glasses. A huge relief!) Well, then Elka found this mask that is a mirror. Now, Elka really struggles with costumes because they are never perfect, and also she hates people. So when she found this mirror mask--one that allows her to see other people while not allowing them to see her--it seemed like a fantastic idea, not just for Halloween, but for every day of her life! So yes, of course Elka could get the mirror and this holiday would be much easier for her.
Then... the squid costume. The squid costume was also a one piece but it was a size 5T, Greta (the one who wanted it) is TWELVE, it was too expensive, and she already had her Halloween costume planned with stuff from the dressup closet. So, it was a big fat "no" at first. But that was before the Stitch costume and mirror mask both got a "yes." Now I just looked like a jerk. And here's the other thing--I try so, so, so hard to give every daughter what she really needs, way down deep in her heart. I feel that I fail Greta a lot because her love language is physical closeness and I despise being touched. I LOVE SOCIAL DISTANCING, YOU GUYS. LOVE IT. I don't like touching people, not even my children after about age eight. I know that conflict of love languages is going to be a major therapy topic for her a decade or so from now, so I try to make up for it. As it stood, it definitely looked like I was favoring the little girls and just telling Greta "no" for no good reason. (I mean, the reason is that I'm broke, but "being broke" is not a love language, so it doesn't count when I get to this point in the decision making process.) In other words, I was making Greta feel like I loved her less. So after all this mental negotiation and weighing of what would be the most emotionally damaging answer, I said yes to the squid costume. (And while all this is going on, Anja asks for nothing, which hurts me more than anything else because she wants so little, and I never know what she does want/need. Again, the torment in my mind, trying to do the right thing, never knowing if I'm succeeding.)
AND THEN SYLVI FOUND THE ENORMOUS TEDDY BEAR.
She found it somewhere, picked it up and snuggled it and carried it around with her all throughout this costume/love conundrum and when it was time to leave it behind (because I was NOT going home with that thing, I am not that kind of parent!) she SOBBED. She loved it with all her little heart. We kept trying to drop it off places on the way to the checkout, but she would not let go of it. It was so cute and funny and sad, that finally I said, "Fine. We'll get the bear, but as soon as she falls asleep, it goes into a closet to get saved for Christmas." (Luckily, that plan actually worked out really well!)
And that, my friends, is how I arrive at the end of the day completely exhausted, and deeply in debt. Because there are no simple questions. Because everything is a love test. Because I know I'm doing it wrong, I'm just trying to choose the least-wrong route in every situation. Because because because! Because I'm just trying to do my best, just exactly like the rest of you.