There is an abnormal number of babies being born at my church. Most of the women are either pregnant or have a child under the age of two. I am no longer in that season of life. I actually left that season of life shortly after having my beautiful, red-headed daughter, who didn’t sleep through the night until she was three. I don’t even think she was crawling before I made my husband go get fixed. I was not playing around.
I love, love, love babies, though. I love them. They smell phenomenal. They make the best faces. They don’t talk back. You can sing to them and they aren’t embarrassed. You can dress them up however you want because they don’t have a sense of style or an attitude yet. They are great buffers for when you don’t want to talk to people in real life. Also, they can be the perfect excuse for not being able to go places. “I can’t go to your Tupperware/Chef’s Crap party because my 96-month-old has to take a nap.” Sometimes I refer to my children as buffers. They provide a safe distance between me and social situations.
There are endless reasons to love a baby, but one of the most endearing things about infants is the way they call out your sin and selfishness without ever uttering an actual word. Kids make you realize how selfish you actually are. I spent all of last week with my kids on spring break. I can’t tell you how often I wanted to run away. I have been staying at home with kids for eight years now. I have been taking food orders, wiping butts (reluctantly), cleaning crushed Cheez-Its out of the carpet, and answering a million and seven questions about life and Spongebob and the Titanic. It has genuinely been the hardest eight years of my life. Every Thursday, I begin to melt. If a kid comes near me, I start to cry. My body screams for space and alone time and wine in a bath tub-sized glass. Everyone needs a snack. Everyone wants to eat what I’m eating for lunch, only they want it from my plate. They are tired, but they don’t want to nap. They are bored. One wants to go to the zoo and the other wants to go to the park. “Why can’t I do anything I want?!” I’ll scream. Those kids with their dirty fingernails and horribly mismatched outfits just stare at me.
“I don’t have the luxury of staying home all day.”
Those are actual words that actually came out of someone’s actual mouth. They were in reference to the fact that I stay home with my children. Those words were muttered years ago, but they have pissed me off ever since. Luxury?! I’m not lounging around in velvet and eating Tootsie Rolls all day while watching Days of Our Lives. There is actually no luxury involved in staying home with children. The day is usually covered in drama, but it isn’t daytime TV drama. It is five-year-old’s drama, and it can be all consuming.
I have a close friend who has two babies under the age of 24 months. Two.
I have another friend who has two children of her own and two foster children. That is four children. FOUR.
I have another friend who has two children of her own and works full-time as a counselor at a college. That means she has two kids + a gazillion full-grown kids.
These women are selfless in ways I can’t even fathom. They put aside their desires (showering daily, going to Target alone, talking to an adult uninterrupted) to make sure their children are taken care of. While there can be great satisfaction in loving on your children all day, I would never ever, EVER call it luxurious. It is hard. It is messy. It flushes out things in you that you wish didn’t exist, and it is oh so draining.
Imagine that immediately upon your arrival at work your boss asks you to create a grand presentation about marlin fishing. Boss man wants to know the best spots in all of the world to go marlin fishing. He would also like a detailed history of the marlin. He wants to be the most educated man that has ever fished a marlin. He wants numerous pictures of marlin. He wants to know the different breeds of marlin. Also, please list their dietary needs. He doesn’t want you to just jump on Wikipedia and half-ass this presentation. He wants you out of the office and all up in the library doing research. Then you need to find the best fisher of marlin that exists and bring him into the office, because your boss wants to meet the man he intends to defame. Oh, and he needs you to bring him lunch; not marlin, just a salad from Panera. Also, don’t forget about all your normal work stuff. Get that done too. But when you go to your desk and sit down, your boss comes and asks you to find him seven sharpened pencils. The pencils must all be the same color and be sharpened at the same exact lengths. Your day continues on like this. Every eight to ten minutes your boss either comes to see you or calls you and asks you to complete a pointless but very specific task. Your whole day is filled with interruptions and you never get more than a sentence typed for the marlin presentation. You don’t even get a chance to check Wikipedia. Then at the end of the day, your boss comes to your desk and says, “I appreciate you. Tomorrow, let’s try it again.”
This is the life of a stay-at-home mom; an endless list of tasks that will be only half-completed because every human being in the house needs your attention. Lord help me if you have a dog or some kind of pet that requires food and water. That only adds to the household drama.
Oftentimes my husband gets home and says, “What’d ya do today?” He isn’t being rude. He is genuinely curious what I did with my day. Typically, my response is something to the tune of “I tried to clean the bathroom, but then your daughter needed me to rub her back. Then she needed a snack. Then I tried to write, but your daughter needed me to put swimsuits on all of her Barbies. Then she was hungry for lunch, but not the lunch that I made her, because the Goldfish crackers tasted funny and her peanut butter sandwich was on the wrong kind of bread. So, I told her to eat what I made because she wouldn’t get anything else. Of course, she didn’t eat it and I ended up eating her lunch and the lunch I made myself. Then an hour later she was hungry and I made her the same exact sandwich and she ate every single bite. Then I tried to sweep the floor, but she wanted to help, which resulted in the floor being dirtier than it was when we started. Around 2:30, I gave up on life and sat on the couch with her and watched Kickin It. That seemed to go well.”
Having children is a great blessing, and I am in no way trying to downplay that. But having children is also very hard. I think we need to acknowledge that more often. Parenting requires sacrifice. It is no easy sacrifice. It is a sacrifice that can leave you drained and insecure. We wonder if we are doing a poor job. We wonder if we are royally screwing them up. Then we wonder if we are the ones screwed up for thinking that it is so hard to take care of another human being. Animals do it in the wild all the time. Why is it so hard for us? Mommy lions successfully raise their young in the Sahara, while I can barely escape the aisles of Target with two unharmed children. The truth is most of us have absolutely no clue what we are doing. We are just surviving.
I encourage you to congratulate a momma on keeping it together. Or better yet, ask her how hard it is. Let her complain. Let her vent. Let her cry about how she has no time for herself. Don’t offer her advice or let her borrow a parenting book. Just listen to her.
Then let her go take a nap while you watch her kids. Unless she is a stranger, in which case all of this would be kind of creepy.