Yesterday, I cried into the arms of my six-year-old.
We were on snow day 12 or maybe 27. I’d long since lost count. We’d been riddled with fevers and vomit and rashes and runny noses since the onset of winter. Cancelled school made these days drag on even longer. Surrounded by buckets and couches-turned-sick-beds, I was certain I would never make nightfall when my husband was due home on a flight sure to be delayed given the Armageddon-esque weather patterns of late.
The sitter I’d lined up for the afternoon had cancelled with the pending blizzard, forcefully crushing my aspirations of accomplishing anything for the remainder of the day with the ding of a text. I hadn’t accomplished anything in weeks.
I gathered my emotions, wound them into a tight little ball and swallowed them back down as I pushed waffles into the toaster, lined four plastic plates along the edge of the counter, then waited. My mind took flight again, landing somewhere in a minefield of “what ifs” and worry.
That morning, we’d gained new details regarding our foster son, the newest love of our lives and irreplaceable (yet “temporary” I tell myself over and over and over) addition to our family. How to feel? What to do? How does one handle concurrently wishing the best for oneself while inevitably requiring the very worst for someone else? A storm was brewing between my moral compass and my primal instinct. The lightness I often run on was growing dim, blotted out by clouds of conflicting feelings. Too dark in here. Need a distraction. Check my phone.
An email alert buzzes as an invoice drops into my mailbox for the latest side hustle still in its dawn. “Hmmm…how exactly shall I pay this?” I wonder since I’ve procrastinated the creation of a business account. Is it still procrastination if you don’t actually have minutes to spare? Clouds forming. Getting dark again.
The waffles spring up onto plates. I cover them in sticky syrup. Slice, slice, slice, divide, divide, divide. Pour the juice, not too full, less to wipe up when it is knocked by careless hands. I set the breakfasts before anxious babes, but I am not really in the kitchen at all. I am wishing myself at a quiet coffee shop, in a corner booth, sipping and smacking the keyboard with quick fingertips. I fret over unwritten words for my newest passion project (not the aforementioned side hustle, something new – there’s always something new), and while I hate to admit it, deep down inside my rational mind, I know this endeavor is destined to be pushed somewhere into the next decade, but it never hurts to feel guilt over it now. I invite the clouds back into my brain.
After breakfast, I work my way through a stack of paperwork, jot a few notes to myself on a post-it I will undoubtedly lose and shout at my children to go play in their rooms. I make a bottle and rock the baby and hope he will just close his eyes for-the-love-of-God-and-all-things-holy. Please take a nap. Again, I shoo the older boys back to their rooms. Can they not just entertain themselves so Mommy can sort out her raging emotions and competing priorities once and for all? They call and call for me. I sit and rock.
Another ding from my phone, a message from a friend that I find time to respond to although I have no space to help the kids with the fort they are now building in the room that I demanded they play in only minutes before. “Mommy’s busy! Don’t you see that?” I’m texting!
With the baby finally napping, I work my way around the living room picking up toys and blankets and any number of mismatched socks. I eventually cave and help them reposition an old sheet to secure the ceiling of their play fort, then return to the household drudgery. My oldest comes tearing through the dining room with his brothers at his heels, squealing, bare feet smacking against the wood floor. “Stop it! The baby is sleeping! Get back in your bedroom!” I throw a sock onto the table and chuck a matchbox car at the wall.
Why can’t I ever hear those squeals for their radiating joy? Why does it always just sound like thundering noise?
The boys quiet, look down and retreat to their rooms. The noise is gone, the joy goes with it, and I feel the giant hole that’s left. The storm is sweeping me away.
I tuck my love handles back into ill-fitting jeans, pull down my tank top to smooth out the edges, slide down the kitchen cupboards and onto the crumb-lined floor somewhere just short of lunchtime. I call for the boys. I call for the joy to come back. And I cry.
The oldest gets to me first, and I pull him down onto the floor with me, cradle him in my arms and cry into his strawberry hair.
“I am so sorry, buddy. Mama has been so grumpy today, and it is not your fault.” I pause to calm the tears to no avail. “You guys have been awesome, and I am so sorry I haven’t been a good Mama to you this morning. You’ve been asking me to play and help you and all I’ve done is yell and yell and ignore you. I love you so, so much, and I am really sorry.” I kiss his forehead and breathe him into my chest, still heaving with sobs.
My youngest is next in line and wraps his hands around my face. “It okay, Mama. You okay,” he assures me with cherub lips and big eyes that tell the truth.
The middle man is right behind him and rests his hand on my shoulder, patting it gently, then moving to rub my back. “It’s okay, Mama. You’re okay,” he echoes and kisses me on the top of the head.
The oldest picks his head off my chest and reiterates his brothers’ sentiments. “It’s okay. You helped us with our fort, Mama. That was nice,” he adds. He doesn’t mention the 27 ignored requests, the shouts to leave me alone. My child remembers the time I finally answered, then presses his forehead into mine and looks at me.
Who taught them to soothe this way? Was it me? I think it might have been, but this morning, I can’t even help myself. I am so far away from that healer, that helper, as I look to my children to reclaim me from the storm clouds.
My cries soften with each pat on the back, head on my shoulder. “It’s okay. You’re okay,” they say, and I hear myself in their gentle voices. With every sniffle and scrape, fever and fall, I have rubbed their backs, pressed my forehead into theirs, kissed and cooed their hurts into submission. I feel that love cycled back to me through earnest words they know because I’ve said them.
I decide to be thankful for the lesson we are learning together in this kitchen on this winter day – a lesson that was not intentional and should have been avoided but arrived all the same. Mama is broken this morning, and these boys are piecing me back together with tiny hands and familiar assurances I once planted.
My children can be wild, screaming heathens that push me far past anywhere I’d care to go, but they are also healers. And as they rub my back, affirm “It’s okay. You’re okay,” kiss the top of my head, cover me in grubby arms of love, as they sit on the kitchen floor and mother their mother, I see them in their purist form and that’s enough to pick me up off the ground on this snowy day. It’s enough to turn this day back into what it was meant to be.
I collect myself and their mittens and boots. I help my boys stuff themselves into snowpants, then hats that settle just above their happy eyes. It’s time to go outside and wipe away the drama of the morning. They grab the bucket of sand toys I keep meaning to take to the basement but what’s the point by mid-February? Smiling and laughing, they flip the giant bucket over, spilling shovels and pails across the backyard. They hunt the woods for fallen sticks and pull out camp chairs that should have made their way to the storage room months ago, too.
My middle son comes to the door and meekly requests three marshmallows, not yet sure which mother is going to receive him. I hand him half a bag and his eyes grow wide as he salivates. “All of them?” he wants to know. I nod, and he rushes to his brothers yelling, “Mama said we can have them ALL!” My apologies sometimes come coated in high fructose corn syrup.
I watch them from the back window as they sit around their plastic “bonfire” and “roast” their s’mores. It is a scene to behold, one that I hope erases the mess of a morning I’ve made. They lay in the snow and play the day into dusk when I call them back inside. Hot cocoa is waiting. Another sugary “I’m sorry.” The guilt weighs heavy on this one.
When I tuck them into bed that night, I hold them against my chest, peaceful once again, and listen to them recount their day. Snowballs and bonfires and a half a bag of marshmallows, hot cocoa and freezing toes. No one mentions Mom crying on the floor or the storm clouds that circled our home that morning. They recall a snow day like any other, it seems. And everything is okay.