I usually feel inspired to write when I have a title in mind. Titles for my posts, at least so far, come from the lyrics of a song or the words of a poem. I don’t have one yet for this post. I just have to write or I’m going to die.
I have thirty minutes before I need to leave the house. Twenty minutes before I really ought to dry my hair, put on some “I’m not dead yet make-up,” and scoop my baby out of his warm bed so we can go get my preschooler from the co-op.
I don’t have time to cry any more about how much I keep screwing up. In the last twenty four hours, I have entirely missed two appointments for my children. The first was my son’s parent-teacher conference. The one that is set up by special invitation for only those children who are struggling in school. The one that I have been preparing mentally and emotionally for since the last one when the teacher showed me the difference between medicated schoolwork and before we started medication. It was like comparing cutting scars to [choose your favorite font]. At last, a diagnosis and a treatment and a successful first grader.
Except it’s not working.
Now this conference was probably going to focus on, “He can clearly do the work, but now he just won’t.” And I want to burst into a fresh round of tears and say, “I know! I know! I spend every evening juggling dinner, a baby, a grumpy toddler, a busy third-grader, and a six-year-old who WILL NOT do any homework unless his father is pumping sugar into his bloodstream via marshmallows and chocolate chips.”
I have been doing sticker charts with him, rewarding him for getting himself ready in the morning and again for doing 20 minutes of homework in the evening. He earns prizes every couple days if he stays on-target. In two weeks, he’s earned one prize. I’ve even offered to just play with him for 15 minutes as a reward. I’ve “just played” with him for the sheer joy of it (I deserve a reward for this) because I know it makes him happy. I try to praise more than correct. I try to catch him doing the right things. But when I send him upstairs to brush his teeth with these instructions: “Don’t massage toothpaste into the entire bathroom” and then find toothpaste on the floors, walls, mirror, sinks, counter, tub, and toilet, it gets difficult to catch him doing anything praiseworthy. By the end of the day, if we can just successfully hug good night, I feel like I should get a gold star.
When I should have been on my way to the parent-teacher conference, I was trying to extract my daughter’s hair from a self-propelled toy car.
I am now down to 14 minutes before I have to leave.
A new rule of thumb to live by with four children: if I am enjoying a quiet moment, or if my shower time feels like a given, then either the house is about to burn down or I forgot about a commitment I made, or both. Case in point, I am supposed to be at the doctor’s office right now with my other child with ADHD. Discussing how the medication she was given only made things worse, and how I gave her the short-acting option instead for over a month now because I didn’t know I hadn’t made another appointment. So I remembered to make an appointment on Monday, but by Thursday, even with it in my phone and a reminder alarm, I stepped out of my shower to see that I had two minutes to get myself, a baby, a girl at school in the wrong direction, and twenty minutes of driving taken care of if I wanted to get to the appointment.
So I called to tell them I would not be there. Maybe I just handed our doctor a well-deserved early lunch, but once again, I am the mom who didn’t show up. I want to poke the person in the eyes who said, “No matter how you’re feeling, get up, dress up, and show up.” I got up. I’m dressed. Dang, girl, you got on a new shirt. Looking trim with those stripes and black leggings. But with a brain that can’t see past the work of digging out from a cave-in, I’ll just have to send my regrets.
I should have known from the behavior of toddlers at Target that springtime weather is just another way of feeling the immeasurable weight of impending collapse when you have four (or more, or at least one with behavioral issues) children. I walked in there on Tuesday, and there were meltdowns, hollow threats from parents and grandparents, and sassy, stomping, tired out kids everywhere. They were the canaries in the cave warning us that something dangerous was arriving.
I think spring time always sounds like a nice idea until that sunlight starts streaming down on all the work I didn’t get done since the last time I felt the sun’s warmth. It illuminates the remains of last year’s ambitions and saps the energy I had for this year’s hopes. Sometimes the thing that got me through the worst of winter is now the thing that crushes spring before it has sprung.
I am careening toward summer with four kids, and I have no idea what I’m doing. I can’t imagine that one of these mornings I’m gonna rise up singing. But it’s time to leave the house with wet hair and no make-up because I’m at least going to show up when my kids are counting on me…even if I’m a little late and look like I just put out a fire.