It’s a Tuesday evening. My three kids are all expressing various degrees of hysterics. My toddler, with his infinite ability to consume, is moaning “eeeaaattt” while collapsing at my feet. My daughters are wandering through the house, paper grocery bags over their heads, claiming they are headless. You know, in celebration of Halloween. I have spent much of the afternoon on the couch, my blood sugars refusing to stabilize, while the kids enjoyed watching back-to-back viewings of Frozen.
I’m grabbing toppings and the water pitcher out of the fridge, glancing at the clock. My husband should be home any minute to take our middle daughter to her swimming lesson, and I get to entertain the oldest and youngest during the hour before bedtime, also known as hell-time. I have yet to pack my daughter’s swim bag or dress her for class.
I’ve made chili, excited to start using the slow cooker again. But instead of a chilly fall evening where we laugh over steaming bowls, it turns out to be one of those unpredictable Midwest fall days when it’s almost ninety degrees outside. The heat makes us irritable.
Today is also the day my phone has stopped working. Like not just frozen where a simple restart remedies the problem, but the face is the dreaded Black Screen of Death. My oldest is getting her hair braided tomorrow, and I need to check in and make sure the appointment is still set. I cannot, however, because the braider’s phone number is stored in my phone, the phone that has picked today not to work.
I wrangle my son into his highchair and hand him a piece of cheese and a Disney princess sippy cup, the only one clean. I call to my daughters to get into their seats. Ten minutes to eat dinner, I notice. I place cheese and crackers in front of them, and they reject the crackers made of pumpkin seeds, flax, and other things that are too brown and hearty.
I’m wearing a t-shirt that is at least five years old and says in cracked, screen-printed letters, “Stop diabetes.” It’s ironic given the unstable blood sugars I’ve experienced the past few days. My hair, which was freshly cut and colored the night before, is sloppily braided in the front to keep it out of my face. I have on no makeup and have no energy. No selfies today due to the resemblance to a scary Halloween lawn decoration. Oh yes, and because my phone isn’t working.
I suddenly realize we have family pictures scheduled for Saturday morning, and despite today’s heat wave, Saturday is going to be significantly cooler, by approximately forty degrees. And yes, my girls are wearing sleeveless shirts. When will I have time to go get shirts to wear under (or over?) the sleeveless tops? But won’t that look ridiculous? But I don’t have time to choose all new, coordinating outfits for our family of five.
I turn the slow cooker dial from high to warm and remove the lid. The scent of seasoned tomato goodness fills the kitchen as steam rises quickly into the air. I open the dishwasher, the one I still haven’t emptied from the previous evening, and find three, mismatched bowls. I place them in a line in front of the slow cooker and begin to fish for a ladle from the over-crowded utensil drawers. I finally discover it, faithfully jamming one of the drawers with its awkward shape, and I swiftly yank it out.
“I want to listen to music!” yells my middle child. Then she burps, making her older sister giggle.
“I need more water. I’m sooooo thirsty!” moans the oldest, as if she’s been traveling the Sahara all day.
“That’s not how you ask. Try again,” I say over my shoulder.
“More water, please,” she replies in a rather insincere tone.
Meanwhile, my son discovers that if he hops in a seated position in his high chair, the entire chair moves, jumping in tiny, loud increments across the wood floor. He’s grinning, his eyes wide with excitement, while his sisters-turned-mothers tell him to stop. When he doesn’t, the tattling ensues.
“MOMMMMMMMMMM!” my oldest belts out. “The baby…”“I know, honey. I’ll take care of it.” I reply, placing my hand across my eyes, attempting to channel inner peace. It doesn’t work. I still feel like Maleficent, ready to flip out and cast some crazy spells at any moment.
I turn back to the kitchen counter and pick up the ladle.
And I pause.
There, lined up in all its hodgepodge glory, are three mismatched bowls, waiting to be filled with homemade chili.
And I realize that for all the things that go wrong every day, there is a lot to be thankful for.
To most of us who take on the role of parent, we know raising children is exhausting, frustrating, and daunting. There are so many choices to make. The responsibility is great and the reward can sometimes be very little. Most parents I know are stressed and tired. We are doing the best we can, but we are often left with self-loathing, shaky confidence, and an unquenchable craving for margaritas at 3 p.m.
I am certainly no anomaly. I spend most days in the exercise clothes I put on that morning. I rarely have makeup on or my hair done. I spend my waking hours washing mountains of laundry, preparing meals and snacks, disciplining, cuddling, organizing, encouraging. I respond to editors’ e-mails while loading the dishwasher, supervising bath time, and wiping noses.
Being a mom is the most difficult and most incredible thing I’ve taken on in my life so far.
For all its messiness (figuratively and literally), its emotional highs and lows, its unpredictability and irony, and its demands, motherhood is a gift. And today, I’m thankful that I have three bowls to fill.