I was in my daughter’s bedroom searching for the raw egg she was planning to hatch with her sister. Sarah was five years old and her sister Lucy was three and a half. After finding the egg in a washcloth under Sarah’s pillow, I sent the kids into the backyard, desperate to finish some laundry. Minutes later, I faintly heard Sarah dare her younger sister to knock her down with lemons that had fallen from our tree. I peeked around the corner and my eyes widened when I saw Sarah straddling the six-foot-high swing set crossbeam. Her hands were high above her head and she was taunting her sister. Luckily, Lucy was unfazed by the dare. Unfortunately, she was careening down the slide on her knees while steering a stroller in front of her … again. My stomach shot into my throat. Lucy’s stroller flew out from the slide, and she flopped face first onto the grass. I ran outside, terrified and stunned. Do we need an ambulance? Lucy stood up, plopped the baby doll back in the stroller and moved on. Sarah swung down like a monkey and joined her sister to make mud pies.
What type of freak show was I living? With two busy kids nineteen months apart, I wondered if I would ever get anything done again. Would I be able to handle the stress? Would I even be able to keep these two kids alive? Despite the fact that I had a degree in Child Development and a history of working with other people’s children in social services, parenting my own kids all day every day left me rattled. I had worked with teen boys on probation, heroin addicts in rehab, mental health patients in crisis and children with disabilities. I knew how to manage reckless behavior on the job, but the shenanigans of my own kids felt more like a personal offense. My nerves were constantly frayed.
I am so not having that third kid I’d always wanted. The baby factory is officially closed.
I was glad Lucy wasn’t afraid to take risks, but dealing with her fearlessness was a big adjustment for me. It kept me on my toes nearly every waking minute. Her headstrong and high-octane demeanor was bound to serve her well later in life, but parenting her now was taking its toll. Sarah, on the other hand, was more of a gentle soul, sensitive to the core and happy to make new friends in a park or public pool. She was an enthusiastic student; she loved collecting rocks and even learning how to cook. She was also happy to comply with Lucy’s crackpot ideas. What a great sidekick! It was this double-trouble dynamic that made parenting exponentially more difficult.
As my thoughts returned to the present, at home with my kids, I wondered how I’d make it to bath time before my husband, Mark, got home from work. His even-tempered, quiet demeanor had always kept me afloat. I relied on his levelheadedness at the end of a chaotic day to keep me steady and sane.
By the time Mark came home, I was drenched, sitting on a bathroom stool in front of the tub, with the kids happily splashing about. Having forgotten that I had opened the bottom vanity drawer behind me, I stood up quickly, pivoted around the stool for a towel and slammed my shin into the sharp corner of the drawer … down to the bone. Blood poured onto the floor. I screamed for an ice pack. The shin pain left me immobilized. I began breathing deeply, while awaiting the ice.
Mark ran in with the pack, looked at my shin and said, “Yeah, you need to go to the hospital.”
I shouted, “Just deal with the kids! I’ll drive myself.”
I hobbled toward the car, leaving a trail of blood down the hall. Knowing the kids were in good hands, I drove to the emergency room for nine stitches and a stiff dose of codeine. I heard later that as I’d headed for the car, Lucy, terrified, peed on the floor. Sarah found a lion stamp party favor and decorated the floor with my blood. Not the crafting activity I would have chosen, but it kept her occupied.
It was times like these that parenting was not only physically, but also emotionally, taxing. During the first few years at home with my kids, I questioned whether I should be a stay-at-home mom or an employed mom. I lost sight of how to cooperate in my marriage and instead was competing with my husband over whose day was harder. I knew that staying at home with the kids was worth it, I was just losing my balance, both philosophically and physically.
I needed to recheck my parenting goals because they were exhausting. I had breastfed each of them for over a year. I had limited their screen time at all costs. I kept our schedule packed with gym classes and playdates, which I usually hosted. My agenda for the kids left me spinning. I found myself over-parenting out of fear that I would under-parent. I saw no gray area and had forgotten how to simply enjoy my kids.
This is not a parenting advice book; it is a peek into my early years as a mom struggling to define my parenting style and find balance. It includes most of the mishaps that happened on that journey. I tried some effective coping methods and I tried some ineffective coping methods. The effective ones will add to your parenting toolkit and give you hope; the ineffective ones will at least be entertaining.
My wish is for us, as parents, to feel united in our struggles, because the shared struggles are what bind us together. In joining forces, we can enjoy one another’s parenting triumphs, which is a gift for everyone. We all want what’s best for our kids. Sometimes, however, we just need a good laugh. We need permission to laugh at ourselves when things go awry despite all our well-intentioned efforts. We need to know that it is possible to stumble through the parenting journey unscathed, just as I did
… if you don’t count my dimpled C-section scar.