I remember when we first told my mother-in-law we were expecting our third-born. She gave my husband and I this sly smile and said, “No more one-on-one. Now you’ve got to figure out zone defense.” I smiled, but inside, I was throw-back-my-head belly laughing! BWAHAHAHAHA!!!
As a stay-at-home mom, I’ve been doing zone defense since Kid #2. And Kid #1 was no breeze, either.
Nowadays, when I’m out and about with my four-under-seven, I get wide-eyed looks from moms of one or two kids. Especially the expectant moms. “How do you do it?” they ask, and I recognize the note of pleading in their voices, because it used to be mine.
“I’m not really sure,” I say. “You sort of figure it out as you go.”
Trust me, First Time Mama in the Check-Out Line, I was just as overwhelmed with one child as you are.
It’s not that it gets easier. It’s just that you learn to accept the ropes. You get better at playing zone defense. You get better at knowing yourself, knowing your family, knowing what you all need to be your best selves – and what to do on those days when “best” is just not in the cards.
I’ll admit it: I woke up on the wrong side of the bed. Or not so much “woke up” as blearily admitted I was still awake.
The baby hasn’t been sleeping well. For about three weeks. And if it’s not too rude, I’m going to request that everyone hold off on the advice for just a day or two because, to be honest, I am not in the right mental space to receive it. Just sympathy would be super. Sympathy is about all I can handle right now.
Unfortunately, under-sevens don’t deal too much in sympathy.
So, I stumble upstairs. My awesome husband has already gotten the three “big” kids up and served them cereal (not a norm in our house because cereal for six is kind of pricey, but well, what are you going to do?) And my toddler comes toddling up to me just as I finally plop myself down with a bowl of LIFE.
“Want nanny!” she shouts.
“You can’t have a banana until you finish your cereal.” I shove a sweet spoonful in my mouth as if my life depended on it.
“I want a nanny!”
Sugar. I need sugar. And coffee. Where’s my coffee? “No banana until you finish your cereal.”
“WANT A NANNY!!!”
Her little pouty lip just about does me in. It’s cute. And infuriating. And I just. want. her. to. stop. I want quiet. And, for the love of all that is holy, I want some coffee!!
Thus begins my day.
We finish breakfast. We read the Bible. We say our prayers, and my husband promises he’ll be praying for me on his way into work. I barely hear him over the shrieking of the banana-less toddler, but I give him a kiss. “Thanks.”
It takes another half hour to get things organized enough to begin school. At which point, the toddler has finished her Cheerios and is now smugly happily masticating her banana. That’s when I notice that one of the chocolate bars my husband brought home last night is missing from the bag on the counter.
I don’t know where it is. But I’m 99.999999% sure I know who took it. I go eye-to-eye with the offending child, and silence is all the admission of guilt I need to be certain. “Stay here,” I’m told, and in another minute, the missing candy bar is restored – minus a bite or two.
Sneaking and taking what isn’t yours is not tolerated in our house, but this particular child has a particularly hard time getting that. (I guess we all have our pet sins.) I feel like throwing in my lot with the toddler and pitching my own class act hissy fit, but I don’t. I discipline. I hide the chocolate. I get ready for school.
Toddler tears pepper the rest of the morning. Her banana is already half gone and she wants a new one! Her baby doll is naked (because she took it’s clothes off)! There is a booger in her nose!!!
“NO!!!! No, clean it!!!!!”
I abandon the booger.
School ramps up, winds down. I actually have a pleasant reading lesson with my kindergartener who’s recently been inclined to refuse reading lessons. My second grader aces her math test. We all do a special project to help her prepare for her First Reconciliation (coming up this weekend!)
Sweet, I think. I made it through. And I never even got my coffee.
And then, I notice that it’s gotten very quiet. Quiet is not a good thing in my house. I mean, it is… But it’s not.
I look around. Kindergartener is building blocks. Second grader is coloring. Baby is in the exersaucer. Where’s Spice?
I call. I tell the big kids to take the upstairs while I take the down. I’m running frantically, shouting her name. There’s no answer, and every time I open a door, I choke back panic, because now I’m worried that something has happened to her. That my baby girl is hurt. Last room on the floor: I run through my bedroom to the adjoining bath, and this is what I find.
Covered in my mascara. (She was actually quite delighted until she realized she’d been caught.)
My first thought is: Thank God she’s alright. My second thought: At least that tube of mascara was already running out. My third thought: I’ve got to take a picture of this.
NOT what I would have thought with Kid #1. Okay, maybe the “Thank God she’s alright.” But thought number two? Definitely would have been: NO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
WHY DID YOU DO THIS TO YOURSELF AND RUIN MY THINGS? NOW I HAVE TO GO TO THE MALL THE GET MORE MASCARA. I HATE THE MALL. AND DO YOU UNDERSTAND THAT NOW I HAVE TO CLEAN THIS UP? AND DOES MASCARA EVEN COME OUT OF CLOTHES?
So, this? This is how I do it, First Time Mama in the Check-out Line. I hear the desperation in your voice, and I’m telling you this, right now: LAUGH. Pray. And laugh.
Because, no matter how much you want to believe you can, no matter what anybody tells you, you’re not in control. Zone defense, my butt! Honey, you’re running all Hail Marys!
These little people? They are going to turn your world upside down and inside out. You can grit your teeth and bear it, you can cry into your Chardonnay, or you can try to wage a one-woman war on entropy, but there’s a better way.
In the words of Queen Elsa: Let it go.
Not all of it. Do what you need to, and do what you can. But be ready to reevaluate what those words mean. You don’t need to do half of what you think. You can’t do it all. Some days, you have to choose between clean dishes and a smile. Some days, it’s love…or nothing.
When I’d finally cleaned the mascara off the toddler, I came up to find the Kindergartener waiting for me.
That’s a stuffed penguin. With a diaper on it’s head. (Thankfully, a clean one.)
“Owl Pengy needs a diaper on his head, Mom, because he’s going to be a robot for Halloween.”
Laugh. Pray. Repeat.
Sure there are those things that are really dangerous. The toddler who won’t hold your hand in the parking lot, the preschooler who insists on pilfering the kitchen shears for his “projects,” the kid who believes the bottle of gummy vitamins is her personal stash of candy. I’m not saying to let those things slide. You’ve got to have standards. Hey, they call it parenting for a reason, right?
But, you’re not supermom. And, seriously? Nobody expects you to be. You don’t have to have it all together. That’s why you pray. You pick your battles, and the more you live, the more you learn until eventually you realize that most of the battles weren’t really battles at all. That’s when you learn to laugh.
It all goes so fast. And, hey, if you’re going to remember it anyway, why not make it a good memory?