Says Who?

I didn’t text when my three year-old tumbled off the brick ledge outside, scraping his leg and wrist, and thoroughly covering his lower half in old rain water and mud.

I didn’t text when hours later I tumbled into a tower of Amazon Prime boxes stacked in our garage, twisting my ankle and quite nearly offing myself.

I didn’t even text when our baby refused to nap but gladly ate all manner of mysterious findings she snatched from under the couch, eventually choking herself on a chip leftover from a party we threw at least six months ago.

But, when three members of this house pooped in the worse possible place (son, daughter, dog) and three members of this house started crying (son, daughter, me) I finally broke down.

What time do you think you’ll be home?

I sat the phone down with my pinkies, the only two fingers not contaminated by the aforementioned Poopageddon, and left to wash the rest of my hands. The response binged while I scrubbed. I willed it to say soon or 5:30 or the unicorn, already on my way.

My fate blinked at me from the screen. I promptly opened a Diet Coke. I downed the soda with the face of what could surely be a meme: That moment when your kids are crying at your feet and you stare at the wall, paralyzed by the realization you won’t be clocking out til 8 at the earliest and you haven’t eaten since breakfast and you never did brush your teeth. No, that’s not right. You did. Yesterday morning.

My children played and whined in circles around me and while I smiled at them I thought, I can’t do this.

I am not going to make it through two separate bath times.

One of them is going to have to surrender dinner.

If they both fight sleep at bedtime I am done for.

There are people in hotel rooms right now all over the world, watching tv in fluffy robes and eating guacamole. Right this minute.

A plastic truck hit me in the temple. I cannot do this.

I stewed, angry at my husband’s job, my husband’s hours, the medical profession in general, medical residency specifically, and the people eating guacamole in hotels.

My tailspin came to a halt by a quiet thought. Says who?

Really though, says who? The kids? Maybe. They’ve seen me crumble enough times to be under no illusion about my propensity to crack. I’ve yelled when they’ve cried, and ignored when they’ve disobeyed. I’ve bribed them with candy and lies. They have front row seats as I struggle to tame the piles that dominate our landscape: laundry piles, dish piles, papers to be shredded, purchases to be returned, stuff to put in the van, stuff taken from the van but never put away. If anyone could provide an informed review, it’s the little boy with bright eyes and the baby girl with no hair. They know.

Says who? The polished trio of moms from the park, all with perfect pony tails and fruit infused water? Nary a baby food stain on their clothing? Those ones? They might. All three seemed nice enough. They called my son buddy and told me my daughter was beautiful. But once an awkward 7th grade girl, always an awkward 7th grade girl, and I can’t help but wonder when I am around women more pulled together than I am in the moment, if this going to be my Carrie scene. My stroller is too grimy, my nails too neglected, my snacks are from aisle 3, not the farmer’s market, and my clothes hang and cling in the places theirs cling and hang because I had a baby not long ago and my new body is still finding its way. Are they all going to laugh at me?

God? Is God who says I can’t do this? Is He smugly watching me right now as I struggle to keep up with the kids He gave me and the house He gave me and the life He gave me? What a trainwreck, is that what He’s thinking? She cannot do this. Terrible mistake making that one a mother. Poor kids.

Yeah, probably wasn’t God I heard.

No, as I catch a second truck midflight, I realize I recognize the voice telling me I can’t. I used to know this girl really well.

When I knew her, she drove cars with heated leather seats and spotless floor mats. She drove them to nail salons, sometimes stopping to get a latte first, sometimes an iced green tea. No matter the order it might be the most stressful part of her week, squeezing in that beverage stop and nearly missing her manicure appointment.

She read a lot. Sometimes, if she was bored or ran into a window of free time, she’d drive one of her cars to a bookstore and just wander. She took her time. This girl might pick up seven different books and read the back of each one of them, and then she might pick up seven more. She’d look up and smile at fellow book lovers, but she didn’t speak a word, didn’t need to. She had no one to pacify or shush or beg. None of this, “Almost done bud, hang with me one more sec.” Nope. Like I said, she took her time.

The other thing she did a lot? Say yes. Yes to dinners, movies, showers, day trips here and there. Her husband was in medical school, and his hours weren’t so great, but she made the best of it. She didn’t stare at clocks and countdown to vacations and send texts saying Can you give me an estimate of when you might be coming home. She just went about living. But I am not sure how much she was paying attention. When I think back, I don’t recall her ever offering to help the young moms around her at all these outings. Did she ever offer to refill someone’s lemonade at a bridal shower, or hold a baby so a mom could take a few bites of her food while it was still hot? I’m not sure. I think the answer is no. On that count, I’m embarrassed for her. She didn’t know, but still.

I do, however, wish she could teach me to live a little. Less clock watching. More green tea.

She knew nothing (Well, perhaps we can give her a little credit. Let’s say she knew a tad, a bit.) about self-denial. She was well versed in self-care because her self was the only person she had to care for around the clock.

She was doing exactly what she was supposed to be doing in the time before. It’s how she handles the after that irks me.

The girl I used to be looks at my life now in stunned horror. You’re running on how many hours of sleep? You converted the office into a playroom? You became a cosleeper? A cosleeper?!

That version of myself crops up when my days are the longest and my hair is the dirtiest. Tonight it’s her voice again telling me that I can’t.

I rise from my defeated position on the rug, truck in hand, and plug my phone into its charger. No more texts. I make myself hot tea and get the kids’ dinners on plates while they play. I turn on a movie for them so I can switch the laundry and respond to one email. Fifteen minutes later I turn the movie off. I pull The Order of the Phoenix from the shelf because I’ve read expert opinions about reading aloud early and saturating little ones with quality literature even when they seem too young, and maybe the jury is still out on their ability to comprehend but that’s good enough for me. Magic is just what we need.

“Dinner time, guys.” There is some fussing and someone falls but we all make it to the table.

“Just us tonight. Dad’s going to be late.” I read while they eat and tell my old self to take a seat. Be quiet. This isn’t my first rodeo, cowgirl.

She says she can’t do this.

I say, but you are.

Written by April Hoss

We're running a pledge drive from March 21st-March 31st! Your donations keep our site ad-free and beautiful all year round, but even more than that: they validate and encourage us as writers and artists. We only do this once a year and are grateful for anything you can throw in our online tip-jar. Thanks for supporting us; we love writing for you!