Send the children to their rooms. Have a flashlight nearby. And lean in close.
This is a scary story.
It’s about a monster.
Once upon a time my husband had to work 28 days of nights. He left for work while the water marks of a rowdy bath time still marked my clothes, and returned well past the morning circus. It was during these twenty-eight days that our one year-old got real serious about walking, which means she got real lax about sleeping. Cheerful people call this a Wonder Week and that sounds nice, doesn’t it? Nights were punctuated by screams as she cried out every two hours on the dot. I’d stumble over sleeping dogs and jagged toys to feed her and rock her and lay her back in her crib, only to have her wake up upon grazing its surface. Days were punctuated by shushing. Shhh, I see you buddy but dad’s asleep. Shhh, it’s okay Kajsa girl I’m coming. Shhh, hey guys we gotta be a little more quiet dad’s trying to get some rest.
Eventually, I did the sensible thing and made plans to vacate to my parent’s home.
Twenty-four hours before departure, I thought that glowing yellow beacon was a bright light beckoning me from the end of another medical-training-induced tunnel.
Turns out, it was the headlight of a train.
Without pause, from 11:47 until 1:15am the night before we left, my daughter hollered shrilly and ended up in bed with me. My son got up less than four hours later. While I got dressed for church, they invented a simple game involving blueberry launching and as much of our floor as possible. I had nursery duty that morning, but my daughter cried so much that more than one person volunteered to cover for me. We made a pit stop back home for diaper changes and lunch before embarking on the three-hour drive to sanctuary. The moment I sat my son’s carefully arranged lunch tray on his mat, he accidentally overturned it, spilling every chopped mango and all the mac and all the cheese, on both our already littered floor and our German Shepherd. One kid had a blowout and I honestly can’t even remember who it was.
While I washed my hands post clean up, my son got into the luggage and found my container of vitamins. All a massive choking hazard. All, he deemed, a great addition to the already splattered floor.
I learned of his discovery by tripping on a probiotic and twisting my ankle.
But the fun didn’t stop there.
A rash of red bumps appeared in a fan across my daughter’s face and neck. While my son ate his second serving of lunch, I Googled chicken pox and Spanish measles and mumps. How many people had we unknowingly infected?
Should the subject line in my apology email be Nice catching up, sorry about that contagious rash or just Hey?
At last we backed out of our driveway, and suddenly, a grace! My children fell asleep 20 minutes into the drive. I got 80 miles under the tires in the sublime comfort of peaceful babies.
We have come to the part of the story where our heroes think the killer is dead, and they hug and wipe tears over the black robed corpse. You know what happens right? You see the hand twitching. The flutter of villainous eye lids.
The ETA on my navigation app jumped from 1 hour and 15 minutes remaining, to 4 hours flat.
No. I laughed lightly at my screen. Let’s just refresh you and you’ll come to your senses.
Now: 4 hours, 7 minutes. I watched in open mouthed horror as the numbers continued to climb.
The longest freeway we needed to travel is 100 miles we normally conquer at roughly 73 mph. On this day, it was a parking lot.
My daughter stirred.
Google correctly translated my whispered swears as a distress call and offered an alternative route which would get us to grandma’s in a little less than two hours. What providence! What technological salvation!
Both kids woke up as I slowed to a stop on the freeway exit.
Neither saw my face turn ashen when the pavement ended and Google ushered us onto a dirt road weaved in the foothills.
Chrysler Town and Countries are many things but they’ve never been billed as off road vehicles. If we broke down, AAA would have to traverse the same impacted freeway to get to us. It was only 90 degrees outside and if necessary I could carry both children back to civilization but on my busted ankle we would appear on the side of the road like something out of the fall Yeezy line.
Our tires spun for purchase on the first of many dusty peaks and I started chanting, “This is the new one, this is the new one, this is the new one!”
Just days prior I’d finished a book full of practical advice for moms of very small children. The author describes the pain scales commonly used in hospitals (with which I have a checkered past) and illustrates how she uses that model to adjust her perspective when her children and circumstances are seemingly unraveling.
She talks about the natural (and often times frustrating) fluxations of motherhood: as soon as you get in a really good routine, the kids progress to a new a milestone, and you plummet all the way back to the starting line.
“Well,” she writes, “pretend that you are screaming ‘Thirteen, thirteen! Fifteen!’”
On that mound of dirt, I did not need to pretend I was screaming numbers past 10. In my mind, behind my forced smile and white knuckles and frantic eyes, I was shouting Twenty! Ninety-two! One hundred and five!
You must start over, she advises, and recalibrate so your current circumstances become the new one.
But I did not want to change my perspective. I did not want to employ mental strategies to better my attitude. I sure as sunshine didn’t want to speak comforting words to my children when they both took up crying as we mounted dust hill number four.
You want to know what I wanted to do? I’m glad somebody finally asked.
I wanted to tell both of them, a preschooler and a toddler, to kindly shut up. I wanted to let them know that this day had been immeasurably harder for me than them. Did either of them trip themselves into injury over multivitamins someone else spilled? Pray tell, which one of them sweat through their clothes flying around the house making sure I was fed and warm and comfortable and entertained and clean? Huh? How about it kids?
The van hit a bump and my inner rant came up short. You sound like Ron Weasley in the tent part of book 7. Find a Harry Potter metaphor, my autobiography in one sentence. No, this is way past Weasley. This is Eustace-level.
Eustace Scrubb. Another semi-dreadful youth from British fantasy fiction. He’s the one that turns into a dragon and is only brought back to his human form when the hero lion Aslan tears off his scales.
There are pain scales and then there are scales of a much more sinister sort.
If I am unwaveringly, thoroughly, tear-the-scales-from-my-skin honest, sometimes I am shouting thirteen, thirteen, fifteen, not because my lot is so full of suffering, but because my heart is so full of selfishness.
I had recorded their strikes in a mile long, unsent text I was waiting to spring on my husband as soon as he woke up. Do you have any idea what they’ve put me through?!?
But what about my own foul play?
They threw their food once; how many times had I yelled? They cried a handful of inconvenient times and generally slowed me down; how many times had I sighed or thrown my hands up in a posture of dismayed shock or said with a voice saturated in irritation, “Enough, no more!” I was logging extra hours of solo parenting while simultaneously being forced to cut down on sleep and they hadn’t adjusted their behavior accordingly.
How many times had I come unglued?
Nothing has made the dragon scales shine brighter than motherhood.
What smarts the most is not the routine chaos of our days—floor mats ground with Cheerios, mornings punctuated by squealing kids happy to wake their exhausted parents: that is the new 1.
It’s not even the extra challenging days, like that Sunday we traveled. That’s in the 4/5 range.
“If I were a great mother, this book would not be here,” writes the author.
Thirteen, thirteen, fifteen: if I were a great mother, I wouldn’t ever be a dragon.
I’m not a great anything. But I have a great God. (Christianity in two sentences.) He doesn’t condemn me for my scales. And He doesn’t leave me that way, either.
When we finally rounded the corner onto my parent’s street, I looked back at my three year-old. Tears still pooled in his eyes from hunger and too much time strapped down. He hadn’t made the day or the trip any easier. Being three might have something to do with it.
I wanted to tell him what a gracious friend had told Eustace as they watched the sunrise together on the morning of Eustaces’ return to his human body.
“Between ourselves, you haven’t been as bad as I was on my first trip to Narnia. You were only an ass. I was a traitor.”
Somedays, for now, I’m both.
Written by April Hoss.
Jankovic, Rachel. Fit to Burst: Abundance, Mayhem, and the Joys of Motherhood. Moscow, ID: Canon, 2012. Print.
Jankovic, Rachel. Loving the Little Years: Motherhood in the Trenches. Moscow, ID: Canon, 2010. Print.
Lewis, C. S. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. New York: HarperCollins, 1994. Print.
p.s. Fruit and veggies frozen in a stick, nothing more and nothing less, win some!