It usually starts around 5:45 am.
The sun is just about ready to rise. The dog is snoring blissfully, while the cats cuddle up in the corner. The ceiling fan is spinning fast, providing the white noise that keeps me in snoozing. The rest of the world starts to wake up outside my window. Then, like clock work, the first set of tiny toes start to make their way down the hallway and up the stairs. Pitter patter, pitter patter. I change my sleeping position to make room for her in the bed.
” Mommy, can I snuggle?”
A few minutes later we are joined by another one. ” Mommy, move over. I want to sleep with you.” I scoot over into the middle, creating a mommy sandwich with one kid on each side. My pillows have been taken from right under my head and sharing the blanket with these two isn’t an option. I take a glance at the clock and realize I have forty-five more minutes left to sleep.
Please. Dear God. Let me sleep. The day will begin soon and I have a million things to do. The girls fall right back to sleep, while I toss and turn awkwardly between them. I start to get angry, they never leave me alone. How can I take care of them if I can’t shut my brain off for a few hours a night? The anxiety starts to rise and I ask myself what the hell I was thinking when I decided to walk away from a marriage 800 miles away and become a single mom in the town I grew up in.
I watch the ceiling fan, hoping it will hypnotize me back to sleep. I close my eyes as a little hand reaches over from my left side and interlocks my fingers with hers. I turn my head to see rosy cheeks and fluttering eyes to my right. They are blissfully asleep next to mama. The last set of tiny toes comes up the stairs just as my alarm goes off. She jumps onto the bed and tells us to get up. Those little eyes open and fingers stretch as her little sister says, ” It’s good morning!” I grab a pillow and cover my face and groan.
” You guys never let me sleep. You woke me up, I didn’t get to rest at all. You have to stop doing this, I’m going to snap. Go downstairs now. I need five more minutes.”
They slide off the bed and head downstairs as I hit the snooze button. I sit up after the final alarm goes off for a final time and make my way downstairs. I thought I hid the TV remote, but they found it. They’re watching youtube videos about slime and Barbies. I ask them why they aren’t dressed and why is their homework not in their backpacks. I turn the tv off, grab some cereal, milk and bowls. ” Here. I have to go get ready.”, I say as I march back upstairs. I have to feed the cats, make my bed, get dressed and check my emails. I glance down at my phone and realize we have to hustle to the bus stop or I will be late for work. The rush begins as I yell down the stairs, ” You have two minutes to brush your teeth and grab your backpacks! HURRY UP.“
If we don’t leave in the next few minutes we will miss the bus and I will have to scramble to figure out who can drive them in as I race to work. I think to myself how easy this would be with a partner, if only I could share the responsibilities with someone else, maybe I would’t be so grumpy. Maybe I would be that nice mom who sends her kids off to greet the day with happiness and rainbows instead of screaming how unmanageable the three of them are and how rude it is to not listen to me.
Why can’t they just do what I ask them to do?
As I packed their lunches the night before, I thought to myself how stupid is that these kids won’t eat the free hot lunch that’s offered at school and how teidious it is that I have to cut out freaking zoo animals in their sandwiches that they probably won’t eat anyway. I put a note in everyday with a joke or just a simple ” I love you”. As I pile them into the car I realize I left their lunch boxes in the fridge and sprint back upstairs, tripping on the damn dog and yelling out to no one, ” GOD DAMMNIT.” I fly down the road, their little bellies doing flip flops as I drive down the hill and back up again for the bus.
“I love you, have a great day.”
I go my way, they go theirs and the day takes off like it always does. I chug along until lunch time crashing from the morning caffeine and sugar rush. As I eat my lunch I reflect on the morning and beat myself up for yelling at them. A good mom would have patience. A good mom would wake up earlier and make them pancakes every morning. I remember how we used to have dance parties in the morning getting ready for the day when I was a stay at home mom with them. I smile at the memory, but the guilt quickly fills my cup and I wish that things were different…that I could be better.
I start to think about how hard this year has been for them. I can see their tears as they say goodbye to their dad after another plane ride and visit with his family. Sometimes, I doubt every move I have made since the day I signed divorce papers. I wonder if I’ve screwed them up forever. I ask myself were my best intentions really for them? Is it selfish to want to raise my daughters around the men and women who raised me? There’s a undeniable space in their daily lives from how things used to be.
Did I do that? Will they hate me someday? I see images online all day of moms who give up everthing for their kids. They all look so happy. A full family, all positions filled for an average American household.
Over here it’s just me, the dog and the two elderly cats that we can’t seem to get rid of. My eyes start to water as I think about how I would do anything for them, but maybe I haven’t done enough. I try to fill the hole in my heart with anyone I can find, and then when they leave the hole gets bigger. It doesn’t occur to me that the hole can’t be filled by another person, so I keep trying from one to the next. If I was in love, I bet I would be happier, more patient and calm with my kids. I just need to find someone to love, that will fix it.
Maybe that will fix me.
The hours go by slow and eventually we are all home again at the dinner table. One kid is feeding the dog the chicken I spent an hour cooking, while the other two are kicking each other under the table and screaming about how one or the other is lying. It’s chaos. I roll my eyes. If only these damn children would shut up and eat so we can have a nice night as a family. Instead, I slam dishes in the sink and tell them if they want to hit each other, go right ahead, just don’t come crying to me if it hurts. Later, as I rub their backs and sing them to sleep, I tell myself to remember this forever. Remember how they snuggle up to me and drift off into dreamland. Remember how they needed me and how these moments should be treasured. They grow up fast, soon this will be a memory, no longer in present tense. I think about how tomorrow I’ll do better, I”ll be a patient mom in the morning and I’ll help them start their day off right with kisses and smiles.
I pack their lunches and head off to bed myself. I try to sleep but decided to scroll on my phone and waste time instead of shutting my eyes. A few hours later the cycle starts all over again and I find myself repeating the same grumpy behavior from the previous morning. It goes on and on until I start to believe that the exhaustion will kill me.
The past few weeks I’ve woken up alone. I’ve rolled out of bed every morning well rested. I get myself ready for the day without worrying about anyone else. I can pee by myself and put my shoes on without someone asking me where their socks are and can I help them find their coat. I take my dog for long walks and sit in the sun collecting freckles while sipping on ice tea.
I would give anything to be woken up by the three of them, demanding breakfast and asking if we can do a play date today. I wish I could throw them in the car and drive to the ocean for the day to see if we can find mermaids. I want to sit in a muggy field and watch half decent fireworks for the 4th of July. I wouldn’t even mind only getting four hours of sleep if it meant I could hold them in my arms before the day begins.
Mothers carry their children for much more than just those first nine months. Our children are a direct extension of ourselves. I am much more than just me. I am theirs, they are mine. I can look in their eyes and know exactly how bad the booboos hurt when there’s tears running down their cheeks. I know when they’re telling the truth. I know their favorite books, their favorite tree to climb, how much bubble bath I should put in the tub, and their favorite songs.
I know when their hearts are broken and even though I want to put them back together, I know I’m not that powerful. I know how to hold them as they learn to express their feelings, knowing that I will support them every step of the way. I don’t have a magic wand and I can’t solve every problem or understand every emotion they experience. All I can do is pray and hope that I’m teaching them to be strong girls who know their worth while surrounded by my love always.
I don’t know everything, but I know I was meant to be their mom.
Grumpy or not.
In the moment things can feel so heavy, the weight of the past is gone but the memory of it leaves a sting. For all the sleepless nights, my babies and I are surrounded with more love and support that I ever could have imagined. Moving back across the country with three kids, a dog, two cats and a hell of a lot of uncertainty has proven to be one of the most life changing experiences. Our family and friends open their doors to us, provided us with our own door and helped make this house our home. It’s hard pill to swallow on the days when they desperately miss their family that we left behind in the Midwest. I had no way of knowing that the space between could swallow you whole. I hadn’t learned that lesson before now. Eight weeks of summer without my little girl gang by my side has been a crash course into the other side of parenting from a distance.
This must be how their dad feels.
I didn’t know.
I never had to count the days until I could hug them again.
I get it now.
Summer will go on. I will wake up in the silence, but that’s ok. The hardest lessons in life are always the most fruitful. Those little toes will be home soon enough and I”ll remember the mornings when they weren’t.
I might even make them pancakes once in awhile.