“Mommy? You come sit with us? You come sit with me and Michael and Maggie on couch in the living room?” Matthew asked me a few nights ago.
His tiny voice hit me like a freight train. I looked down at the floor beneath the table, covered quite liberally with leftover birthday cake crumbs. Where are you, Mom? Why aren’t you with us?
“In a minute, honey. I’ll be right there, Love. Just finishing up cleaning the kitchen,” I said, hastily sweeping the crumbs into a pile.
I felt awful. That was the first time he had ever requested my presence in the living room, but not the first time I noticed I wasn’t there.
“You comin’, Mommy? You comin’ sit with us in the living room?” he persisted.
“Yes, Love. Mom’s just got to give fresh water to the cats, and take out this trash bag. I’ll be there in just a minute.” My heart hurt. I was cleaning. I put cleaning above my kids. But could I put my kids above cleaning? Could I have left that entire mess on the floor? And for how long?
I finished my housekeeping tasks for the evening and joined the children on the couch. They piled on top of me like a stack of fresh pancakes. I was happy. They were happy.
I’ve spent a lot of time rolling those moments around in my head over the past few days. I’ve spent a lot of time wondering if he’s wanted to ask me to sit with them for a long time. I spent a lot of time wondering if the time I share (or don’t share) with them is making a difference in their lives.
I grew up in a house where everyone was home, but no one was ever together. Quiet time was spent arguing about the volume of television, the temperature of the room, the show being watched, and the amount of cigarette smoke hanging in the air.
I didn’t often hear, “Come sit with me.” And that realization sent me down a rabbit hole, one I’ve blindly jumped into before, of whether I have enough, whether I am or can be enough for my children.
When I learned during my first pregnancy that I was having a son, I had what could only be described as a pregnant-lady breakdown. I cried, banged my fists, and burrowed into the covers and wouldn’t come out. I had wanted a girl. I was convinced we would do better for the world with a girl.
And four months later, I gave birth to a beautiful, mild-mannered angel of a son, and was instantly ashamed of my hormone-induced fit.
I calculated each day how to keep him (and subsequent children) on the straight and narrow, and how to instill into him confidence, pride, and self-respect. And I carefully consider the extent to which sitting at a keyboard, cooking, or making the clothes clean, is stealing time from my children.
I wonder about their fates, whether or not they’re predetermined. Have I really any control over the adults they will turn out to be? Is there a secret to well-adjusted, responsible, mature, contributing members of society? And am I even considered one of them, to teach others to become the same? Sometimes, I can’t answer that.
My husband doesn’t worry as much as I, however understands the concern. Will it matter what school they attend? Will it matter with whom they associate? And do I even trust myself to create a decent little person? Will I make some inadvertent wrong move at age two, age six, age fourteen, that will irrevocably alter the course of one (or all) of their lives? Will my lack of patience with Maggie’s antics turn her against us, against herself? Will all the ‘in a minute’s finally add up? Am I doing this all wrong?
And then I justify my actions. Well, someone needs to cook, right? Who’ll feed them? I’ve got to wash their clothes. I’ve got to make their beds. I’ve got to this and that… And I feel better for a few minutes. Until I walk through the living room to turn up the thermostat, or close the blinds, and Michael clings the leg of my pants, crying, trying to keep me inside.
This conflict brews continually inside me. Be there for my children or be there for my children. Feed, clothe, and bathe them, or cuddle, love, and laugh with them? And, unfortunately, most days, I don’t have enough to cover both. Am I confident that the amount of time and quality of interaction I give them is enough? No. Will I ever know if it is?
Did I put one in Time Out too often? One not enough? Do these type of issues have a way of evening out in the end? Will a rollicking game of Freeze Tag cancel out three nights I was stuck cleaning the kitchen until 8pm? These effects remain to be seen.
Will I wake up ten years from now and realize that I should have hugged them more, or let the crusty pans sit in the sink overnight, or skipped the grocery store just a few more times? I must provide for their bodies and souls. And I’m not always confident I have what it takes be successful with a home and three, essentially, same-aged children.
But I can promise to try my level best, keep the faith, hug as often as possible, manage a smile when I’m ready to give up and cry, and spend a bit more time enjoying these moments, which are slipping by almost too quickly, in my best attempt to create good people.
That’s all I can do.
I only wish I could do more.