This morning, I found myself locked in a turn so tight, it needed basically 900 points to get myself out of it; and that still didn’t even do the trick. Jeremy’s new car and I are having some growing pains. Its turn radius is different than our handy dandy 2007 CRV, and it has all these fancy features that feel rather restrictive. For instance, it won’t let you back up over your neighbor’s recycling bin that’s got you locked in the 900 point turn from hell, even if you really really want to. Instead, it just halts the car abruptly with a ping that makes you more irate because someone is telling you no while you really just want to say yes, YES IN THIS MOMENT I DO ACTUALLY WANT to plow over my neighbor’s recycling bin, send debris into the collective alleyway, ruin relationships with my neighbors forever, and dent the new effing car. Damn this smart car for denying me this freedom.
It probably didn’t help that I was trying to simultaneously figure out how to apologize to and hold my ground with a bawling toddler in the back seat. So finally, accepting defeat, I went and moved the neighbor’s recycling bin, and huffed back into the car with the screaming toddler, an angelically quiet infant (who had just projectile vomited all over me 10 minutes prior), and an anxious dog who was suspiciously biding her time, waiting to pounce on the Easter basket of chocolate I’d failed to notice in the back seat.
Once out of the 900 point turn, the car locked on me again. Apparently, it throws you into automatic park if a passenger door is unlocked. Another unwelcome learning curve. But the handles of the car won’t engage unless you hit unlock, and apparently, the car also needs to be off for you to unlock the door. So out I popped, testing variables right and left, until I got the handles to appear and the correct door securely closed.
Hudson stopped crying at least and was placidly listening to me curse at the new car. I think he was enjoying my frustration with just a touch of shadenfreude. You see, I’d provoked his tantrum by telling my pokey little puppy that no, he couldn’t go find a very specific book from his ponderous bookshelf for our five minute car-ride when we were already running late. Hudson had used his best weapon against me. Limp Toddler Syndrome. A refusal to budge, knowing full well that I can’t lift him because of my still healing C-section incision. A masterstroke in retaliation: being late is Mom’s Ultimate Trigger. Knowing that Maeby was alone in the car with Juno (a cardinal sin with dogs and infants, though, admittedly, we should have been more worried about the Easter basket), and that I was late for my friend who was doing us a favor, I hollered at Hudson–really and truly lost my cool, before inadvisably sweeping him into my arms and bonking his head on the side of the door as I wrestled him into his car seat. Cue his somewhat justified howling.
So many lessons to be learned from this morning where I felt the whole time like I was locked in a 900 point turn, whipping my head this way and that, trying and failing to keep everything moving.
Lesson 1: Should I have just accepted my friend’s gracious offer to come pick Hudson up rather than trying to wrangle an infant, a toddler, and a dog into the car all before 9 AM? Yes.
Lesson 2 is more nuanced. How to give a true gift of time and sleep to an overworked spouse? Jeremy and I keep trying to give each other these parenting breaks as gifts, where one of us tackles the two children while the other recovers, but we come back so overwhelmed or pissed off by how poorly things went, that we have to whine to each other and it kind of negates the joy of the gift. We’re tired. We both need empathy and we both don’t have a lot to spare. But this morning, after a particularly difficult night, I wanted desperately to show my love for Jeremy through service, and wanted to give him the gift of sleep. I WOULD TACKLE THE TODDLER, THE INFANT, AND THE DOG. I COULD DO IT. I AM SUPER MOM. AND NO MATTER HOW POORLY IT WENT, I WOULD NOT BURDEN JEREMY WITH THE FACTS.
But actually, truly, I think the lesson here, is that anxiety is part of gift. It says: I’m doing something hard for you this morning. It won’t not be hard. It’s just that I am doing the hard thing because you did the hard thing last time, and the time before that, and the time before that. Sleep tight, spouse. Underneath all this grumpy, I really really love you.
Lesson 3 is last because I’ve been procrastinating it. If I am completely candidly and openly honest, I am not enjoying this experience of mothering two children as much as I wanted to. I think part of that has to do with the unending pressure I keep putting on myself to “savor this, savor this, this you never get it back.” Hormones get some of the blame, insecurity about missing work and what this time is doing to my career takes some of the blame, and then, honestly, who I am as a person takes the largest part of this. Some of my anxieties about parental leave are coming to fruition: Sometimes I’m bored. Sometimes I make mistakes. Sometimes I am supremely limited in what I can actually accomplish. Sometimes my body won’t let me move very fast. Sometimes my baby won’t.
It’s hard for me to stop and feed the baby when the kitchen isn’t clean. It’s hard for me to stay pleasant with my toddler and my spouse when my body is overtired. It’s hard for me to read a book when my brain is spent. It’s hard for me to access the parts of me that are extrinsically motivated by paychecks, gold stars, and pats on the head. Juno does not give me gold stars. She barfs on my sweater if I overfeed her.
So what is the lesson here? Is it the tired one about the thanklessness of being a mother? Is it the trendy lesson preached on social media that women don’t need babies to complete themselves? Or is it a gentle in-between lesson about the pricelessness of a successful burp over the shoulder, or the tickle of duck fluff on your nose after you wash your baby’s hair?
Or maybe it’s a lesson that parenting isn’t measured in moments, or in 900 point turns, or forced enjoyment of moments that frustrate you to hell and back, but rather, it’s the lifelong culmination of joy that happens as that baby unfolds and reveals itself to you.
Maybe it’s about the moments of reconciliation and learning with a toddler, where, hat in hand, you explain that you’re sorry for bonking them on the head as you got them into the carseat, that you’re sorry for losing your temper, but you’re not sorry about having said no about finding the book for a five minute car-ride. Maybe it’s about the moments where you empathize with the depth of your toddler’s sadness about hearing the word “no,” because you said no to him about the book, and the car said no to you about running over the neighbor’s recycling bin. Maybe it’s about the moments where you explain that lateness is a trigger for you to your toddler, which doesn’t give you permission to lose your cool, but can help us work around a blow-up in the future, and your toddler seems to see your humanity a little bit better than they did the day before. Maybe it’s about stocking the car with books in the future.
So maybe the lesson isn’t about enjoying and savoring at all; maybe it’s about learning and growing together instead of apart. Learning and growing as a family, as a Penrod Pack, rather than in an individual silo that is more easily controlled and never, ever late.
Maybe life is a 900 point turn, with adjustments right and left, but then, finally, straightening out and letting it ride.