Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Dodge Ball

Remember middle school dodge ball? I still remember the anxiety that would fill my body as huge rubber balls started flying around me. But I had an advantage: I was 85 pounds. I could easily dodge those suckers, which I quickly realized meant that I would be one of the last players standing. Whenever I threw a ball at someone, it moved through the air in a gentle arc that said, "Here you go, catch me!" and I was out. So I'd keep dodging. I became pretty good at it and started getting a little confident in my sweet dodging skills. By the end of the game, it would be me and one other guy who could throw those balls like the hulk. He'd throw and I'd dodge. Then it always seemed to be at the peek of my confidence, when I thought the game was almost over, that it would happen. A large rubber ball, moving at maximum speed, would slam right into my head. I never even knew where it came from, but it stung and any trace of my pride would disappear.

That's exactly how I felt last Thursday. The week was going so well. I was feeling confident that I could balance four children under the age of five and even go places with them. We'd made it to the Treehouse museum and survived. I had resumed Joy School and taught a lesson to our little group about imagination, while balancing a 16 month old and a newborn. Besides the part where Lottie didn't make it to the restroom on time and peed all over the floor in her Belle costume, we managed quite well. I felt like I was dodging our disasters with grace (even though I'm no longer 85 pounds...)

And then it happened. That speeding rubber ball came in the form of a Thursday. I woke up exhausted and sent the girls into the backyard to entertain themselves while I tried to take a nap on the couch. I moved through the day like a zombie: gymnastics at 11, then lunch time, and then the daily struggle to get everyone down for naps or quiet time. At four, we had to go back to gymnastics for group pictures, something I couldn't be late for (red flag). I had everything ready and was waiting for Hazel to wake up from her nap to slip her into her leotard. She slept right up until it was time to go, so we were rushed and I soon became a cranky horrible person. I hurried them into their suits, brushed Hazel's hair roughly into a ponytail while she yelled at me and tried to kick me. I packed up the baby, Eloise, and yelled at the girls to buckle their car seats for the fifth time and off we went, angry and upset.

We arrived just in time and it was packed. Little girls in leotards everywhere. As soon as we walked in, I noticed two things: Lottie's suit was really riding up in the back, which meant it was on backwards and Edison started wailing in his carseat. I set Eloise (16 months) down and she instantly took off. I ran after her and then quickly stripped Charlotte naked in a corner and turned her leotard around. Edison was still crying as I saw a few members of Hazel's class already taking pictures. I asked the lady up front to help my girls know where to go and went back to take Edison out of his car seat. Eloise was pressing her little hands up against the doors, crying to go back outside. I looked around for Hazel and Charlotte and saw that they were standing in the middle of the crowd with no idea where to go (throw me a bone receptionist lady?!). I kept one eye on Eloise near the doors (knowing she at least couldn't exit alone) and found the line to get the girls' tickets for a picture. As I was writing a check with one hand, with Edison in the other, one of the workers collecting checks saw Ellie crying at the double doors a few feet away and, not knowing she was mine, asked, "Aw, what's wrong with that baby?" Ha. I just forced a shaky smile and signed the check.

I called the girls over to me and handed them their tickets. When I turned back to check on Ellie, she was gone. I panicked and ran out the doors to see if she had escaped. She wasn't outside, so I came back in and went to the helpful receptionist who pointed to a woman walking around with Eloise on her hip, searching for a mom. I thanked her and she gave me that "how could you ever lose your child??" look that people who have never lost their child in a public place sometimes give (don't worry lady, your time will come), bless her heart. I squatted down to pick up my chunky Eloise who was fighting me while still holding Edison in the other hand and that's when I knew I couldn't do this. Two moms from my daughters' class were standing nearby and saw my struggle. They offered to help, which made me feel grateful but embarrassed. I knew Eloise wouldn't go to anyone else at this point, so I carried both my little ones into the front waiting area, with Hazel and Charlotte in tow. I carefully placed Edison, who was asleep, back into his car seat, and with my hands shaking even more, called my husband.

"Emergency. Come now."

"Is anyone hurt?" he asked, calmly.

"Nope." And then I hung up and looked down at my little ones. I felt guilty and sad that this had been such a terrible experience. After a few minutes, David arrived and watched Eloise and the baby while I hunted down a spare scrunchy for Hazel's pony tail that was part of the uniform (we had lost ours). Both girls were in the group shot and then we finally stood in line for the individual pictures.

And do you know the worst part of this entire mess? It wasn't the embarrassment of losing Ellie (not like it was the first time that had happened to me...) or the fact that Charlotte had an orange ring around her mouth because she ate a carrot right after her nap. It wasn't even the fact that Hazel's pony tail had bumps and wasn't curled and hair sprayed like every other little girl there. It was her face when she got her picture taken. It still makes me cry. The photographer asked her to hold up her arms in a pose and keep them straight, which was hard, and then when it was time to take the picture, she barely smiled. The photographer kept asking her to show her teeth which she finally did, but then it looked like she was scared or trying to scare someone--she was so tense! No one else would have ever known, but I could tell that she was on the verge of tears and giving a big open smile was just asking too much. The photographer had her switch to a more comfortable pose which helped her relax. Then little Lottie had her picture taken once she stopped giggling and wiggling. I sighed in relief and stood to leave when the photographer called us back and said her computer had frozen. We had to do the entire thing over again.

When all was said and done my sweet husband offered to take the kids home and give me some time alone. I climbed into his car and started to cry. I cried all the way to Great Harvest Bread where I bought some cookies. I've been cutting out sugar from my diet and it was my second week of success, but I needed those cookies (spoken like a true addict).  I bought extra for the girls as an apology for being such a mean mom that day. On the drive home, I came to a stop and saw that a blind man was starting to cross the street but stopped as he heard my car approaching. I slowed down and waited for him to cross, but he lingered on the sidewalk, unsure. Two teenage boys who were dressed like total thugs passed him and started to cross the street. I was about to roll down my window and tell him to go when one of the boys stopped and turned back to the blind man. He walked back to the curb and offered his arm. Both boys walked with the man across the street. I burst into tears again as I watched these two boys help the man to the bus stop. They saw me watching and as I turned onto the road, I smiled at them proudly until one of them shouted,
"Hey, give me yo number!" (Another dodge ball to the head. You still live in Ogden.)

This day completely knocked me off my feet. The thing is, I've had an underlying fear ever since my fourth was born that has slowly been surfacing, especially on the more difficult days. I feel it most when all four of my little ones are needing me at the same time and in the midst of the havoc, I hear a quiet inner voice tell me:
 "You're not enough."

Then I feel a pool of guilt settle in at the bottom of my stomach that stays for a while as I struggle to give each of my children the attention and time that I think they need and deserve. As soon as I sit down to read with Ellie, Edison wants to nurse and Charlotte wants a quiet time activity because she won't take her nap. As soon as Hazel asks me to color with her, it's time to start dinner because if I put it off, everyone will have a major meltdown because they're hungry, including myself. It's in those moments that I really start to doubt everything.

But then I remember that it's just a bad day, and it will pass. Soon it will be morning again and my kids will run into my room and tell me good morning (because I've threatened to take away Netflix if they ask to watch TV before they tell me good morning) and they will have completely forgotten the drama of the day before. Friday, was much better than Thursday. I stripped myself of all expectations and went with the flow of things. We colored together and I took a really long bath while the girls watched a really long movie. We went for a walk and I let Hazel paint my toenails. We skipped nap times because I didn't want the stress of it.  I took lots of pictures of them and recorded their voices because I know they will grow like weeds before my eyes. I was in love with them.  There were things left undone, but I made sure to be kind and focus on what was important. 

Sometimes you get slammed right in the face unexpectedly with a disaster of a day.  But you can't dodge all the bad days because they're part of the game. And if life was just made up of happy perfect moments that make a great instagram, then there would be no point, no growth, and no substance for a good laugh later.  I'm learning that just because you have a bad day, it doesn't mean you're a bad mom. Besides, the sting doesn't last too long and if you can muster the strength to survive the day and even smile through your tears, then that's certainly "enough," don't you think?

I love 'em.
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  1. Well said. I'm glad Friday was better.

  2. Just what I needed. Thank you for your insight! :)

  3. Oh, I know how you feel. All of my girls were crying today at the same time. And that happened several times today. I have the same feeling inside, "You are not enough". I know how you feel! On days like today I tell my girls that Mommy is having a bad day and sometimes Moms make mistakes. And that's okay. Because goodness knows it's hard enough to be a good Mom.

  4. Dodge ball. Perfect analogy. . . and what a misnomer! Nobody dodges the balls all the time, we all get hit in the face occasionally. Or sometimes it's in the face and in the gut and somehow from the side all at the same time. Anti-dodge ball.

  5. I am glad for you for two things. 1) That you could call David to come take the kids. 2) That David was able to come take the kids. I am trying hard to count my blessings that I have friends that can help, but it's not always enough to have a brain break. Sometimes what we really need is a hubby's hug and kiss and "I'm sorry you had a rough day." You reminded me today to be grateful for the time I have him, and humble during the times I don't. I love you, cuz!

  6. Call me anytime David isn't available (seriously) or when you need a sugar buddy. Love ya!

  7. ah, janelle. again, i wish we lived closer. why can't we make that happen? you are such an amazing mom and i love your insight on this. just remember that the best moms in the world have days like this. it's the bad moms who never feel the guilt. it's because we love them so much! i love you! thanks for sharing.

  8. Janelle, i loved this post! You are inspiring - such an incredible woman and mother and wife. I look up to you so much! Glad to know that I'm not the only one with those days (and I only have ONE!). We should play dodgeball :) And p.s. you still look tiny enough to weigh 85 pounds!

  9. Janelle, Thank you for saying what we all feel at certain times. You have a wonderful way with words and imagery. I had one of those days on Friday where I just needed Keith to come home early and take over so I could just be done with the day; to just curl up in bed with a heat pack and my pajamas and forget the world for an hour or two so I could deal with the lovely cramps that make my uterus feel like it's exploding. (TMI? Yeah, didn't think so--we're all women here). Thank goodness for Disney movies. And husbands who know our breaking points. This was all after a couple days of being Snappy Mommy and having no patience (it seemed) with the children. But what did my L have to say about it, at least 3-4 times that day or two? "Mommy--I LOOOVE you. You're the BEST mommy ever." (My thought as she's telling me this as I exasperatingly try to do her hair and we're running late: "Um, have you not noticed the WITCH on her BROOMSTICK for the past 24 hours???!"). The point: Children are a whole lot more understanding and forgiving of us than we are of ourselves. This is not to say they don't notice. This L also said this very urgently: "Mommy--you forgot the most important part of your outfit!" [I know what's coming because I often say this in the morning to them]. "You're smile!" (Of course, how could I not soften after that??) Children truly are gifts...and great teachers.

    You're an amazing mother. And I love learning from you. Keep it coming! Only you could "be enough" for those 4 children who were given to you--you have that "mom" gift!

  10. Oh Janelle, that was what I needed to read today. Thank you!

  11. Janelle, You truly have a gift of expression! I would have loved reading your bloggs back in the day. It would have been nice to know I was not alone. Did I ever tell you the time when I ran away? I had 2 kids at the time and I left...I said I didn't know when I would be back again. I took my journal and drove. I got lonely after a while...