This summer has been, my recent college grad sister and I keep joking to each other, “the summer of ‘no.'”
As we trudged through these past 3 hot months shoulder to shoulder, she searching for a job and I for a home, we had ample opportunities to commiserate. She couch surfed with us a few nights most weeks, trading babysitting and extra hands on deck at dinner and bedtimes for a place to crash when she had interviews in Denver. Some evenings would find me frantically unwrapping string cheeses and pelting them at the kids as I backed out the door towards yet another showing, tossing apologies along with mozzarella.
My children were patient and flexible for the most part – remarkably so for their ages. We must have dragged them through 2 dozen houses in 6 weeks. I, however, was not so patient. Not so flexible.
As one contract and then another fell apart after unwelcome surprises during the inspection process, I would retire to my room at night and cry hot, salty tears of frustration and exhaustion into my pillow. We had already given tentative notice to our landlords and I’d been packing. I couldn’t believe we could be starting over.
Of course, you know the punchline and I should have known the punchline all along. Here I sit tapping this out on the final day of August, a breeze coming through the open sliding door from our new backyard. It was just a little over a month from the depths of despair to closing day, all told. Long enough for me to contract shingles and lay uselessly on the couch for the better part of that month, and long enough for me to fall out of the habit of social media use and much internet use at all.
And you know what?
It was glorious.
It was so glorious that I’m a little sad I’ve come back at all, because being alone with my kids and our little life and only hearing about terrible news and global goings on from my husband casually over dinner or in the homily at Mass was pretty awesome.
I found, to my everlasting surprise, that I liked being “just” a mom for a while. Blistering rash and all. And I found that when I did make my way back to the keyboard, the words didn’t flow quite the same, haven’t flowed quite the same since.
I spent the other morning lying in Evie’s rejected toddler bed – which she expresses her perpetual disdain for by regularly removing her pajama bottoms and urinating in it and then sprinting from the scene cackling like a drunken Olympian – just cuddling with the younger 3 and reading them stories. We probably spent 45 minutes just lounging around, thankfully with no urine present this day, and I CAN NOT remember the last time I’ve done something so intentionally meaningless with them. There were no orders being barked, no multitasking, no thoughts of wasted time or lost productivity. Just big, sloppy baby kisses from Luke’s enormous puppy dog mouth and endless renditions of the Bunny Rabbit Show.
And I kind of loved it.
Maybe that’s an admission that should embarrass me, that I can’t remember the last time I just messed around with them. But the truth is, I didn’t really know how.
If I hadn’t spent the bulk of last month uselessly splayed out on the couch with Netflix blazing and babies and crumbs collecting around my ankles, I doubt I’d have been able to enjoy it. I’d have been thinking about the laundry piles, the unanswered emails, the looming deadlines and requests for help, for connections, for advice, for collaboration. But that morning I just stayed where I was, physically and mentally content to remain at home.
I am sorry for the months and years I wasn’t able to be in this place with my kids, but I have no guilt.
I don’t think I was ready for full contact motherhood until recently. I think it was essential to my mental and physical health that I have some degree of separation from my kids, and I think it helped me to survive a demanding season of life.
But my parenting muscles are growing. I’m getting stronger and more able to withstand long stretches of time without the relief of going off duty, even if only mentally. And I’m so glad. Because I love my children, but also because for a while there was a sneaking suspicion, never voiced but ever present, that maybe I didn’t pick the right life, so to speak. That I should be doing motherhood better, stronger, more joyfully.
Now I can see a little more clearly that as they have grown and changed and matured, so have I. That it’s easy now to do what was impossible when I had my first baby, when I’d only recently been removed from the position of “center of the universe.” (Painfully obvious disclaimer: I’m not suggesting all non-parents are selfish. Just that I was. And am.) And it isn’t that I chose wrong when I chose marriage and motherhood, just that I said yes to an idea and to an ideal, and reality is infinitely more beautiful and more difficult.
(Oh, and for sure I don’t plan on dismissing my extraordinary mother’s helper any time soon, so please don’t misread this as a missive for why a mother must do All The Things by herself. Malarky. I may be taking more enjoyment in the “wasted timelessness” or whatever Pope Francis calls chilling on the floor with Legos, but introverts still gonna introvert. So for 8 hours a week. Just throwing that out there.)
The summer of “no” was a bummer. But it has ended up being a beautiful, necessary season of suffering and course correction that had me thanking God for the gift of shingles, for mold problems, even for sleepless nights when it was all said and done.
It is a gift to see oneself in the light of reality. And the reality that hit home for me is that this season really is fleeting, and that while more days than not are dog hard and long as hell, there’s nowhere I’d rather be, and there’s nothing more important that I could be doing.
I’ll still be writing here in this space, because writing is another thing I was made to do. But it may be with less frequency, or it may not. I’m not really sure what this fall and winter holds for our family, but I suspect that I’ll be saying a lot more no’s so that my yeses can be more whole hearted.