How about some OG mommy blogging on this Friday Eve? I thought I’d update all my wonderful readers who have not yet abandoned ‘ye olde blog’ for the flashier and more fragmented pastures of Instagram with a good old fashioned “life lately” post, and tell you a little bit about what having 5 kids has been like so far.
In a nutshell: tiring. I am just so tired. I’ve had all these blood tests done looking for vitamin deficiencies and asked all the questions about thyroid function and cut out all the food groups and…I’m still just tired. Bone deep and almost always, so I think it’ll just be a matter of time before things kind of normalize and my brain gets the memo that if it wants 8 hours of zzzs, it needs to shut down by 10 pm every night.
So earnest is my search for that mythical fountain of stable energy levels that I even (drops voice to a whisper) stopped drinking coffee again… I found myself slipping into a naughty little afternoon espresso habit that was surely not helping my circadian rhythms, so off the drip I went. In the past 6 weeks I’ve had 2 coffees. I know! Who am I? I don’t know! But it is slightly easier to wake up in the mornings now, and much easier to stay asleep (rooster babies permitting) once I get there. But gosh do I miss that artificial pick me up that helped me cruise through the 4 o’clock hour.
How are the kids, you’re wondering? Screaming in the backyard, currently. I have no idea why our neighbors don’t want to socialize more. In one particularly special encounter some friends who were staying with us last week were spraying the hapless preschoolers on the other side of the fence with the hose and also changing the words of a Vacation Bible School song to something borderline vulgar, which was very meaningful for neighborhood relations. I think everyone is really glad to have us on the block.
It has taken me 40 minutes to write the past 4 paragraphs. That basically sums it up. My margins are gone, erased by needs and noise and summer vacation and a not-quite-3-year-old who has decided to drop his nap but also acts feral from 3-5 pm every afternoon and is frequently found naked.
Every ounce of selfishness is being exposed and stripped away, violently and reluctantly. It is extremely painful and extremely worth it, and I can absolutely understand why people do not, in a culture that does not uphold the dignity of family life or the nobility of parenting, choose to have larger families. If I were not Catholic, I doubt that we would have more than 3 kids.*
Without a theology of suffering, the life I am presently living, however punctuated with moments of transcendent joy, makes little to no sense. I took 5 kids to the pediatrician this morning for a strep test for number 3 and felt every ounce the spectacle that we were, a baby tucked under my arm because her infant seat was too saturated in vomit to make the trek inside and a 2 year old with sandals on the wrong feet and lots of little faces that all look like mine, and everyone stared. Nobody was unkind, and everybody stared, and this is just life now, and I’m so busy most of the time I never even notice the attention. Nobody dares approach my RBF in the checkout line and crack wise about “what causes that.” They take one look at the sheer multitude of us and they know that I know, and they know better than to ask if I know.
So that’s a definite upside.
I’m not painting a very rosy picture, but the truth is that I feel like I’m drowning a lot of the time. And I’m disappointed with the many ways I fail my family hour after hour as the long days of summer (was it only 2 weeks ago I was moaning about carpool? manic LOLOLOL) crawl by, bringing another load of laundry, a bathroom accident from a totally unpredictable source, and a frantic tearful canvassing of the neighborhood for the missing cat, who always turns up but who always gives the anxiety-prone 6-year-old full blown panic attacks when she wanders outside the bounds of our property lines.
I know this isn’t forever. That it’s a really, really hard season…but only a season. I don’t feel the weight of PPD like I have after previous pregnancies, but I wouldn’t say I’m operating at 100%, either. I’m snappish and frustrated and the baby weight is very, very reluctant to leave its comfortable perch around my midsection. Zelie is an angel baby and I have no regrets about adding her to the mix, and still, life is harder than before she got here.
I sometimes catch myself chanting under my breath “you can do hard things” and also “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” while I’m wiping up another puddle or getting up with someone else in the night for the third or fourth time and especially when it’s 4:15 and the entire universe feels like it might be tilting out of alignment and time is actually physically slowing down.
(I’m really making the case for being open to life, right?)
Here’s the thing. We all have hard stuff. Something is really hard in your life right now, whether it’s your job or your marriage or your grad program or a sick spouse or a terrible family rift or, or, or…there is no such thing as a comfortable life. A comfortable life is an illusion, and it is often a lonely one.
On my darkest afternoons (y so terrible, witching hour?) I occasionally have the wherewithal to project my imagination into the future and I envision these 5 needy puppies as teenagers who are joking and tossing a football and going to dances and games and parties together, getting into trouble but also keeping each other out of trouble, walking hand and hand through life long after I’ll be out of the picture. This foresight sustains me, and I can lean on it reliably because I have witnessed it come to fruition with my own siblings.
And it’s not only the future I’m working towards, but also the almost indecipherable improvements in the here and now. I can only hope that these rough edges of my personality and areas of sin and selfishness really are being scourged away, making room for new growth and a strength and resilience that I can’t imagine now, at age 35. I’m not the mom I was at 30, much as I might wish I still looked like her. I’m stronger than her, however, and softer too.
I was talking with a priest friend about how difficult this season of motherhood has been, wondering if I were essentially still 17 on the inside, maybe? Because I struggle so much with anger and selfishness when “my will” is transgressed by one of the kids, and I often still feel like my shallow teenage self. He laughed and said “Jenny, if 17-year-old you were dropped into your current life circumstances, she would run. And you’re not running.” (He didn’t know teenage me, but he’s right.)
Some of the less esoteric stuff: Joey is 7 and will be 8 in September. He is extraordinarily helpful and sensitive and responsible and also goofy and loud and forgetful and always, always screen-seeking. We joke that his middle name is actually “where the party at?” and I do shudder when I think about what that means for college, but we are not in college yet, mom brain, so find your chill. He can make breakfast, carry a baby on his hip, feed said baby a bottle, and process a load of laundry. You’re welcome, future daughter in law. The age of reason is amazing because it’s real. Over the past few months his goodness and his conscience have really come out in full force, and I literally see the lightbulb going on behind his eyes when he realizes he has done something wrong. It’s amazing. He’s obsessed with all sports, our new trampoline (free on Craigslist, with an enclosure, don’t tell my chiropractor) and the neighbor kid, Andrew. Also screens, of which we do none but a few shows on the laptop or PBS kids on the tv in the afternoons after 4, much to his dismay.
John Paul is 6, wishes he were 7 like Joey, can’t understand that he and Joey are not actually twins, and is about as sensitive and melancholic as they come. He has big feelings, good and bad, and is very sensitive to the needs and moods of others. He adores our cat and will pine for her if she doesn’t come indoors in a timely manner at night. He’s amazing at climbing trees and he has zero fears of high places despite being so anxious about other stuff, which is interesting. He loves holding Zelie and is the only one who actually asks to do so on a regular basis. He is great at sports and runs with an older crowd, namely, Joey and the 9-year-old neighbor kid. They bounce between our two yards playing basketball and Bey Blades, which has nothing to do with Beyonce as far as I can tell, but which is apparently all the rage.
Evie is 4.5 and is crazy like a fox. She’s incredibly smart and funny and throws tantrums the likes of which I have never seen before. I don’t know yet if it’s a girl thing or if it’s an Evie thing, since she is our oldest and first girl, so…I watch in fascinated horror as the meltdowns unfold. She has zero regard for other people’s opinions of her, is a little bit terrifying at library story time and/or playdates, and will either play college rugby or perhaps run a small corporation before she’s 22. She scares me and impresses me and infuriates me at turns, and I love her fiercely. I also think now, with 3 years of hindsight and personality observation, that all of her refusal to hit milestones was 100% pure stubbornness. She had no underlying medical issues; she’s just like an angry housecat, is all. And if she didn’t want to crawl/walk/stand at 17 months, nobody (and I do mean nobody, entire PT/OT team) was going to make her.
Luke is almost 3 and has an immense joie de vivre and also, appetite. He’s our little human garbage disposal who eschews clothing and shoes and prefers scavenging food and running wild and free through life. He has the vocabulary of a 3rd grader, wears size 4/5T clothing, and can sing along to my entire Tom Petty greatest hits album, so he’s pretty amazing. Except when he’s not. Yesterday I caught him crouched on the bathroom sink drinking from JOEY’S DIRTY SOCCER CLEAT AND I HAD ZERO CHILL ABOUT IT. Zero. Parenting has crushed my obsessive tendencies towards cleanliness but you haven’t really lived until you’ve seen someone’s tongue in someone else’s athletic shoe. His alibi? “I couldn’t find a cup, mommy.”
Zelie will be 6 months old at the end of June (how??) and is delightful and placid and has an amazing crow-like squawk during the rare moments of non-placidity. She sleeps pretty great both day and night and just rolls with the punches as they come. Someone asked me her nap schedule recently and I had to laugh because what is a nap schedule? And can I get one for myself somewhere? She is the most chill and pleasant baby and never really cries unless she is in the car between 3-4 pm (#carpooltrauma) or very dirty. She loves water and had her first dip in the pool last weekend and was smitten.
She is sleeping through the night-ish in her own room and alternates passing out in the swing with being laid down flat on her back, still swaddled but with arms free, and falling asleep completely on her own. She just pivots and adjusts. Life is grand with her, and none of the problems (ahem, except for that pregnancy weight) that I’m currently puzzling over have anything to do with her. It’s more of a threshold of chaos that we’ve crossed over and can’t seem to find our way back. Yet. I know I’ll read this a year from now and laugh because things will have settled so much and there’ll be new and bigger fish to fry with my super effective worry, but for now it’s the lbs and the lack of sleep and a general ambient noise level of 140 decibels that are really giving me a run for it.
On a closing personal note, my parents just arrived in Arizona to say goodbye to my last living grandparent, my Grandma Jean, who is in her final hours. She’s my dad’s mom and is the only grandparent I had much of a relationship with, including letters and emails back and forth over the years. She was also kind/crazy enough to let my sister and I stay on her sailboat for a 3-week stint when she and my grandad were cruising down in Mexico and we were sneaky, angsty teenagers. Señor Frog’s, anyone? If you would remember her in your prayers today and pray for the Lord’s mercy upon her, and that my parents make it to her bedside in time to say goodbye, I’d be so grateful.
Whew, how was that for a good old fashioned, high word count random bit of mommy blogging? Guess I’ve still got it.
*Not all big families are Catholic, and not Catholics have big families. If the HV series I’ve been running has demonstrated anything, I hope it’s the reality that not all couples who are open to life are blessed to actually have their children with them this side of heaven. We are humbled by what God has entrusted us with, and also, completely overwhelmed.