I wash the bathroom rug every three weeks or so. Today was that day. It was clean. And then I went to get another load of laundry outside and Rose toddles into the bathroom and wets her pants while standing on the rug. This is progress. She, all on her own, walked to the bathroom and tried to pull down her pants. I’ll soak that spot on the rug and let it dry.
I wish I could see the hopeful progress in all their accidents and acts of rebellion. But some occasions don’t seem to have a hint of hope.
I am trying to get us out the door. I’m making everyone use the bathroom and this alone is something to cry about because Rose hates it when Lee gets to the bathroom first. She cries like someone is beating her and I come to explain that she can use the big toilet while Lee uses the potty chair. She knows this already. We go through the same thing every day five or six times. She’s instantly absorbed in pulling toilet paper off the roll while my hands are busy pulling down her pants. She is content with her three squares of TP, which she just squeezes through her legs and drops into the toilet without having wiped herself. Lee is finished and out the door, saying he wants a snack. I hear him opening the cupboard in the kitchen. Rose wishes to wash her hands. I allow her to do so while I stop Lee from raiding the snack cabinet. He complains and throws himself on the floor shouting, “But I want a snack!” Threats keep him obedient, but in the meantime Rose has rubbed soap all over the bathroom mirror.
I’m putting shoes on feet. Rose shrieks that she wants to do it herself and then melts into tears when she has trouble. Lee’s boots still have mud on them from yesterday’s tromping and he soon tracks mud across the livingroom floor. I pull the vacuum out for Lee to clean up his mud while I pack snacks for our outing. “Stay out of the kitchen!”
Lee sufficiently aids in the cleaning-up process until he gets the Dyson hose stuck and gets so frustrated that he throws the vacuum down and then tackles Rose with pillows. I turn off the vacuum and make Lee sit in his timeout chair for 3 minutes. When that’s over, both children tromp around the house turning on all the lights. Rose grabs the stool from the bathroom and sets it up in her room to climb onto her mini kitchenette. From there she can reach her bedroom light.
While I brush my teeth they get onto the kitchen table and take drinks from my half-filled glass of juice. While I’m looking for their sweaters, Lee terrorizes Rose with a plastic screwdriver. She screams and when I enforce my authority, demanding Lee sit in the time-out chair for such behavior, he goes running from the room shouting, “No!” I confiscate his Fuzzy blanket until he willingly submits to the time-out chair. I’m trying to stuff an extra diaper in my purse while Rose stands feet from Lee’s time-out chair and they laugh together. I’m not sure what about. This is no punishment. I send Rose away, but she shouts, “No!” and flops in my arms. I sentence her to her crib where she cries bloody-murder and wets herself and the bedsheets.
And now it is about my turn to start crying. Because after all we are trying to get out the door to go to the zoo, but apparently no one seems to want to go to the zoo. Otherwise I’d have some cooperation around here.
I sentence Lee to his room as well. I put on a Raffi tape. Rose stops crying. “You’re having some quiet time,” I tell them.
It is 8:30 am. I have at least ten more hours of this. I’m not going to make it.
It’s quiet. I sit down on the couch with my bible and my journal. Maybe I’ll find a reset button. Maybe the kids will reset themselves.
I see chunks of mud in the carpet and what seem to be little moths flying over the lawn in the front yard. No, they’re not moths. They’re termites. And I remember the yellow film on Lee’s potty chair that needs cleaning. I’m out of multi-vitamins, and the corners of our couch are starting to show wear through the frayed upholstery.
What is this? The season of torment? Something has happened. I went through three weeks of sore throat. Another week of the stomach flu, and when I finally recovered, someone replaced my children with fiends.
So here I am at the drawing board again. A paper and pencil in my hand. I start with what I know. One: I am the mother. Yes. I’m pretty sure about that much. They came out of me and now I am responsible for them. Two: they are pushing their boundaries. That much is apparent. Lee has become Rose’s personal tormentor and Rose has become a basket case of demands and tears. Three: I have power. I have to say this one several times to believe it. I have to list all the ways in which I have power over them. I am physically stronger than them. I can take away privileges. I can sequester. I can spank. I can confiscate. Then I write out a war plan: these offenses result in these consequences. Refusal of these consequences results in these further consequences. I find an old chore chart that I’ve put away and decide to implement its use once more for recording positive behavior.
I’m scrounging. I’m making arrowheads out of old tin-cans that have washed up on the beach of my desert island. I’m counting the days using an old abalone shell to scratch the 1,387th line on a rock.
And a friend with teen kids shakes her head at me and says, “You have it so easy. Just wait until their older. It’s so much harder when they’re teenagers.”
“You have forgotten,” I want to tell her. And thank God, I will forget too. This grinding of mortar. This wetting of grout. This slathering of muddy mess in between each brick. When the work is done, I know I will stand back and see a wall and not the thousands of pieces of grit between every stone.
But today I can’t stand back. I can’t see anything with shrieking cries in my ears and a dozen interruptions. Today is too long. I will call on my God and have a good cry and head back into the fray because I have no choice. No back-up troops are coming. The cheerful Daddy doesn’t get home until 6 or perhaps later. I make do. I put one foot in front of the other. And I think I am getting stronger. I think I see calluses on my hands and her cries don’t make my left shoulder ache anymore. I don’t feel a sizzling anger when I hear little voices thirty minutes before it’s time to wake up. A change is happening here too. A change in me. A strengthening.
I’d like to think that after all the breaking and regrouping, I’m better fit for heaven than I was 1,387 days ago.