Multitasking: it’s a necessary skill to mother. I don’t mean acting like you’re listening while checking facebook, or chatting on the phone while trying to cook. Those combinations don’t work well. I mean going about the necessary business needed to keep a household running in the midst of watching children. This is necessary. I cannot let my 20-month-old wander freely doing whatever he wills while I swiff or meal plan or change the sheets on the bed. I cannot ignore him for such durations of time.
I suppose if and when I have multiple children, I will become better at ignoring them, but for now I haven’t perfected that skill. Oh yes, I do believe it is a skill because I’ve seen a dozen mothers at central park who do not have it. They follow their children around the play structures: “No Mariah, don’t pick up that pinecone.” “Come here, Mariah. Let’s climb up these steps.” “No Mariah, don’t lay down on the floor.” "Mariah, look at the doggie!” “Say hello, Mariah.” “Say goodbye, Mariah.” Yes, I have memorized these children’s names.
The real trouble is being a first time mom. Every irksome whine and needful grunt sets off a little alarm in my head. I must answer it. I must do something. I haven’t the endurance to do otherwise. I suppose it’s like standing. Trisha Hail once told me that after she joined the Orthodox Church she used to get stomachaches and back aches and feel nauseous from standing for the long church services. Now she does it easily and with impeccable posture. She’s built up her strength.
My focus muscles haven’t been built up yet. I can’t continue chopping vegetables when I hear a little person whining. I can’t go for more than 5 minutes without making sure I know the whereabouts of my little monster. If I hear cries, I must look. If I hear requests, I must listen. I don’t do it because I’m trying to be a good mother; I can’t help it. If I don’t, I start inventing horrible visions of my boy eating snail poison in the backyard or clogging the toilet with his cloth diapers or laying unconscious somewhere.
Like I said, it’s a skill, a strength that I haven’t yet built up. But I know that I must. I am not here to meet everyone’s demands. I am not capable of healing all discomforts, nor should I try. My attention is not the most valuable asset, the most desirable treasure, nor necessary for happiness. Lee is about to find out.
I’ve got about a month left here. One more month before it all starts again. We’re back to square one. The next baby will know nothing, will be able to do nothing, and will need everything. And I must be there to give it. Perhaps that’s where the difficulty lies. Lee has gone from needing everything to needing less and wanting more, but I have yet to make the transition myself. Who else will meet his needs, if not me?
And who is to decide what he needs? He has passed beyond needs to desires. He wants a mandarin orange even though he’s had diarrhea for the last four days. He wants Phil to chase him around the house even though it’s bedtime. He wants to go outside in his socks in the rain. He wants to eat toilet paper. He doesn’t want to sit on the potty chair. What he wants is no longer what he needs. What he needs is not necessarily what I want to do. I must let him be without. I must let him feel disappointment, frustration, and loss. The sooner he knows that I don’t fulfill him, the sooner he will start searching for the ultimate fulfillment: the one who gives endlessly for our good. We both need that One.