Saturday, 17 May 2008

Better off dead

I remember the Summer Eli was born being given this book to read and seeming as it was relatively thin I read it right away (no time for epic novels in newborn baby days). I now love the author Dean Hughes, I am also holding him at his word.....I had better get to heaven. I really feel like I've earned it. Well actually I don't feel like I've earned it all but I am hoping just being a mother is the only criteria I have to meet and that I don't have to be an especially good one to get into heaven. So this little book amongst other things is a record of his experience the Summer he became a 'one-time Mother' to his own three kids, aged 5, 3 and 3 months and watched two other kids aged 9 and 7. All this while his wife worked on a Masters degree and part time in the evenings.
In his own words:

"We did a lot of thinking and praying about the situation and decided that Kathy was not only receiving a wonderful blessing but that I, too, would have a rich and rewarding experience. I would be able to grow closer to my children--and truly bond with them. I would also (this was my thought, not Kathy's, as I recall) be able to have a laid-back summer with time to read and prepare for my fall classes.

I had my eyes opened that summer. Opened wide. I can now honestly say that I've been there, done that, and have the scars to prove it. And I'll tell you this: men just don't understand what we mothers go through.

I didn't read that summer. Not anything. I didn't even get to the newspaper. If you're a mom you understand that, of course, but as the realization set in on me, I'll admit right now, I began to suffer symptoms of depression. I got so I didn't care much what I looked like. Who would see me anyway? And I snacked way too much. It was almost the only thing I had to look forward to--a little chocolate to comfort me when the stress got too great. And stress was a way of life. I'm the kind of person who likes to focus on a task, follow it through, get it finished, and move on. I get a great deal done, and it's because I get after a job and conclude it. But there's no finishing anything in the child-care, home-care business. When I think of that summer, I still get a mental picture of confusion and chaos, as though a hurricane had blown the whole time. I hear noise, see toys scattered everywhere, smell sour milk, and feel Robert, our baby boy, squirm in my grasp.

Little Amy would still not be dressed an hour after Kathy had left for the day, and the baby would be crying for no reason whatsoever, and Tommy would want me to help him build a house out of Lincoln Logs (even though he would lose interest soon after I started). The arguments never ended over who had hit whom first, and who had called whom a poopy face. Everything was always happening at once, and I never stopped trying to get it all under control.

Diapers and dishes (sorry to put those words together) were only two of the jobs I faced with shocking frequency. I really wanted Kathy to come home to a clean house (so she wouldn't think I was taking it easy all day), and that's why I always meant to make the beds, but I often found little opportunity to get to such things. More than anything, though, I suffered from the never-ending job of controlling the clutter.

In the heat of the action, I didn't much care about such abstractions, but once the kids were finally in bed, I would ask myself what I was doing to them. I shouldn't have gotten so upset about certain things; I should have been a lot more firm about others. Robert needed more attention and affection. And what would Kathy say if she knew I let the whole crew eat those Oreos when they never did eat their carrot sticks (which I had so firmly required as prerequisite)? All three of my kids were probably heading for disease (not enough veggies) and jail (not enough discipline).

Of all the challenges that summer, the worst was getting our three kids down and asleep without losing my mind or my temper or both. About the time I would finally get the job done, Kathy would walk through the door, and I would try to explain what I had been going through. I don't mean to be too critical of her, but I do have to say, she didn't show nearly as much empathy and understanding as I thought I deserved. First, she would remind me that she knew all about that stuff, and then there was always the "I've had a hard day myself" line.
Oh, right. Like I hadn't been out there going to college and working part-time all my life? That kind of life is a vacation compared to being home with a bunch of kids--and of all people, she ought to know it.

All I wanted from Kathy at that point was a minute or two of her time. I wanted to hear what adults, out there in the real world, talked about. I wanted to tell her some of my trials, seek a little advice, maybe even sob on her shoulder for a minute or two. But she was tired. Tired?

I hate to say this, but people who spend their lives away from home all day really don't understand what it's like to be a mother. All I wanted was to say something in a sentence with a few two-syllable words. I wanted to express an opinion that didn't start with, "Tommy, if you do that again . . ." I wanted to find out whether anything had happened in the world that day. (If a UFO had landed in Washington and absconded with President Nixon, how would I know?) And I wanted someone to listen to me. If I told Kathy that the kids had cut a big gash in our kitchen table with a screwdriver, she would want to know how they got hold of the screwdriver. Or if I told her I was afraid that I was in need of counseling and drugs, she would say something like, "It's only three months, Dean. I have them all the time."

The truth is, though, I was losing the power of speech. I'm not sure I could have explained my feelings if Kathy had wanted to hear it all. After you've talked to young children for twenty-five straight hours in a day, normal usage begins to atrophy. When you've said, "I know, honey, just a minute" twelve times in a row, only to hear, "No, Daddy. Wight now!" in response, you start saying strange things: "Daddy can't come wight now. Baby Wob will cwy. He needs his baba."To which Amy replies, "I don't ca'e. Baby Wob's stubid."And then, if a mother is not really careful, the argument can begin. "No, you the one being stubid, not Wob." "No, you stubid, Daddy.""Not as stubid as you." About then it's time to count the days that remain in your ninety-day hitch.

Amy would sit on her little chair and stare at the television as long as kids' shows were on, and Tommy liked most of the same shows. It was like looking a gift horse in the mouth (whatever that means) not to let electric entertainment help me out, but I strongly suspected that if any of my kids ever ended up in prison, someone would finally trace the problem back to TV and then straight on to me. Kathy would remind me that we had to limit the number of hours they watched--and maybe keep it down to some ridiculous number, like two--and I would nod and agree, but almost every day I would let temptation have its way. Cookies, TV, no exercise: I was polluting my own kids, and I didn't have the willpower to stop.

The worst single disappointment in raising kids is holding on and holding on, trying to be patient, trying to explain, trying to encourage, trying to reprimand with love, and then, finally, losing your temper. "I told you, just a minute," I would finally bellow, and look down to see a lip begin to quiver. President McKay used to say there was never a reason for parents to raise their voices. I believed that--still do--but there I would be, shouting at a kid because she had just smeared peanut butter on the bathroom doorknob, or because he had asked you for the thirty-second time, "Why can't I go outside?" And suddenly you're yelling, "Because I said so."
And then you see his little face go limp and his bottom lip stick out, and you drop down and take him in your arms and tell him you're sorry. But you know you've blown it one more time.

In all seriousness, I got depressed that summer. I've exaggerated some of these things, for fun, but I did struggle with myself. I didn't go into a clinical depression; I knew the summer would end, eventually. But I was often disappointed with myself for my impatience and crankiness, and for my failure to teach the kids what I wanted them to learn. But the worst thing--the thing that kept me unhappy--was getting up in the morning and thinking, "This day will be just like yesterday and tomorrow." My only goal each day was to get back to where I started in the morning. The house was always messier and dirtier than I wanted, and so were the kids."

Don't even think for a second that I typed all of that I stole the excerpts from (shhhh don't tell anyone, it may actually be illegal!), hoorah for copy and paste.

I had been thinking about this book this morning when I set my Facebook status to something along the lines of.....Carol is having a day the same as yesterday, and the day before and the day before that and that. My pants have officially had 'grumpy' written on them the last couple of days and it's exactly for all the reasons the lovely Dean Hughes touches on.

I don't feel like I do any of the many things expected of me particularly well. Then I feel guilty about it until eventually I can just laugh at the chaos and my many inadequacies and move swiftly on. Despite the fact that I haven't cleaned my fridge for like 6 months and my kids don't always behave as I'd like.

My Uncle responded to my status on Facebook by sending me a message that said 'Life may well be monotonous but it's certainly better than being dead'


Plus I have the comfort that at least Dean Hughes totally understands how I feel. (Because I too have lost of the power of speech and ability to articulate what's going in my head most of the time.)

Well that and the assurance that I am a mum so I am for sure going to Heaven!

4 lovely comments:

alisha said...

I did think that you had typed it all (of course until you said that you hadn't) but I could picture it quite clearly, you sitting with the book open, typing away.
I must say that I am much more than impressed with all mothers, especially those of my friends and family. I am sure that I have no idea what it is like, although Dean Hughes does paint a vivid picture.
You have my vote for getting into heaven.

AMY said...

I heard Dean Hughes talk at Time Out for Women last September. He shared that exact story. I thought he was a great speaker and put motherhood in a good perspective.

Nate and Lori said...

I will have to read this book! Thank you for all of your sweet comments on our blog. Sorry that it took my so long to write back. Nate sees your post and tell me about how awesome you are. I'm excited to learn more about you from this blog!

Cami said...

That was fun to read. I'm glad I'm going to heaven, too, then because sometimes I wonder! That looks like a good book, maybe I should get it. It'll be something good to read in the hospital after this third one gets here! By then, I'm positive I could use it.