When he tells me his head hurts and my stroking it doesn’t help, I know he’s sick for real and not just for sympathy. His younger brother and sister are just emerging from the fever and croup he’s headed into. It’s Saturday and the US Marine museum outing has been traded for Netflix, mama’s bed, popcorn and orange crush.
The day ticks by much slower than we’d planned.
Slower and perhaps better.
The fall sunshine slants across the sofa and the hamster’s cage that’s made its way into the living room where blanket forts and baby toys compete for attention. Going to the grocery store for medicine, strawberries and other sick-day supplies is the furthest we’ve been today.
I’ve got Simon and Garfunkel in my head,
You move to fast
You got to make the morning last
Just kicking down the cobble stones.
Looking for fun and feelin’ groovy.
I spend an hour on the phone with South Africa and soak in their voices and updates and can imagine my dad sitting across from me over a cup of tea. My brother will become a dad for the first time in the new year and next week we have five college students coming over for Thanksgiving.
I talk to them while Zoe plays and the boys watch Pink Panther cartoons. The house is chaos but the people in it at peace and I could not be more grateful.
A girlfriend from college who knew me long before I ever knew I wanted to be a mom asked me on Friday, “What’s the secret to this?”
“How do we parent without feeling like we’re going crazy?”
I answered her from the warm inside of our minivan sitting in the driveway because I knew once I went inside with the groceries it would be game over for any quiet time or conversation.
Today as I look over at the floor strewn with super hero capes, mismatched flip flops and shredded cheddar cheese I think about my answer.
“The only way I know how to parent without losing my mind is by learning to let a lot go,” I’d said.
And with each child I’ve felt my grip loosened further.
Felt the God who is re-making me, re-shaping me, re-birthing me through these children help me let go of more.
The perfectly folded clothes, organized cupboards, planned meals. The compulsion to tidy in the wake of every game concocted by brilliantly imaginative boys. The determination that no one come over if things weren’t just so. The insistence that there is a right way to hang towels.
Parenting with room to breathe, for me, means letting go of the lists I’d thought essential.
Because I’ve discovered that they were strangling me.
While I love order and tidy rooms and neat cupboards as much as the next girl, I will no longer let them be an idol in our house.
I am learning my limits. I have two boys under nine and a three year old baby girl. I have a full time job, a husband with a long commute and yes, then there’s also the assortment of neighbor kids.
Something had to give.
For me it was the dream of the perfect home. I traded it for the reality of a lived in one.
Remembering that choice helps me breathe through the mess on nights when I would give almost anything for maid service. Remembering that helps me wrap my boys up in the blankets from the unmade bed and wrestle them instead of rolling my eyes at the mess.
Remembering that keeps me sane when shoes pile up in doorways, socks never make it to the laundry hamper and someone spills chocolate sauce on the kitchen floor.
Remembering that gives me the freedom to take a deep breath and just let go. Some things will get done and some things will not.
Especially on sick days. On days when boys slow down and chores mount up. Days when the choice is between stroking someone’s head and sorting the dirty clothes.
Days when a six-year-old tells me, “I won’t always be your boy, but you’ll always be my mom.”
So I stroke his forehead and leave wet clothes in the washing machine.
I read Power Rangers to his brother.
I rock that baby girl longer than she needs instead of finishing the meal planning I started this morning.
And part of me might still feel frustrated that not enough got done. That the laundry hamper is still half full and the last load of dishes isn’t put away. That the living room got tidied but the carpet wasn’t vaccuumed. That the plates I bought months ago are still not unpacked. That I forgot to buy gifts for the weekend’s birthday parties and haven’t figured out what to pack for the kid’s lunches tomorrow.
That I wore pajamas for a large portion of today.
But that part? That part is no longer the boss of me.
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