I was reading a little snippet of Ayelet Waldman’d Bad Mother today. She was talking about her mother-in-law, and how wonderful she was once Waldman realized it. She described her as serene, and talked about how nice it must be to grow up in a house with a serene mother, adding that she’d grown up with temperamental, explosive mother and that she was that kind of mother herself, and so she knew all too well its disadvantages, and I thought, oh, I want to be that serene mother, I want that, just imagine how secure that would feel. I was coming home from the farmer’s market, bringing cookies for all kids, who’d been with Rob at little one soccer. I was feeling so pleased, because the market was back, and I had all sorts of good stuff–huge Jerusalem artichokes, a pork shoulder, whatnot…
And I walked into the house, and I waded–literally–through the hallway, stepping over coats and shoes and boots and hockey gear–yes, hockey gear and no, no one has played hockey in over a month–but first, I glanced into my car (I was driving Rob’s) and saw that all of the detrius of the morning was still in there–soccer balls, water bottles, pullovers–and then I realized that when we came home last night, I hadn’t emptied out the BACK of my car, which included the lunch boxes from yesterday and all the gear from two kids at lacrosse–and THEN I went into the house, and waded through the hallway, and gave them the cookies, which were greeted with grunts, and then I asked them to clean something, and some cleaning was done, and then Rory responded to my saying that I was going to throw away a toy ice cream scoop she’d been given at Christmas if she didn’t come put it away with the words “I don’t care.” and then I BLEW UP AT ALL OF THEM.
There was shouting. There was shrieking. Video games were brutally unplugged and removed, there was sobbing, people were sent to their rooms…it was absolutely as far from serene as you could possibly get.
And then there was an interval of other activity, and then we took the kids to dinner at a friend’s house tonight–a little Derby thing, very little. It was us, them and another couple, plus our four hellions, their two angelic children (granted, not always angelic, but angelic tonight) and the always angelic five-year-old of the other couple. Let it be said that in order to get to dinner, I had to drive half an hour at 3:30 to fetch Sam from a birthday party and then another half hour back to dinner–and those are real half hours, because we live in the country. I had to do my festive little song and dance to keep Rory, and in the case of a solid hour in the car in mid-afternoon even Wyatt, awake. I had to extract Sam from the party, and then extract the other three, who got out of the car and poured onto the swingset during the original extraction project.
And then we got to dinner. And let me just say that it consisted, entirely, of three of our four children, none of whom ever exchanged a single word with any of the other three children, fighting over the single swing. The whole time. FOR HOURS. Basically, my evening went like this:
Me: Why yes, smart friend who reminds me of the days before I had kids, that IS interesting! What I think is…oh, no, Rory, really? He hit you? Wow, that’s awful. Come here and sit and scream hysterically on my lap for a while…
Smart friends continue conversation without me, raising voices to be heard over Rory. Rory eventually leaves.
Me: You know, when I saw that in the paper, I thought–Oh, no, Lily, Wyatt won’t give you a turn? That’s awful. And then he kicked you? Poor baby. Come here and sit and scream hysterically on my lap for a while.
Smart friends–well, you get the idea. Wyatt then took a turn, and then they all did it again, and then they stood in front of me and fought over who could sit on my lap, and then I got up, and then we did it all over again. Eventually I told Rory to throw a cup of water on Wyatt if he wouldn’t get off the swing and give her a turn, and that didn’t end well, and–
Yeah, you’re right, we should have just gone home. But I didn’t want to, because I really wanted to have fun. I really like these people, and we don’t see them enough, and they live in the world I live in when the kids aren’t with me–the one with newspapers and political blogs and ideas and elections and issues and books and literary magazines instead of lunch boxes and soccer and lacrosse. I just wanted it to work so bad, and I swear the kids could smell it, like blood. Eventually I threw them off me, told them to go Lord of the Flies on each other over the damn swing and just sat there sulking and unable to form a coherent thought or sentence.
So. I don’t want to be the person who tells her kids to dump water on each other over a swing, and won’t help them work out their problems, and can’t muster even the slightest iota of sympathy for any of them over any of their many wounds at one another’s hands. And I don’t want to be the idiot mother at the party who can’t talk to anyone else because she’s always got some bratty little kid in her lap, either. I don’t know who I want to be. I haven’t got the faintest idea what I thought I was doing, having all these children. This isn’t about adoption, either, other than as another method of acquiring all these kids I’m incapable of raising. I suck at this, at all of it, I don’t want to suck at it, but it sure as hell isn’t like I wanted to spend three hours standing over at the swing by myself with a stopwatch while everyone else talked, either.
I cried all the way home.
This should be the place in the story where some tender thing happens to make me realize–I don’t know, probably how little I have to complain about, or that every time a bell rings, and angel gets her wings–but it doesn’t. We came home–I took each of the younger three into the bathroom and put them in their respective pjs and cleaned up their hands and feet from a barefoot night while everyone else said good bye and what a nice time they’d had–and they fell asleep, and got carried up to bed, and here I am. Probably tomorrow will be better, but right now I don’t really care.