4 kids in 3 years: reflections on motherhood, art and life.
I ran over my daughter’s boot this morning. Thankfully, her foot was not in it. We were two minutes late for school, two minutes for which my oldest son was furious.
She climbed out of the car after her brothers and her sister not wearing her winter coat even though the dashboard read 14°. She was not wearing her coat because she left it in the car overnight so when she came out this morning it was stiff with cold and she refused to put it on. She also left her wet snow pants in the front seat which had frozen overnight.
“Don’t you remember yesterday when I said, if you leave your coat in the car it’s going to be freezing cold tomorrow?” I harped.
“You never said that!” she cried.
My oldest son caught my eye in the rearview mirror and shrugged. It sounded like something I would say.
All morning her twin brother had insisted that he couldn’t find his coat anywhere as they jostled and shoved each other in the mud room, which was likely a major contributing factor in the two minutes of lateness. Is it hanging on the hook? Did you leave it in the car like your sister? Did you leave it at school?
After much Sturm und Drang, and having already pulled out his sister’s old pink winter coat and forced it onto him, I opened his backpack where I found… his winter coat. It had been there all along.
When they were little I would line up their things in the mudroom in the morning. Winter coat, snow pants, hat, mittens, snack bags, water bottle, extra shoes. I would put each pile separate from the next to give them space to get into everything, and then I would come around and help them each with snaps, buttons, snow pants suspenders and so on. I could dress them all in seven minutes flat. But now they are big, and their stuff is all over the place, and it has slipped through my fingers, as it should.
It is a fine line between what is my responsibility these days, and what is theirs.
My fourth grade son has an organizer that is supposed to be signed every night by a parent. For him this is perhaps redundant as he is generally very organized and usually finishing all his homework on Monday night. All the homework for the entire week. Finished on Monday, can you imagine?
But signing his homework folder is not something he generally remembers to ask me to do. And so is it my job to ask him?
The twins have folders that say homework on the front and on one side it says ‘to stay at home’ and on the other side it says ‘to go back to school’. It seems like something I should be checking on each night, but on most days we have at least five iterations of this folder at home belonging to the two children in third grade. This is because every time they lose this folder they grab the ‘extra’ folders for the classroom.
And then there’s my youngest. I think she has a folder? Maybe she has a folder. I don’t know. I likely knew when her siblings were in second grade but now I’ve lost sight of it.
We are at that place transitioning between what is mine and what is theirs. I feel it with piano practice where a few of them often rail against me at the mere mention of the word practice. I feel it less so when it comes to soccer or lacrosse, as they all tend to head out the door pretty willingly. But water bottles? Cups, of the protecting your junk variety? Shin guards? Mouth guards? Without my constant vigilance these important pieces of plastic would float away into the great ocean that is our home, hidden under beds, jammed in closets, buried in the bottom of the dirty clothes basket. Constant vigilance.
Right after my oldest was born I remember opening a gift from one of my mother’s friends. It was a snuggle, a small blue stuffed dog head rattle attached to an extremely small, soft square of blanket. I remember turning to my mom and asking, “Who would give a new mother just one of these?! What do I do if this becomes his favorite thing?! What do I do when he loses this?!”
My mother went shopping that week and found two stuffed blue teddy bear head snuggles that weren’t exactly the same, but were pretty darn close. She continued to search stores all over South Jersey until she found the exact Carters stuffed dog head and bought me two more. So yes, five soft blue snuggles for my oldest son. Also, one of my husband’s aunts sent us a single green frog head snuggle with no rattle at all. Somehow this became his one favorite comfort object. The frog who has no backup.
My son has only slept without that green frog snuggle for two nights his entire life, a weekend when we escaped to Maine and realized halfway there that we didn’t have his frog. I made my husband pull over at the Walmart and bought another light blue stuffed teddy bear head with a rattle inside and a square blue blanket attached. I couldn’t stand the fact that he would be without it.
When do we stop organizing the lives of our children? Is there a point when we are no longer responsible as parents? Or less responsible? Even then will I ever really feel less responsible?
I can almost guarantee that if I called my mother right now and told her I couldn’t find a pair of replacement Frye boots, the original Veronica slouch, not the new ones with the weird wrinkled leather up top, I can almost guarantee that she would go out shopping to every Frye-carrying store -Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom Rack- within driving distance of her home in Virginia in search of those boots. And she doesn’t even know how to spell the brand Frye.
She still sometimes calls my younger brother in the morning to wake him up for important meetings or so he can catch a flight. And he is over 40. Sometimes they call that enabling. Sometimes they call that helping. Either way, I guess it’s parenting.
I had to pull away after running over my daughter’s boot once I ascertained that her foot was not in it. But I pulled into the school parking lot, parked the car, walked into the school and found her. In tears, she blamed me for rushing her, blamed me for forcing her to bring all those homework folders back, for throwing her snow pants at her at the last minute. I pointed out that these are all her things, her snow pants, her homework folders, her coat, her responsibility. She should organize them the night before. Or she should’ve done it this morning rather than sitting in the car complaining about her cold coat. Which of course made her angrier.
So I forced her stiff, angry little body into a hug and held her for the full six seconds that a psychologist I once heard on NPR said it takes a hug to truly stick, right there in the lobby of her school. This it seems is the one thing that is definitely my responsibility, loving her stiff, angry, gorgeously disheveled person no matter the age or the place or the run over boot and frozen snow pants.
By the end of the hug she’d begun to soften, although barely. And then I sent her off, snow pants trailing out of her backpack, to face her school day alone, homework folder or not. It’s the best we both can do.