I can hear the screams while I am in the kitchen gathering ingredients for breakfast. Over at my next-door neighbor's house, her kitchen door is propped wide open. Howling bellows from within her home are escalating into a full-blown tantrum. My sullen friend steps out onto her side porch and it’s quiet for a just moment, but soon the whining starts right back up again.
I poke my head out the window and ask, "Are you okay? What's going on?" The lost look on her face says it all.
“No. I don't know,” she answers as she brings her hands to her face and starts to sob. “I don't know what to do. I don't know what he wants. I'm just trying to plan our day.”
I can relate. At my house, high-pitched bickering often starts first thing in the morning, usually when I am on the toilet. I hear it getting worse, and I know one of them is about to hurt the other. Since I am unable to get up, I yell something ridiculous like, "Stop it right now or the consequences will start!" The situation feels absurd, matching their unreasonable moods perfectly. What else can you expect from a hungry 2-, 6- and 37-year-old?
It’s not long before the three of us are huddled together on the floor. With one in each arm, I soothe their cries. I shift my weight to accommodate both of them in my lap and think, I can do this. I can stay here and listen. I got this . . . for about two minutes.
I actually feel completely tanked, and it’s only 8 a.m. I hope it’s not going to be one of those days.
There was an afternoon last summer when I had spent hours trying to put my son down for his nap. I'm sure I was sleep deprived and had to pee but was holding it for too long. Whatever it was, I couldn't do it anymore. I could not listen to another wild screaming episode from my 5-year old or the cries from my deliriously tired baby who needed to sleep but wouldn't.
As I held my baby in the rocking chair and gazed numbly at the wall, I wondered when it would be over, when he'd fall asleep, because I was toasted. Needless to say, there was quite a bit of wailing coming from my house. So much, that it led a neighbor to do the unthinkable.
She rang my doorbell and asked if I needed any help. She was curious if she could take my daughter to get an ice cream cone, because it sounded like I needed a break. I quickly strapped the baby into his carrier and put on my shoes. We were all going.
As we walked home laughing, I could feel my son's head softly plop onto my back. It was too late for him to nap. He would be up into the night, but who cared, I thought. My heart felt lighter. My children and I had just been saved by divine intervention in the form of a courageous new friend.
I was silent and I hadn't ask for what I needed. However, my children's cries were my cry for help, too.
When the windows are open, we are heard.
Sprinkled here and there throughout our summer days are five-minute increments of support that I hold onto for dear life. These moments of salvation save me from myself, from the old loop of self-loathing and disappointment that plays inside my head. Like the thin, shiny, black tape running through a cassette on constant playback, the loop says: I am not a good enough mom. I am not compassionate enough.
During the colder, darker, lonelier and more isolating days of winter, these thoughts can get the better of me. I forget that I am part of a caring little tribe. I forget that I am surrounded by friendships that re-connect me to the patient mother that I am.
I see my friend sobbing on her porch and I go to her. I embrace her and help strategize amidst the pitiful whimpering of her sad little boy. I see only what an outsider can see. Her son wants two things at the same time, so we come up with a solution. I'll stay and write at her house while all of our kids play together. She can leave for a couple of hours.
It works. They play harmoniously in that way that makes parenting look easy. I am simply a supervisor for a bunch of charming kids getting along famously. They make a huge mess and I ask them to clean it up a bit by the time she gets home, but a clean house is not the point.
It's the end of July now and our houses, our families and our yards have merged into one. Our children are in a routine of greeting one another in their pajamas after just rolling out of bed and asking to play. It is only 8 a.m. and I say a silent prayer of gratitude and then I say aloud, "Yes!"
Recently, I heard loud squawking coming from my own house. I looked through the screens to see my husband comforting my daughter in a shrieking fit. My son slipped out of our backyard through a secret door in the fence and joined me, escaping the chaos of his sister's tantrum. I considered going home, when my grandmotherly neighbor glanced at me and said in her smooth Texan accent, "Why don't you stay here honey. Sit for a while."
Jennifer made a promise to herself within this often wild and harried experience of being at home with two small children: She created lifelines in the form of writing, painting and photography. She never realized her art degree would be the thing that saved her as a mom. Her favorite days are spent riding around Seattle with her kids on her cargo bike and exploring habitats as a family at their favorite park. Her parents gave her the freedom to take hours of creative solitude to herself as a child, thereby teaching her that making things with your hands is honorable work and a fine way to support and love your family. She hopes she can do the same for her little ones. She recently decided to publish her writings long held private in journals. Visit her at Mermaid City.