I came downstairs fully intending to write a blog entry full of righteous indignation and frustration, but when I opened my laptop, the screen had a message saying "You are now running on reserve battery power." I realized that that simple statement summed up all of my emotions - I am running on reserve power right now.
We watched General Conference together this weekend, and while I enjoyed the talks, the ones I could hear over the noise of four children, it is a stinking lot of work to keep the kids corralled inside the house for two days straight. Sunday is typically the hardest day of the week, just because there are no distractions, no escapes, no family to visit, and General Conference weekend ends up feeling like two Sundays in a row.
(For those of you who might not be familiar with General Conference, it is a twice-a-year event where the leaders of our church hold a television broadcast of talks by a variety of different people. It is held in 5 two-hour sessions over a Saturday and Sunday. Four of those sessions we can watch from home, the fifth is shown at the church for men only. Women get their own special session the week before.)
I asked Brad which talk he remembered that meant something to him, and he mentioned the talk by Sister Beck, who gave the requisite "mothers are so awesome and important so don't screw this up!" talk. I must be in a good place mentally because it didn't cause the guilt-and-panic tsunami that I normally experience during such a talk. Anyhow, I asked Brad why he liked it and he said, "Because she was telling you that you needed to kick it up a notch!" I laughed out of surprise because I certainly didn't expect to hear such a frank evaluation of my performance as a mother from my ten year old.
About 10 minutes later, I was asking Noah and Zack if I could make them a sandwich for lunch when Brad called out, "You can make me a sandwich!" I told him, "I was actually only making this offer to kids who can't make their own sandwiches." To which Brad replied, "Yeah, well, I'm lazy and you need to kick it up a notch, remember?" When he attempted to use the line a third time today, I decided that that was enough. But it was moderately funny at the start.
The kids and I did crafts while we watched, Ryan helped them build things out of blocks, and both of us tried to just keep them entertained and reasonably quiet. The nice thing was that for the vast majority of the time, it seemed like the kids actually enjoyed being together and hanging out as a family. Even if all the talks were about stock market prices and the history of watch-making in Albania (they aren't) it would have been worth it to sit in that room together, enjoying each other's company. At one point, Brad and Noah went in the backyard and invented their own two-man version of baseball, which they played for about two hours.
The downside is that it is a long, long weekend. By the end, Ryan and I both were ready for a break from the kids, for a little while at least. But while Ryan gets to go off to work on Monday morning ("has to" is how he sees it) I was still here with the kids, not kicking anything up any notches. I held it together all day, though, and was feeling pretty good about myself. One of us needed to take the boys to pick out their Family Home Evening treats, and since neither of us wanted to go, I volunteered. After all, Zack and Darcey were already asleep, I'd do this one thing, then I'd be home by 8:30 with the rest of the evening to myself.
At 8:30, right when we walked back in the door, I hear Darcey crying, and that just about did me in. I had held it together for just about as long as I could, and I needed a break in the worst way. I wanted to bang my head against a wall, I was so frustrated. I picked her up and she quieted down, but when I attempted to change her diaper she started screaming bloody murder and everything was making me mad, from the fact that I was losing any hope of free time to the fact that I didn't have anywhere to sit and feed her in any of the rooms that contain a television. Petty, I realize, but I was trying to salvage some modicum of relaxation.
I thundered back up to her room where my recliner is still located, and nursed her there in the semi-darkness. You know what's amazing? How you can't be frustrated when you are looking at a sleeping baby lying in your arms. It's just impossible - the feeling of contentment and peace that she radiates just overwhelms all the anger and resentment and your heart melts. Well, mine does, anyway. I tried to just pay attention to that - to ignore the plans that I had, the things I wanted to do tonight, and focus on the one thing that I can't put off til later - look at my 4 month old daughter. I noticed how soft her cheeks are, how she grips a fistful of my t-shirt in her tiny hands, how she has so little hair that there's no way she'd pass as a girl if I wasn't dressing her head to toe in pink. How she lays across my stomach, the weight of her. Her nearly invisible eyelashes.
Did I pay attention to all of this when the boys were babies? Yes, but not with this amount of concentration. I was younger then, more immature and I didn't realize the pain that accompanies the passage of time. The way that the eternally long days pass in a blink and before you know it, that perfect, perfect baby that you love with every molecule that makes you up is telling you that you need to kick it up a notch. It's too late to get back those days with Brad, or Noah, or Zack, but now I can focus on the funny things they say, the way Zack tries to sneak one more bedtime story in before he goes to sleep and won't eat the swedish fish that he is given for using the potty, how Noah adores dressing up in costumes and when we wouldn't let him wear his new baseball pants to school today, he wore white shorts with red socks pulled up to his knees. That isn't going to happen when he's 14, I would bet. The way Brad beat me at Battleship with his technique of crowding all of his ships into one corner, and then Noah beat Ryan with the same tactic. The way the two of them pore over the pages of the Partyland Costume Catalog. Zack's 1,000-watt smile.
These days still seem long to me. And I frequently think that I might not get through parenting young children with my sanity intact. But I'm making an effort to focus on those fleeting moments of perfection, instead of just the frustration and the selfish desires to just go in a room by myself and shut the door. I'm thinking that, a long time from now, when I'm looking back on these days with some measure of fondness, the frustrating things of childhood might seem just as fleeting as the good things. Good thing parents come with rechargeable batteries.