On Sunday, I lost it. “It” being my sanity. Ellis has been battling sleep so hard that when we put her down to nap, I don’t know whether to call a priest or animal control. She screams and flails about. One day she sat and spit at me for 15 minutes. Just sat there, laughing and spitting. Then, when it was clear I was ignoring her she screamed at the top of her lungs and woke up the baby.
I know what this is. She’s adjusting to being two. She’s adjusting to being a big sister. We are all having a learning curve here. Mine looks like a Clare Danes ugly cry and Ellis’ looks like the little girl from “The Exorcist.”
On Sunday, after a week and a weekend of fighting sleep, I yelled for her to shut up and that I was sick of everything and then began sobbing. Ellis screamed louder and then, baby Jude started screaming because he needed to sleep but he couldn’t because someone else was screaming and someone else was crying. Where was Dave? He was at work getting some extra hours in on a big project. He was working extra hours because he’s been getting up with Ellis in the morning so I can sleep a little longer and as a result, he’s been getting to work a little later than normal. It’s a lose-lose for all of us these days.
After I yelled, I shut myself in my room and called him sobbing. I don’t know what I said. But I wasn’t nice. Then, I hung up. Black spots from my mascara stained Jude’s sleeper. Ellis was jumping in the bed, but I couldn’t go in there again to tell her to stop because I was afraid I would yell again and I hate that. I hate myself like that. I hate being victim to the panic and frustration that rises in the back of my throat when my children scream.
Dave came home and told me to go take a break or go to sleep. I yelled about having nowhere to go, then locked myself in the room and slept for two hours. When I woke up, Dave had Chinese food. Ellis hugged me and said, “Mom, we got ice cream to feel you better!” And they had. He had taken both kids to the store, by himself, gotten ice cream and sesame chicken and fed Jude a bottle. Everyone was happy. And two hours prior seemed like a really bad dream. But I still wanted to apologize to Ellis. I wanted her to know that no matter what, my behavior wasn’t good. I gave her a hug and told her that mommy was sorry for yelling. She held my face in her hands, “It okay. I hab a rough day, mom.”
You know it’s bad when your two-year-old is more gracious than you are.
I am not proud of Sunday. That’s not why I’m writing about it. I don’t think my crappy parenting is celebratory. That’s not why I’m writing about it. I’m writing about it because I think ugly moments are worth remembering. Not as laudatory, but as reality, as a part of the larger picture of our lives. Or my life.
I wonder sometimes how I got here. How I got to have two kids. How I got to live in Iowa where I am ten minutes from a corn field in any direction. This wasn’t the plan, really. When I was 18, I planned my life out: I would live alone in Manhattan, where I would eat take-out all the time, and work as a magazine writer, dressing entirely from the Spiegel catalogue. I had no idea what those things meant. They were just the polar opposite of everything my little Evangelical, homeschooled self knew at the time.
I am a writer, but I couldn’t afford New York. Not on this salary. Also, I dress mostly from the Target clearance rack. I live in Iowa and I am never alone. I don’t even get the Spiegel catalogue anymore. I don’t know if it still exists.
I met a girl at a wedding two weeks ago. She seemed like me, she knew serial killer facts and we chatted about Law and Order. We both had the same roommate, but at different colleges. It was like looking at a prettier, blonder, single me. I told her how I always thought I would be her and now, I’m me. She said the same thing. We both laughed at how we both felt like social pariahs—single girl at a wedding and breastfeeding lady at a wedding. Really, how had it happened that we were us?
One of my favorite lines comes from my favorite book, The Unbearable Lightness of Being. “Each individual organizes his life according to the laws of beauty even in times of deepest distress.” I think about that, how we unknowingly organize our lives, choosing beauty where we find it and finding it where we choose. And in this way, we end up where we are. Not better, not worse. Just here.
And sometimes it feels like I’m drowning. And other times I feel like I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. On Friday, Ellis saw flowers at Target and she said, “Wets get some for you, mom!” So, of course, I agreed. Then, in the baby aisle, she decided she wanted Elmo bubble bath. “You can have flowers or Elmo bubble bath,” I told her. “Pick one.”
Without saying a word, she walked over to the shelf and put the bubble bath back.
I started crying in the middle of Target.
We obviously got them both.
And then today, we ate ice cream outside while baby Jude slept on my shoulder and Ellis sat on my lap. And we had sticky snuggles and laughed when ice cream ended up on Jude’s outfit. And in that moment too I thought: how did I get here? How did I get to this place where so much of my life is small things? Sleep. Ice cream. Flowers. Bubble bath.
The little beautiful things that are the organizing principle of my life right now.
I’m sure it will end. The panic, the frustration, the insanity. And we will move to something new. A new insanity. A new panic. A new frustration. And we’ll find our own best way through. There will be ugliness, sure. And beauty, no doubt.