I remember the day it changed. I changed. The day I officially snapped. The week before I was due with my third child, I had to return something at Best Buy and because of whatever market research they’ve done that tells them their customers need a flatbed/dolly for large appliances more than a regular basket that holds small items (or say, an additional child), I had to hold each of my then two toddlers by the hand with the box tucked under my arm. I stood in what was an unusually long line and my kids fought that day like two angry, wet cats. So while one was ripping items from nearby shelves and the other was catching the jelly-leg syndrome toddlers get when they don’t get their way, and I was struggling to hold them each by one hand with my huge pregnant belly, I remember thinking, “How in the world will I ever be able to handle three?”
Every time I am overcome with fury over the littlest thing my kids do, and I stop to think, “It didn’t used to be like this—I used to have so much patience with them,” I inexplicably remember that moment. Then I immediately flash to another moment, no more than eight weeks later after a sudden move across the country and away from my family support system. I remember standing on a triple-digit degree day in a hotel parking lot, but this time in my right hand is a baby carrier. And around my left wrist are the handles of two monkey-pack leashes I have strapped to the aforementioned still-angry toddlers because we didn’t have room in the car to pack the double stroller during our two-month house-hunting trip. I remember crying myself to sleep many nights in that hotel, wondering if I would ever find a balance.
My stream of consciousness then flashes me forward a year and a half or so into another memory, of yet another hotel parking lot. This time our stay was very short while our house was under repairs. This time, my right hand still held the baby carrier, although with a new occupant, and my left hand was responsible for three tiny boys. But this time, I’d found balance. I found it in a series of barked orders, frantic, vigilant watching, using two fingers to push a head into the right direction or grab a collar to yank a child from the path of an oncoming vehicle. And that is how I got here. These memories are like arrows, pointing me towards the shrill, barking, frantic, frustrated shell of an eye-twitch I am today.
Oh, I’m sorry. At this point, you are probably expecting a conclusion, right? You want meaning, or a grand lesson from this story. Jokes have a punchline, tricks have the prestige, and stories have, well…a point. But this, my friends, is not a story. This is a map. A map back to the beginning. It is a hastily drawn sketch on the back of a napkin that I am using to reverse-engineer my own unravelling. And I stand in front of it as I would a mall directory, trying to get my bearings—but instead of trying to locate the Dillard’s, I’m trying to point myself back towards a nicer time, when I was a nicer mom.
And it wasn’t as simple as I just made it sound. Along the way there have been other twists in the road that contributed to my current location. Between the third and fourth child I lost my greatest mentor and influence—my own mom who had to be the most patient and kindest mother in history. Her loss left a gaping hole that has added an edge and bitterness to my voice that I’m not sure can be repaired. And even more recently I’ve lost my church family. Not all at once, but in gentle, salty waves that leave me feeling washed upon the wet sand of my own deserted island.
But all is not lost. Because I have a map. I know where to go—I just have to make the journey with four kids instead of two. And it turns out, my island wasn’t deserted after all. I’ve discovered an eclectic village of other young mothers, a step-mother, and even an empty nester that have given me support I never sought or even needed when my own mother was alive. And I’ve been practicing. Even last night, when each of my four kids took turns crying at my bedside until 3:30 AM, I dealt with them with a surprisingly gentle spirit. It didn’t feel as authentic as it did back then, but it came from the bottom of a heart with more scars but even deeper love. Because I LOVE my boys. And I want them to think of me as fondly as I do my own mother. I want them to love me as I loved her—with every fiber of my soul. So this is a voyage I must take.
If there is to be a point, let it be this. I have found myself in a place where I do not want to reside. I know it can be different, as it was before. But this is not some fly-by-night resolution. It is bigger than my kids, bigger than my village, bigger than myself. There is control I will have to surrender, ego I will have to sacrifice, weapons I will have to put down if I am to be successful. My Lord has shown me there is a better way, but it is up to me to faithfully make the journey. And I truly believe I can because I know where I’m going. So, my wish for you this year, dear reader, is that you know where you are. I hope you know how you got there. And I pray you know where you are headed.
Here’s to finding ourselves.