The Vacuum Monster

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When I wake up on a Saturday morning, I’m optimistic as to what I’d like to do to get my day started: a nice cup of strong coffee, a relaxing breakfast, and lounging on the couch in my pajamas as I read the latest Maclean’s magazine.  Unfortunately, my vision of how I’d like to spend my Saturday morning is very different from reality.  This is how I USED to spend my Saturday mornings, but not anymore (at least not without many interruptions).  Mind you, I do try to tiptoe to the kitchen quietly before anyone sees me, but I’m usually unsuccessful.  Once a child spots me, I hear a “Mommy!” and they all come running toward me like they haven’t seen me for years.

After hugs, I encourage them to find something to do while I eat my breakfast.  But of course, once I sit down with some cereal or toast, Cor and Mia come right up to my lap for a bite of whatever it is I’m eating.  They do make the cutest sounds indicating they’d like to try what I’m having.  But hey, it’s my food and I’d like to eat it all myself.

Once I make my way to the couch,  I settle in with my legs curled under me, coffee next to me in my travel mug (a necessity if I want any warm coffee at all) and Maclean’s in hand. Within seconds, Janelle comes over and crawls on my lap for a snuggle.  Ok.  This is nice.  Then Willem settles in next to me with his Star Wars book and begins showing me things and asking me questions about the size of certain starships.  At the same time, Cor decides this is a good opportunity for him to give me gifts of small puzzle boxes.  He proudly hands me one and returns to the closet for more.  I smell a hint of poop as he turns toward the closet and I realize I’m going to have to take care of that in the very near future.  By this time, I’m pretty annoyed.  I mean, I just want a quiet moment to “wake up” and enjoy a “relaxing” morning.  The kids, of course, don’t allow Mom to rest on the couch uninterrupted.

Last Saturday morning began a week of me taking note of how little time I have to myself.  I mean, sitting down with a snack and finishing it is laughable.  Wishing to go to the bathroom without someone calling for me or running away from a sibling who is angry with them is futile.  Sitting down on the couch for a moment to “rest” is impossible because the kids see this as an opportunity for me to read to them (which it usually is).

Taking time for me to do what I want to do is pretty much non-existent in my day.  There is always dishes to do, laundry to fold, toys to clean up, meals to prepare, noses to wipe, bums to clean, windows/mirrors to wash, floors to vacuum, paper to clear, grocery lists to create, emails to write, appointments to make, babies to keep track of, kids to console, fights to break up, stories to read, juice to pour, bottles to warm up, blankies to find, clothes to order, crafts to prepare, kids to play with and relationships to maintain.  There isn’t much room there for me.  For me to do what I want.

What do I want to do?  I want to nap.  I always want to nap.  I want to read my book on the couch.  I want to watch TV.  I want to go shopping.  I want to visit my friends.  I want to go out for dinner with my husband.  I want.  I want…

This is where parenthood becomes beautiful.  Parenthood shapes and refines me.  Some days I go through fire and it hurts.  I feel selfishness burning away, but not without a fight.

There is not a lot of room for me to be selfish as wife and mom of five.  Today I tried to be and I was miserable.  I was having a pity party in my mind all day about how tired I was and how I just wanted to be by myself for once.  But once those thoughts enter my mind, I become a pretty terrible parent.  I steal opportunities away from my kids to be with me, so I can sit by myself and look at Facebook.  I give up an opportunity to read with them so I can read my own book.  I get angry at them if I can’t leave the room without someone calling to find out where I am.  I become ungrateful for the gifts God has given me and think only of what I’ve lost.

Since becoming a mom, a lot of things in my life have changed.  I’ve had to give up a lot of things.  But this is not a loss.  I have been given a loving husband and five beautiful children all of whom I love so much my heart could burst.  I’d never in a million years give up what I have so I could do what I want.  It makes me cringe just thinking about it.

Some days are harder than others, but it is mostly what is going on in my head that makes it hard.  Focusing on the gifts and the giver keeps things in perspective.  I realize there’s plenty of room for me to grow in my character, in my love for God and in my love for others.

Once I prayed for forgiveness and for strength this afternoon, I snapped out of my slump and got to work.  I felt God recharging me to accomplish what he set out for me to do.  Yes, I was still tired and still a bit short-tempered, but I got my jobs done.

I even had some fun with the kids while vacuuming.  Did you know chasing kids with a noisy vacuum cleaner and then having them jump over the moving cord could be a source of laughter and joy?

I didn’t either until I put my magazine away and got off the couch.

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A Fish Out of Water

Today I am feeling a little sorry for myself.  Sorry that normal things that regular people do everyday are so hard for me.  Of course, grocery shopping is one.  I did that this morning and came home exhausted.  But more than that, it is the “little” things that may seem routine to some folks are extremely difficult for me.

Getting out of the house in the cold weather is one.  It takes about 20 minutes from the first call to the kids to get dressed for outside to having everyone buckled in their seat belts in the van.  Now, this isn’t a pleasant 20 minutes.  Twenty minutes of trying to put boots, hats and mitts on two squirmy babies who take them off the second you finally got it on.  If you don’t have small children and can’t quite picture what it might be like, imagine trying to dress a slippery fish, fresh out of water: jerky,squirming, rapid movements, slippery skin, and tiny fins you somehow have to put tight clothing onto.

Mia is especially intent for peeling things off.  As soon as I get her socks on and I turn around to put on Cor’s boots, she’s running down the hallway away from me with two socks in hand.  As soon as I get her boots on, she gets up, walks a few paces, sits down and starts undoing her straps.

On top of that, I have two or three older children who can’t find their other boot, who need help with zippers, pulling on mitts and opening doors.  Of course they repeatedly complain about their inability to get dressed over and over again while I’m trying to pin down and dress the floppy fish.  By this time, I’ve broken into a sweat and am ready to throw hats and mitts all over the hallway.  And maybe kick a boot or two.  Ok. Who’s the toddler here?  In my defensive, it is a high-stress moment and my examples of how to handle stress are all under the age of 5.

To save some sanity, I did make an outdoor dressing chart which does cut down on some of the instructions coming from my not-so-patient mouth.  The only problem is, I have to remind them there is a chart to follow so they don’t have to stand there looking like they’ve never done this before.

My trip to the doctor earlier this week is one of those times when I came home completely spent.  It was exhausting taking all 4 kids in the freezing cold to our medical building on the complete opposite side of our city.  The building has a large and always full parking lot.  I don’t put Cor and Mia in the double stroller anymore, so I’m often carrying one and dragging the other one who does not walk fast or steady while keeping an eye on the other two who have no fear or understanding of traffic.  I’ve abandoned the double stroller for a few reasons.  One is because the wheels are not heavy duty enough to make it through much snow.  Another is I want to save “time” and avoid setting up and putting it away again.  The other reason is because I may or may not have forgotten to put it back in the van one day before I backed up.  One of the wheels may be a bit twisted and crunched.

So, without the use of the stroller, the dragging in the cold and the guiding to the doors while one child slips down my waist and the fighting over who pushes the elevator buttons and the steering two small toddlers away from the lobby Christmas tree and the waiting in the elevator requires a fair amount of energy on my part.  When the elevator doors open, I see office signthe sign, “please remove outdoor footwear before entering office. ”  This is a simple instruction for a regular person.  But for me, I have to put down my purse, diaper bag and child, get everyone to take their boots off (only one kid can do it independently), discourage them from undressing completely, run after Mia who has taken off down the hallway, pick up my stuff and herd the kids through the doorway.  For me, it is not so simple.

This week I avoided going grocery shopping with the kids.  I mean, it is -25 degrees Celsius with windchill.  But by this morning, my fridge was starkly empty, so I had to bite the bullet and go with four kids in tow.  I experienced all the usual attention: stares, comments, glares, etc., but when a woman rounded the corner of the cereal aisle with 4 kids hanging off her cart, I gave her a huge smile and said, “hi!” like I’d known her all my life.  I followed my familiar sounding “hi” with, “you look like me!”  She returned the smile and said, ‘I’ll ask you what they always ask me, “are they all yours?”‘  I laughed and proudly said, “yup” and we went on our way.  No time to stop to chat, we had 8 children milling about the grocery aisle with impatient people behind us.

It felt so good to meet someone in the same situation as me.  Besides the fact that it is just plain exhausting doing normal things with 4-5 kids along, part of the “hardness” of doing things with all my kids is the fact that I feel quite alone in it.  It isn’t something you see everyday.  Our family in our city is a bit of an anomaly.  It is hard to get used to the attention I get for doing normal things.  Standing out and being set apart puts me on edge.  It makes me feel uncomfortable.

Flashbacks to early childhood when fitting in with the crowd is what really mattered come to mind during these times.  For some reason, we have this inner desire to fit in and to not stand out or draw attention to ourselves.  The interesting thing is, God calls us to be a light to this dark world.  A light is a pretty obvious thing in a dark place.  I don’t feel qualified to be something people are drawn to look at as an example.  I don’t feel I have enough spiritual maturity to have people see Christ’s light in me.

I realize the reason people look at me is usually not because they are seeing “Christ’s light” at that moment.  If anything, I am not feeling much like a “light on the hill” during those moments at all.  But as I feel people’s eyes on me as I interact with my kids, I do think I can demonstrate a parent who loves her kids. Who respects them and speaks kindly to them.  Who exercises patience and who disciplines when necessary.  I can be the best parent I know how to be, even in the stressful moments. Not only because the world is watching, but because God calls me to be like his Son.  A light in the darkness.  A loving shepherd.  A human full of compassion and love.  He was anything but “normal.”  He was like no one the world had ever seen.

How to keep 4 kids occupied in the waiting room at the doctor's office.

How to keep 4 kids occupied in the waiting room at the doctor’s office. (Snacks.)