Mothering is hard work. There are a million things to do and I feel propelled by the somewhat essential nature of keeping my kids alive, so I try to do it all. Sometimes it works, and at the end of the day I can congratulate myself with a reality TV show, a glass of wine and some guilty pleasure Cheetos. I think to myself, “I earned it. The kids are all clean, fed, and in bed asleep. I am amazing.” But there are those times, when attitudes don’t align with my dreamy aspirations, when I try to do too much and I lose track of what I am doing in the first place. Or those times when I have had so much crying and screaming in such a short period of time that my head goes a little numb and I just go through the motions and get through the day.
Mom Fails just don’t happen on their own, there are a few outside factors, but often times it comes down to something I decided to do that just turns a short period of my life into something completely unrecognizable from my initial goal. Here is another story of just such an evening, where I was putting the kids to bed by myself, as I did every week when Tom was at youth group. I have posted about this night before, but I think it goes into the hall of fame of “Mom Fail Moments” and is worth sharing with you again and slightly reworked.
Disclaimer: whilst these stories have some great discomfort for both mom and child, no one was harmed in the writing of this post, and we have come out the other side and are friends and healthy, although professional counseling in the future may be required on both sides.
Mom Fail: Bedtime
At the end of the day, there is this brilliant and illusive end to the rigorous job of mothering that wakeful children require, it is called bedtime. Before I became a mother, I had visions of what bedtime with my future children would be like. I would give them a nice calm bath where we splash mildly and giggle, I’d wrap them in a warm towel and they would yawn dreamily. Then I would slip them into their pajamas and we would read books while they sit peacefully reclined against my chest. And then right before they drift off completely, I would tuck them into their beds, kiss them sweetly and pray for them. Then, like Mary Poppins, I would sit in my rocking chair and sing them a beautiful song—while darning socks, because I am just that productive and efficient—and with every note, their eyelids would get heavier and heavier until eventually they slip into a deep peaceful sleep. And this would be the reality, every night and motherhood would be a sweet, fireplace-warmed dream.
The actual bedtime scenarios for me have whispers of this, but littered with much more negotiation, water, and jumping. But on this one particular night, one slip set off a series of events which when all added together left me begging for a do-over and a never again.
It all started when Silas fell into the tub. I had turned the water on and plugged the drain, danced around the boys to get into my bathtime position, sitting on the closed toilet. Reuben wanted to help pump the soap into the water and not wanting to deprive him of this invaluable joy, we grabbed the bottle and started pushing down on the pump when, out of the corner of my eye, I see Silas leaning over the tub, stretching towards a toy from outside the bath. Suddenly, but at the same time, very slowly, he fell on his head into about a half inch of water. It was like his head was being weighed against his feet, and gravity decided to make the logical choice—because all my kids have gianormous heads. I dropped the bottle of soap into the tub, grabbed Silas buy the legs which were perched on the side of the tub and somehow maneuvered him, pivoting on his head, into a sitting position. Amazingly, he didn’t cry and we decided to laugh about the whole thing. I took his soggy clothes off, and removed his hefty bathwater-soaked diaper, undressed the others and we continued with bath time as planned. Whew. Crisis averted. Internal hi-five.
That day was Grandpa’s birthday, so I decided to FaceTime him—while the boys were confined in the tub—so that they could sing him “Happy Birthday”. By the time I got an answer from Tom’s mom, which was a matter of seconds, things were totally out of control. Silas had discovered that by just lifting his hands out of the water a certain way, he could throw heaps of it in my direction. Imagine that. A toddler learning how to splash—the nerve. Reuben thought that this was tremendous fun and decided to really show him how it is done. So while I was yelling at them to stop lifting water out of the tub onto me, I was holding my phone calling my in-laws. I tried to use the shower curtain as a shield but still I got soaking wet. It turned out that Grandpa was working late and Tom’s mom—who has super grandmothering powers over my children—couldn’t even distract the boys from their impromptu ‘shower’ of fun.
Now, let’s not forget about Eli during all this. My dear sweet Eli decided to make pancakes using the side of the tub as a griddle. He was quietly acting as a masterchef, pouring bathwater very slowly and meticulously in different spots. So, while I was guarding myself from getting water on my face and clothes on one front, I failed to realize that my feet were getting more and more wet in the pool of ‘pancake batter’ on the bathroom floor. When I discovered that my socks were soaked, I had had enough—because, honestly, there are few things worse to have on your person than wet socks! I calmly told Eli to stop making pancakes on the edge of the tub because he was getting water all over the floor. I told Reuben and Silas to stop splashing me or they would get a consequence. My 2-year-olds listened, my one-year-old did not. So, in true follow-through fashion, I gave Silas his consequence—a slap on the back of the hand, which he did not enjoy. He cried for about ten seconds, then continued splashing me, gleefully. I told him “no” but he did not stop, so I delivered the consequence again. Same reaction, small amount of crying and then back to splashing mama. I told him to stop but he did not listen for the third time and I slapped his wrist again. He cried, again. And then, yes, more splashing. Feeling totally efficient in my discipline method which was apparently very effective—please sense the sarcastic tone here—I gave up and actually started the washing part of the bath.
I gave them a minute or two, after I had finished all the hair washing and body scrubbing, to play while I collected their PJs to the changing table and got their towels ready. I came back for Silas and told him I was going to take him about of the bath. I received a whiney but firm “No!”, but I grabbed him anyways. He started screaming and wailing in protest. I took him out of the bath, wrapped him in his towel, carried him to the changing table where he continued to convulse, cry and wrestle me while I put lotion on his eczema and desitin on his bottom. He was still crying after I had put his diaper on and used my third and fourth arms to put on his pajamas, despite his protests and angry twirling that he was using to escape my mothering grasp. I put him in his crib—still crying—so that I could go get his brothers out of the bath.
I asked Reuben and Eli to stand up so I could get them out of the tub. Eli—who helps me when he notices that Silas’ crying is making me go crazy—he stood up for me, I grabbed him out, wrapped him up and told him to waddle to his room. I grabbed a reluctant Reuben, stood him up and wrapped him, and told him to waddle to his room as well, so I could take a half second drain the tub. Reuben refused to walk. He wanted to be CARRIED. I was in no mood and after using all my strength to wrestle my youngest I wasn’t sure my arms could do it, I was dripping wet, Silas was still crying, Eli was probably naked in the room already, and I knew I had another issue that I needed to deal with urgently, but couldn’t until I got them in their PJs. I herded Reuben into the room and then scooped up Eli and put him on the table, ran back to the bathroom and found a pull-up, then back to the table, only to realize that the PJs I grabbed for Eli were too small. So I dug through our box of ‘current’ PJ’s, frantically trying to find something big enough so that his ankles, belly and forearms would be warm enough while he sleeps—which I knew if I didn’t, it would keep me up all night from worry that he would catch a cold or pneumonia, or hypothermia from my terrible neglect to find him pajamas that fit. I could see the headline now, “Child Hospitalized Due to Mother’s Neglect to Adhere to Recommended Nighttime Skin Surface Area Coverage Requirements for Toddlers.” I was unsuccessful in the first box so I tore out the next-size-up box of clothes—it is just me or do other people keep kids clothes in different boxes at a futile attempt to stay organized and ahead of the game? Anyways, I found a large t-shirt and I threw it on the poor naked boy.
While I am doing all this to clothe Eli, Reuben, still wrapped tight in a towel, is struggling to jump into his bed boosted by clumsy pile of blankets. I watch this little ineffective burrito while pj-ing Eli as fast as I can, and by the time I finish, Reuben has made it onto his bed by shedding the towel and is now jumping up and down in his bed, naked, howling like a wolf. Oh, and Silas is still crying.
I scoop Reuben, the wolf-boy-child and get him dressed. He is laughing and goofy and floppy, which makes getting feet into pockets and arms into holes, nearly impossible. While I’m getting him dressed, Eli is making some sort of obstacle course out of the PJ box and the 3T box—which I left out—and this is making Reuben laugh all the more, resulting in more flops and wiggles. FINALLY, they are all in their PJs and I tell them that I have to go pottty and I implore them, on the verge of stress tears, to just stay in the room. I throw some books into Silas’s crib, who is STILL crying BTW, and then Eli says HE has to go potty. I told him he had to hold it, I just HAD to go.
I HAD to go to the bathroom because—and this may be too much information for male readers, but it is the reality of my life—but I HAD to go because I could tell that my tampon had stopped working. I was bleeding down my leg and I needed to get that sorted before I got blood all over my cream colored carpet. So I went into my room, took care of my issue, walked pantsless into my room to get some new underwear and—you know—close the blinds. I went back into the bathroom and washed my hands, now fully dressed, to face the crying, jumping children, and I turn quickly and trip over a full humidifier. About half a gallon of water dumped out onto the carpet. Joanna, you have the grace of a hippo. I grabbed a beach towel and tried to pat the floor dry as best I could, then I ran to the nursery to see what sort of atrocities my boys had managed to accomplish in my short time away.
Eli still needed to go potty so I took him into the bathroom and asked him, big potty or little potty, poop or pee. Finally he decided “big potty, poop”, so I helped him pull down his pants and sat him down. I ran to the nursery to try to calm Silas down, who was now cry/laughing in delirium, but there was nothing I could do but put him to sleep and I wasn’t ready until Eli was done on the potty.
Then, I smelled poop. OH! Eli must have pooped! Yay! Victory! Something to end the night on a positive note! I went into the bathroom. The poop smell was much stronger than it should have been, then I look down and I see that there was poop on the toilet and poop on his legs. It was in this moment that I realized, in my haste, I had put him on the toilet after he had already pooped in his pull-up.
So, I left. I walked out of the bathroom, leaving my poopy toddler sitting there asking for a book and I went into my flooded room, grabbed a pillow and screamed into it for about 30 seconds.
I—still holding back stress tears—hearing the screams and cries of Reuben and Silas in the nursery, returned to the bathroom of feces, wiped up the water that was still on the edge of the tub and sat down and had a head-in-my-hands conversation with Eli.
Me: (muffled) “Do you still need to poop?”
Eli: (nonchalantly) “I want a book.”
Me: (muffled still, defeated) “Do you still need to pee?”
Eli: (bobbing his legs up and down mushing the poop more into everything) “No, I’m all done.”
I started to clean him up, I thought I could get his pull-up off without getting poop on his very- hard-to-find pajama pants by opening the side tabs, but I didn’t really have a good visual on the sucker and the poop fell with a plop onto the floor, hitting the pajama pants on the way down. Now I am just muttering under my breath, “I give up. It’s over. I’m done. I can’t do this.” whilst I clean up the poop from all the various surfaces. Eli requested an m&m for peeing in the potty on his own pantsless walk back into his room. I denied his request.
Reuben, continuing to act like a wild animal, was throwing ALL the blankets in the air and screaming with delight. Silas was whimpering, red faced, leaning on the side of his crib from exhaustion, was the perfect representation of how I felt on the inside. I feel ya buddy, I feel ya. I found some comfy daytime pants for Eli and told him to sit on his bed. I grabbed Silas with all his blankets and took him to his pack-n-play in our walk-in closet. I sang “Twinkle Twinkle” on the way, he leaned into me and we both sighed. I said a short prayer and tucked him in. I think he fell asleep in minutes.
Now to face the Wild Animal and the Poop Monster, awaiting my return in their room. This was a night for sleeping in different places. I was not about to go 20 rounds with Reuben and Eli being the “Momster”, “STAY IN BED! NO TALKING!” and I had no heart to sit and read Winnie-the-Pooh for a half hour until they fell asleep. I grabbed all of Eli’s stuff and moved him to the pack-and-play in the guest room—yes we have them set up all over the place. I put him down and tucked him in. I said a prayer and caressed his face, told him that I loved him and closed the door. Sigh. OK. One More.
Reuben, I had to wrestle into his bed. He was still laughing and wiggling. I begged him to calm down, to lay still, to go to sleep. I turned off the lights and left him, sitting up in bed. I closed the door to the nursery and sat on the couch on the other side of his wall. He was singing and talking. I yelled at him, too tired to get up. He didn’t stop. I yelled at him again, and it went quiet. I sat on the couch and stared at the wall, thankful that it was over. Five minutes later, I heard the quiet creek of the door. I jump up and find Reuben sneaking out of his room. I grab him up and put him in Silas’ crib—which I hoped would act more like a cage—for the night. I prayed with him and we asked that Jesus would help him calm down—because at this point, I think only the Almighty God could—I covered him up and closed the door.
I went downstairs, away from the three monsters who I knew were now clean, clothed, and confined for the night, and I poured myself a whiskey.
All I can do when I have nights like this is pray that it goes better next time and the next time, and the time after that. All I can do is do what I can to keep my wits about me and lean on Jesus. When all I see, feel and breathe is my own failure to reach that dreamy picture of motherhood I had imagined for myself, I have to remember that His grace is sufficient for me.
I am a mom who loves her kids and wants to raise them rightly before God, but man, it is not easy. And that is why, today, and everyday, I am grateful for grace. Grace from my kids when I get it wrong, grace for myself when I fail, and unending grace from Jesus when I do it all over again.