I went to Walmart yesterday with both kids. Now, the baby often falls asleep in her car seat so in a desperate attempt to not wake her I usually put the entire seat into the back of a shopping cart. Of course, this leaves very little room for actual shopping items, but whatever, it’s the best I can do. Anyway, so I am at Walmart with both kids when the screaming begins.
This was no ordinary screaming. This is the kind of screaming that is so loud it takes you a moment to even localize the sound. This is the kind of screaming you feel in the pit of your stomach and the dark recesses of your soul before the sound even registers with your auditory system. After a moment I realize it’s my baby screaming at the top of her lungs like someone is stabbing her through the heart with a rusty nail. In a panic I fling the garden hose in my hands aside and get her out of the car seat as fast as I can.
As soon as I pick her up she stops screaming as if I have bumped some sort of “off” switch or turned her upside down and then right side up again (like those old fashioned dolls that used to cry). She immediately starts smiling at all of the customers who were previously scowling at our disruptive, blood curdling aisle entrance. This baby girl is no dummy. She starts using her charm to smooth things over and before I know it complete strangers who were, moments ago, giving me death threats with their eyes are now cooing at her and telling her how lovely she is.
Anyway, I now have to hold her because putting her down somehow reactivates the scream machine she possesses inside her tiny body. Putting her down also turns up the volume. I just want to buy my random junk and go home before I get banned for life due to creating obscene noise pollution. I look at my semi-filled cart, squish the baby to the side of my body and attempt to push the cart with one hand, but it will not budge. I look around and there is the six year old, legs planted, pushing against the front of the cart like a Superman reenactment.
Me: Move! I need to drive one handed. You’re in the way.
We take two steps when suddenly the cart stops moving again. I look down and now the kid is hanging off the side of the cart with her feet dragging behind her.
Me: Come on! Get up. I need to get to the bread so we can go home.
We take another three steps or so when suddenly the momentum slows. There she is on the other side of the cart trying to jam her foot in front of the back wheel. Her foot obviously wants to be run over.
Me: Look, this is your last warning. Stop it or we are going to leave this store and you will have to have soup for lunch.
*She hates soup. It’s her Kryptonite.
We make it to the bread section. I toss some into the cart. By this time I am sweating because moving this cart around Walmart with one hand is no easy task, and people are in the way, and the baby is grabbing things off the shelves as we go by. The six year old is walking in front of the cart as slowly as possible and I day dream about giving her a flat tire. Or, if I am honest, running her butt over, hopping in the cart, and riding it straight to the longest check out line in the world…because this is Walmart and they never have enough cashiers. But, I don’t because that is not how good moms behave. At least not in public. Then I notice that my kid is now lying on the floor, on her stomach, practically begging me or any other shopper for that matter, to run her entire body over.
So, I walk over and hiss, “Get off the floor right now and behave yourself. I’ve had enough of this!” She gives me the big, sad eyes and says, “OK, Mom.”
We finally get through check out and I strap the baby back into her car seat, pile bags of groceries around her head and aim my cart towards the door. Finally we are blowing this popcorn stand when out of nowhere I see my six year old daughter flying through the air next to me with her hands stretched out ready to capture some invisible tiny bird. She crashes to the floor with her hands inches from being run over by the back wheels of my shopping cart. I find myself staring down at her completely at a loss for words. I want to ask her what the hell is going on, but I read once that you should never swear at kids. So I count to one hundred instead and then say as sweetly as I can through clenched teeth, “What are you doing? Did you hurt yourself?”
She got up slowly, dusted herself off, and said, “I’m just pretending to be a snail and so I needed to slow your cart down. Snails don’t move that fast.”
To which I replied, “Stop being a snail right now. You can play that game when we get home.”
She got up and we exited through the automatic doors and her eyes lit up as they gazed upon the beautiful, shiny Redbox machine. The whining for a movie began and I reminded her that we could watch Netflix at home. I told her if she just kept walking at a normal, non-snail pace that I’d put any show she wanted on as soon as we got home. I’m happy to say we made it to the car without further incident. Then we watched some dreadful Barbie cartoon I never knew existed.
I’m rushing around the house trying to serve breakfast, dress everyone, and get out the door. Things keep going wrong because I haven’t slept well in weeks. New baby on board. New lifestyle. Two kids are better than one. Two kids are more work than one. Two kids are crying at the same time. Two kids are happy. Two kids need something right now. Two kids! Two Kids! TWO KIDS! Oh, and the dog won’t stop barking. I fantasize about sending him to live on an imaginary farm and there goes two more minutes of time I do not have to spare on this fine, windy morning.
My husband is gone all week working out of town. Another adjustment to grapple with as I lose an extra set of hands to help carry the load. An extra set of eyes to keep everyone alive. An extra set of relief in the night when the baby is hungry and needs a diaper change. I’m missing an extra set of hands to fasten car seats and locate lost shoes before the school bell rings. I don’t want to be late again. Late, late, late.
I’m constantly late, behind, unorganized, confused, wondering where I put my coffee. I can’t remember if I brushed my teeth. Am I still in the clothes I wore yesterday? Why yes, yes I am. Everything inside of me is whirling. Everything keeps going wrong. I drop things. I lose things. I’m too slow and we have to get to school.
I’m making mistakes left and right. The voice in my head is beating me up. It’s relentless: Why aren’t I better at managing all of this? When am I going to adjust? When am I going to be a good mother, good wife, good home maker? I trip over toys, laundry, books, boxes of diapers…I’m so disappointed in myself. My sink is full of dirty dishes. Everything is a mess and I am so tired. I want to be like Donna Reed with a perfect, shiny home, but I also want to sit in the rocking chair and rock the baby because she’ll only be tiny for such a short time. It doesn’t matter anyway because I am tired and picking up only happens when both the baby sleeps and the kindergartner is occupied – which never happens at the same time. All morning I dream of a nap that never comes. I rock and rock and fight to keep my eyes open. I’m happy and irritated at the same time.
My mind is on all of these things as I start my day.
Then I hear my daughter’s small voice as she whispers to herself, “It’s OK, mistakes are how we learn.” I peek around the corner and see her erasing her backward letter “B” and writing it correctly. Mistakes are how we learn. I’ve been telling her that for weeks as we do homework in the evenings. I tell her the same thing when she pours too much water into the house plants. I remind her when she puts her shoes on the wrong feet. I sing it to her in a loud, silly voice when she reads the latest sight word incorrectly. It’s become a mantra in our house. Mistakes are how we learn. Perfection be damned. We won’t let our mistakes stop us from diving in.
Fail again. Dust yourself off and fail some more. Just keep trying and keep going. It’s all we can do anyway. Mistakes are how we learn, my darling, mistakes are how we learn. Keep failing. Have faith. Be proud of yourself for showing up and trying. This is life. It’s messy and hard and beautiful and glorious all at the same time. Don’t let the weight of living get you down.
Hearing her gently remind herself about making mistakes calms me and slows me down. I’m learning to be a mom all over again. To two kids. To two people who need love and attention, to two people creating dirty dishes and dirty laundry (feels more like four). I’m learning to live without as much sleep. I’m learning how to delegate more efficiently. I’m learning how to fail and prioritize and be OK with mess and uncertainty. I’m learning how to sleep when the baby sleeps. Sleep anytime I can sleep. Sleep, sleep, sleep.
It’s going to take a while to find my way. Parenthood is a long ride and I’m just getting strapped in.