Extra Children

July 12, 2009

I have had some grieving to do.  I realized (anew) last week that I am not the kind of mother who can have five extra children in my house for the day and be okay with it.  I want to be the kind of person that can take things in stride and be laid back and embrace the chaos with a calm smile.

But I’m not.

Last week I was watching two of my nieces every day.  They are wonderful children, and the confusion and noise level was manageable.  I mostly had to deal with the drama of Bridget feeling left out since she’s three years younger than the youngest and just can’t quite keep up.

But one day last week, I also volunteered to watch three of a friends’ kids for the afternoon (who are all very nice children too),  and eight children in the house was hard for me.

All the children were at swimming lessons at the same time, and the plan was for me to take them all home with me for a few hours until their mothers could pick them up.

One of the kids had brought chocolate chip cookies to share with everyone.  So, we kicked off the chaos with the eight of them arguing and scrabbling for chocolate chip cookies.  I was trying to dry off the two youngest ones and get them into clothes while listening to the cookie arguments.  Then the kids all started bickering about who was going to sit next to whom in the car.  There were tears shed.

This all happened in the first five minutes that they were all under my jurisdiction.

I was feeling beleagured already, and trying to direct the older kids to gather up their towels, put on their flip flops, pack up their cookie bags and throw away their trash.  No one seemed to be listening to me.  And over my attempts to get order in this group so we could get on our way, Bridget was repeating in a loud determined voice, “I want more cookies!  I want more cookies!”

I snapped a little.

I didn’t scream, but I cupped my hand under my precious Bridget’s chin and said quietly, “You need to be quiet,” and I squeezed her little chin and had a fierce look in my eye.

She burst into tears.

I could tell it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad playdate.

Actually it wasn’t.  I got all the kids home, and lunch and playing and squabbling and fun ensued.  But I was a little rattled the whole time.  On the edge.  Worried that something beyond my control was about to break out.

I’ve been realizing lately that for the past ten years, since Lucy was born, I’ve spent most of my weekdays in a state of mild panic.  I didn’t realize it, of course.  But just as Lucy moved into the slightly more predictable and settled stage of preschooler, Phoebe was born.  And then four years later, Bridget.  And in retrospect, having a small child in the home makes me a little panic-y.  You just never know what will happen, and YOU are responsible for it.  These little human beings are entirely dependent on you.

Just writing those words sends a shiver down my spine.

So I’m starting to move out of the “mild panic” stage of parenting, and it’s been so nice to breathe deeply and enjoy being with my children on a different, more settled level.

But adding five more to the mix definitely moved me back into “panic” mode.  Not severe, but not mild either.

When Dave got home from work and saw the slightly deranged look in my eye, he suggested I get out of the house alone for a bit.  I gratefully accepted this offer and spent a couple of hours browsing Barnes and Noble, getting back my peace.

I would watch all those kids again, but with the knowledge and awareness that it will be a bit frazzling for me.  Sigh.  I will not shrink back from self-knowledge, by the grace of God.

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6 Responses to “Extra Children”

  1. Su said

    Barnes & Noble makes everything better. That and chocolate.

  2. Mel said

    you’re a sweet friend to offer what you did…and your husband is a sweet guy to recognize your needs as well! 🙂

  3. I didn’t scream, but I cupped my hand under my precious Bridget’s chin and said quietly, “You need to be quiet,” and I squeezed her little chin and had a fierce look in my eye.

    She burst into tears.

    Sophia and I have had this exact exchange so many times. I do the exact same thing with the cupped-hand under the chin. She doesn’t usually burst into tears anymore … which almost scares me more, because it makes me fear I’ve done some damage, hardened her or something.

    • Leanne said

      Travis, the “bursting into tears” is just a new development with Bridget. I thought I’d hardened her too, since I’ve had times in public with her when I speak quietly and scoop her up and she shrieks “Ouch!! You’re hurting me! Don’t spank me!!!” which is so humiliating and embarrassing. I can count on one hand how many times I’ve spanked her, and yet she knows the power of this reaction in a public place. She’s just changed her response to the dramatic tears since I ignored the other variety of protest. The pitiful bursting into tears really does work on my mommy-guilt button better. These kids! They’re resourceful! And I find myself often praying the parenting prayer from the prayer-book, “Give us calm strength and patient wisdom as we bring them up…”

  4. Cheryl Jordan said

    I have had almost the exact situation at my house. Wishing and hoping that I would be laid back and calm, actually appearing mostly calm but completely panic-y on the inside. Part of the panic was the lack of control, part was just the noise and chaos that died down dramatically as the boys have gotten older..

    Thanks for sharing this.

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