Most of the time, the darkness swats away easily, no more meddlesome than a troubling fly or perhaps a noisy bumblebee. Other days though, the darkness settles on me heavy and thick. Fog rolls in over the skyline, and buildings lose themselves to the grey sky somewhere above the fourth floor.
On these days, my heart sinks at the familiar clink of her doorknob turning long before I am ready. My ire rises at yells of MY MOMMY from Caden in the back room. I scurry to him, trying to shush his yelling before he wakes the teenagers sprawled across the hall. Settling him, and climbing back under the covers, I convince myself he times his yelling and she her tiptoeing based on the ideal amount of time for me to get myself cozy. They are working together against me, I think. And I cannot shake this me vs. them mentality, even as I muster momentum to roll myself out of bed. To brush my teeth, pour my coffee, and push my feet into rumpled jeans and a black Anteaters t-shirt. Adam and I snap short over spilled cereal, and I bang the dishes loud as I unload the dishwasher, making room for the mountain of dirty pots and pans and peanut butter crusted knives and old milk cups. We tally minutes and tasks, each certain our tally runs higher than the other.And the darkness nips at my heels, treading underfoot, tripping me up in the grocery store when the children fight over cereal flavors and insist they need all-of-the-things. I whisper-yell words out loud that should stay inside my head. I apologize again, only to snap more unkindness in an effort to mold them more fully into the tiny models of adult behavior I expect and feel certain I deserve. Later, I sob into the phone that we are raising the worst-5-year-old-in-the-history-of-the-world. Our two year old is a menace and our five year old is a brat and don’t even get me started on all the unrepentant moody teenagers!
If I’m honest, I don’t actually feel ok. Rather, I’m lost somewhere beneath long strings of snow days and sick days and mountains of laundry. I question my purpose, my abilities, my reasons for getting out of bed. I want to give in to the darkness, I think. To simply climb back under the covers, and perhaps never get out. But the kiddos knock on the door, and my children cry for snacks, and Maverick barks insistent. So instead, I put one foot in front of the other, even when it’s not pretty and I’m still not sure how to shake the fog. Because apparently life keeps moving, and I have no choice in the matter.
Inexplicably, the last few weeks have mounted the hardest parenting phase thus far. Caden throws tantrums and yells loud, and Jayci struggles to find her own space in the mix. She wants him to play the way she imagines; he rebels, already, against any constraints snaked around him. She responds ugly, with cries and whines and yells and hitting.
I cannot stand the yelling and arguing thrumming angrily against nerves already strung-taut. And so we all dig in our heels, each stubbornly trying to shape the world into the one we imagine. She wants princesses and magic and little brothers who answer her bidding. He, I suppose, wants to be free to run and tackle and eat all-of-the-things. And I want children who listen perfectly, play together nicely, and mostly leave me space to breathe.
We dig in heels and pull and push and try to make it all work, and we end up hopelessly locked in the same endless cycle of me-vs-them. And the truth falls hard because in this cycle, we all lose. It inevitably ends with tears and shame and all of us certain we have missed living the life intended for us.
The shame, of course, flings the ugliest pieces back in our face in endless loops. I replay the words spat through pursed lips next to the sliced cheese at Publix. My heart sinks and I push myself lower and smaller, in shame and sorrow. The voices in my head and ears bark soft but insistent: you are not enough. Not kind enough or patient enough or forgiving enough or fun enough or anything enough.