Six sweet little ones are sitting in the room next to mine watching Where the Wild Things Are. I hear the occasional giggle, snippets of conversation about what might happen next, and (my heart swells with pride at this one) one comment about how incredible the soundtrack to this movie must be. I stood in the doorway for a moment before sitting down to write. Examining their ever changing faces. Ethan with his long hair and features that look more and more like a young man every day. Julia with her gorgeous smile holding sweet spunky Juni who fell asleep in the arms of a sister she loves and trusts. Asa, somewhere between big and little, snuggled under a colorful crocheted blanket. Astrid with her round face and freckled cheeks, wide eyed and mesmerized by the Wild Things. And tough Ezra, fighting against the heaviness of 4 year old eyelids that have a hard time staying up much past 8:00.
When I came into my room and dropped face down onto my bed, exhausted from another day of leading this group, I was reminded of someone else. A tiny bump in my belly made the presence of someone new known. Someone still mysterious. A someone we have not seen, but whose heartbeat we have heard. I am grateful for the blessing of another opportunity to feel the stirring of life inside me. But, I have to admit, the past few months have been tough.
Maybe I'm just old. After all, I will be 36 by the time this new one arrives. And in case you were wondering, that means right now I would be at the halfway point of my life expectancy if I was a woman in Fiji. And I KNOW you were wondering that. Maybe it's not that at all. My pregnancies have gotten progressively more difficult with each one. I'll spare you the disgusting details, but let's just say that September, October, and part of November of this year are a blur of fluctuating emotions, tears, days spent in bed, and vomit. Lots and lots of vomit.
The result of this has been pure domestic chaos. Things have literally fallen apart around here. Someone (Juni) has colored with markers on at least one wall in every room of the house and some furniture too. Pets have relieved themselves in places they should never have been allowed to enter. There's trash strewn throughout the yard, mingled with kid shoes, sippy cups, and the bones of random dead animals found in the woods. There are articles of clothing that have yet to be located in our mountainous pile of dirty laundry. And I completely avoid opening one of the cabinets in my kitchen for fear of injury when everything from pans to candles to bottles of glue comes tumbling out.
But none of this is the worst of it. The worst of it is the attitudes. One of the things I value most in my home is harmony. My kids have always gotten along so beautifully. It's taken a lot of work to get them there, but kind words and respectful responses have been the norm around here.
I guess maybe you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone. And it is. Gone.
Every moment of every day for the past 2 weeks (since I have begun to feel better) has been spent in a continuous exhausting and agonizing attempt to reteach the basics of how to treat one another and how to respond to authority. There has been fighting and yelling and crying and teasing and door slamming and whining and complaining and eye rolling and back talking and just plain nastiness. Like a dark cloud of mean has settled over us and brought a relentless storm of vile behavior to rain on our sweetness parade. And I don't like it one bit. I am soaked to the bone. Standing sopping wet, without an umbrella, assaulted by the downpour and helplessly watching the floodwaters rise. I could cry (and I have) but who would notice my tears in this weather? And who could hear me above the roar of the swirling winds?
I'm not gonna lie. Things have gotten ugly. I have even considered jumping in the next boat that passes by and just going wherever it takes me. Anywhere but here. Preferably someplace with sunshine. And rainbows. And while I'm dreaming we might as well throw in some sand, waves, lounge chairs, and my non pregnant bikini body....
I am holding on to this fact of nature: after the storm comes the sun. I mean, it can't rain forever right? Even Noah got to see the end of it. Sure, that was AFTER nearly everyone was wiped out and the entire Earth was essentially destroyed....so in this case it's good that I'm not into details because this analogy could get really depressing, really quickly. The point is, brighter days are ahead. I see glimpses of the sunshine forcing its way through the clouds. An unsolicited compliment from one brother to another. Kids teaming up to get chores done so neither of them will get into trouble for not finishing. A 6 and 4 year old staying with the 2 year old in the gym childcare instead of going to the KidFit class they were so looking forward to, just so their little sister won't cry when they leave her. Glimpses of the sun. A slowing of the deluge. Not quite enough to bring out the tanning lotion. But enough to give us hope that the clouds may soon be parting.
Want to know what's so backward in all of this chaos though? I'll tell you, even though it's my secret. As painful as it has been trying to reshape the attitudes of my children and get my home back in order, there is a small part of me that feels....contentedly indispensible. When I emerged from my morning sickness hibernation and found my little world spinning out of control, I realized just how much balance I must contribute to my family. It's not just me though. It's all moms. It's you.
When your almost three year old refuses to use the potty and dissolves into tears on the bathroom floor from the visceral pain of the effort to say goodbye to the diapers, you are the one to pick up that naked little rebel, offer a few M&M's (because every mom knows that M&M's are the magic bribery token), and prevent her world from falling apart.
When emergencies befall the morning routine, like running out of your daughter's raspberry greek yogurt (that qualifies as an emergency, right?), you are the one to bring the smile back to her face with smiley face pancakes (seriously, though, smiley face pancakes happen like once a year around here so don't go thinking better of me than you should).
When a sibling argument escalates to the point of near physical assault, you are the one to hand out the boxing gloves and cheer them on...oops, I mean break it up and make them hug until they giggle.
When the mother of all tantrums literally shakes the walls of your house, you are the one to lock yourself in your bedroom to prevent yourself from hurting anyone. Oh, wait. Maybe that's just me....
I think that it can be easy as mothers to let ourselves believe that much of what we do is for nothing. That our long days and sometimes longer nights exist only to push the limits of our patience and our caffeine addictions. That no one really notices what we do. And maybe they don't all the time. But I know you aren't doing this for the appreciation and recognition. You do this for love. You wipe poopy bottoms because you love them (and squeezing those freshly cleaned tiny dimpled cheeks is fun too). You stand in a steamy shower at midnight with your croupy coughing little boy, not because you want to be rewarded, but because you love him. You change the sheets, make macaroni and cheese 26 days in a row, and share your bed with the kicking feet and flopping arms of a sideways sleeper. And you do it all for love.
It may be a long time before you get anything back. Sometimes the appreciative hugs and "thank you mom"s will be few and far between. And sometimes the bad attitudes and disrespect will be plentiful. But isn't love a reward all its own? The ability, the opportunity, the chance to be able to love someone (or several someones) enough to do anything for them without hesitation or grudge...the chance to feel what you feel for those who make your life worth living. That's a gift. Loving them IS your reward.
For that, you can brave this storm.