Once upon a time, I had four little boys under the age of five. Believe it or not, this was my dream.
Sort of. (Some of those children were supposed to be girls, but that was the part of the dream I couldn’t control.)
I wanted a house full of little children. We would do crafts and play board games and have picnics in the park. We would eat lunches of star-shaped sandwiches and fruit made to look like little smiling people. We’d read bedtime stories all snuggled under one blanket on the couch, and we would create little plays that we would present for Daddy when he got home from work.
And so there I was, one after the other, building my little brood of playmates. Only it wasn’t quite working out like I’d envisioned.
Children were loud and chaotic and they fought with one another and whined when they didn’t want to do something. Like crafts. Or they would sit down to do a craft only to abandon it 10.5 seconds later, after they spilled all the paint water on the floor or ground the play dough into the carpet or used the whole tube of glitter on one half-inch by half-inch square.
They got sick. All at the same time. And they found your jumbo-sized box of tampons and dumped them out all over the upstairs hallway. While you were cleaning that up, they were emptying out your kitchen cabinets one by one. And just when you sat down to nurse the baby, everyone decided at the same time they all needed something that only YOU could get for them.
And no one ever, ever wanted the same thing for lunch.
Needless to say, it was not the Mary Poppins/Sound of Music/Fisher Price sort of life I had imagined.
The chaos in my house built to a head until it exploded all over the place one spring morning. It was a Wednesday, and three of the four boys had been sick already that week. Someone had spilled cereal all over the kitchen floor and neglected to clean it up. The baby was whiny because he still didn’t feel well, and the only thing that made him happy was to scatter my plastic storage bowls all over the kitchen.
One of the boys was still sleeping (which was weird); so to escape the chaos, I went upstairs to check on him. He had thrown up in the bathroom and on the floor next to his bed. That was it, I had had it!
As I stomped back up the stairs carrying the carpet cleaner, I was angrily mumbling to myself, “I hate this family. I hate this life. I hate that I’m such a horrible mother. Why can’t something change?”
And change it did. In the blink of an eye that same day an ambulance was pulling up to my house. Paramedics were rushing in and taking a little boy having a grand mal seizure out on a stretcher to the hospital where a CAT scan revealed a malignant mass in his brain.
Fourteen months later, he would be dead.
In my worst moments as a mother, the moments where I am cursing my family or getting angry about how much I have to do, I often experience this extreme moment of panic. If I complain now, what horrible thing will happen next? Because, you see, there is a part of me—the total irrational, illogical part of me—that believes that because of when Joey’s brain tumor was discovered, I had somehow made that happen. By taking for granted the fact that I had a life full of everything I ever wanted, I somehow caused my son to become sick.
Now, I know that’s not true. But I also know now that raising a family will never be a failsafe profession. It will never be perfect and sometimes awful things might happen. But to embrace the real and messy and totally chaotic parts of raising children is to let go of some of that extreme mom guilt.
I’m getting there. It’s going to take some time, but they’ll force me to get there. And this time, it will be just the change I need.