Yesterday when I was at a restaurant with a friend and our collective five children, she turned to comment on how my two year old’s speech has really blossomed. His talking also included borderline yelling, lots of demands, and utensils banging on the table – this in addition to the racket from the other kids. “Actually,” I replied, “I just want him to stop talking.”
I don’t, of course, not really, so I should have known something was off. I promptly fell asleep with all three kids at 8pm and waking up half an hour later realized I was plain sick, and so were two of my three boys, which was a big part of the reason why dinner wasn’t more fun.
Morning came too soon, with dripping nose and ringing head, presenting a full, uninterrupted day with toddler bearing similar symptoms. Judge me if you must, but I asked my five year old to stay home from school to help me take care of his younger brother (they play with each other, and having two is often easier than having one). The angel said yes. My kindergartener said, and I quote, “I can take care of him and maybe you can take a nap.”
The nap didn’t happen, but the childcare by the child did. My two younger boys played forts and some other things that I didn’t register. They watched some television and ate whatever leftovers I put forward for lunch. I floated around in a fog.
After picking up my oldest from school, the usual mayhem of late afternoon led me by the nose into a couple of parental tantrums. I was unreasonable, I know, but I did make some efforts. We made people sandwiches of ourselves on the bean bag. We did pull out the woodworking that they are always asking to work on. I cooked, as opposed to warmed up, a dinner.
Doing isn’t the same as being, so listing these efforts gives me only partial comfort; I really wasn’t great to be around. The best part of the evening was facilitated by the house illness that had facilitated the worst bits: my two year old asked during dinner to go to bed, and fell asleep early. This meant more reading time for the older boys, and because my middle had fallen asleep without me noticing in the car, he was awake at his bedtime and joined my oldest and me during our homework window.
My boys flanked me on either side while we read chapter upon chapter of On the Banks of Plum Creek of the Little House series. So far as I can tell, these books are largely a love letter by Laura Ingalls Wilder to Ma and Pa, who are a perfect combination of loving, firm, gentle, giving, and playful parents and spouses. I think about this sometimes as I am reading to my boys, and the contrast to the imperfect combination of traits that is me.
Then again, that is a book while these are actually the days that we’re living. I believe more than ever that perfection is the enemy of the good. I called on my five year old to help me today because I am imperfect, I was impatient with my children because of same. But I was also there, in the bed, holding them with stories to close the day, as I am almost all of our days. It is not perfect, but it is good, and maybe it is good enough.