I have a journal into which I jot comments and ideas sporadically-- so sporadically, in fact, that I tend to forget what's written in there. I cracked it open yesterday and was surprised and pleased to find that about a year ago I actually sat down and wrote every single thing I did during the day. It sounds boring, I know, but I was fascinated! So much was different then-- I wasn't watching Maya and Eoin at the time, as Allison was on maternity leave, and of course the girls were much littler. But a lot of what I struggled with a year ago is what I struggle with today: dishes, laundry, sleep-- and bigger stuff, like trying to be a graceful and compassionate parent, but not run myself into the ground.
This journal entry is long. It's very, very long. Still, I can't help but think that through the tedious details of an unremarkable day shines a picture of something lovely: a family in its natural habitat. It's not always an easy picture to see as you're living it. Stepping back and looking at this day with fresh eyes a year later, I am grateful to myself for preserving it in print, with all of its ups and downs. I wouldn't change a thing.
I thought I'd record just an ordinary day-- all of our big and small doings, with no interest in making events and encounters seem more or less wonderful than they are. Staying home with my girls is challenging in some ways, but in others it's very easy and natural. Providing for every physical and emotional need of two little people is tiring, but on the other hand we have our routines and are happy with simple activities and time spent together.being a solid, consistent, endlessly patient parent is WORK, but nothing I can't handle. And in terms of logistics, I have two kids and two hands. Even when they both need to be held and attended to, it's not rocket science. So, without further ado, here's what today has looked like so far.
Actually, let's start with last night.
8pm: girls are in bed. After some milk and some cuddles in her crib, Lavender drops off to sleep. Geneva, complaining of "spicy pee," is up eight times between 8:00 and 11:00, when Avery and I call it a night. We've managed to take turns in the shower, watch The Twilight Zone and eat a snack of french fries, so it's been a pretty good evening.
At about 12:30 Geneva wakes up just howling, which awakens Lavender. I nurse Lavender and Avery attends to Geneva, who needs a new pull-up. Both girls are back in bed and quiet by 1:00.
Around 2:30 they're both awake again. This time Lavender will not go back to sleep; if I even think about laying her down she arches and screams. I take her into bed with me, where she continues to squirm and cry despite nursing, clean diaper, etc. After an hour of gradually calming down she is asleep on my chest and sweating profusely.
At 3:45 Geneva is inconsolable. Avery, who has been helping her periodically for the last hour, is at a loss, so I ease Lavender off my chest and try to calm Geneva down. After two or three visits, drinks of water, etc. she is settled back in bed.
I don't recall when, but at some point in the early morning Geneva gets into bed with us. Avery gets her a sippy cup of milk and flees to his chair. We all doze in semi-comfort until 7:15, when Avery has to get up for work. Geneva follows him around while I rest with Lavender in bed. When he leaves for work I haul myself out of bed, ashamed that it's almost 8:00. Once again Geneva mentions "spicy pee" and I'm worried about a urinary tract infection, so I call the pediatrician to make an appointment. They can get her in at 9:15, which gives me about an hour to get myself and the girls ready to go.
First order of business is breakfast, which is complicated by the fact that, due to a glitch in the direct deposit system at Avery's work, I have not purchased groceries for the week and we are woefully low on food. Breakfast will be toast with jam, yogurt, and dry Cheerios. While I pull out plates and silverware, Geneva draws an anatomically correct picture of Avery-- for him to take to work, she says. Geneva is ravenous, and quite happy to eat alone for a little bit while I get dressed. While I'm at it, I pick out some clothes for Geneva and Lavender, too. I return to the table and the three of us finish breakfast together. I could really use something with caffeine but I don't see that happening between now and our appointment. Geneva helps me bring the dishes into the kitchen, where I rinse them and leave them in the sink. I change and dress Lavender, noting that she can barely squeeze into the shirt I picked for her. At this point Geneva and I hit our first obstacle: she does NOT want to wear the shorts I picked out for her, and I don't have time to play 20 Outfits. I cram the shorts on her, cheerfully complimenting her on her lovely, fluffy shorts. Miraculously, after five minutes she decides to stop whining about the shorts and is happy to choose her own shoes. This morning is a breeze! Time for personal grooming: lipstick. Hair in a clip. Earrings. Ta-da!
We're ready to get in the car. Geneva objects to her sweater until I remark that it is so fuzzy that it makes her look like Queen of the Sheep, which pleases her. I fill a sippy cup with very watery juice, still concerned about that possible UTI, and send her out the door. I buckle Lavender into her carseat and check the time: 9:10. I will be exactly on time, which is amazing. Geneva gets into her seat without much fuss. I remember to put the garbage can on the curb, but do not have time to feed the chicken. We're off! During our five-minute drive I talk to Geneva about what her doctor visit might entail, including an examination of her bottom. I don't want her to be frightened. She seems most interested in the fact that both her doctor and her gymnastics teacher are named Julie. She does really want to know what Dr. Julie is going to do with her pee. When I mention that she will test it, she says "taste it???"
At the doctor's office we get an awesome parking space and are the only ones in the waiting room. Within minutes we're ushered back to the exam room, causing Geneva to squeal "the examination room!" which impresses the staff-- and me. The nurse asks me to get a urine sample from Geneva. I knew this would happen but somehow I had still decided not to take the wrap when we left. Now I get to hold Lavender in one hand like a football while positioning Geneva over the cup with the other hand. The only real challenge is screwing the lid on the cup one-handed. Back in the exam room I help Geneva wash her hands, and she doesn't want to rinse off the soap. Lavender repeatedly scootches over to the uncovered electrical outlet. Fortunately Julie can see us right away. The examination goes just fine; Julie finds a little scratch on Geneva's bottom, which would account for the burning sensation. I feel like a doofus but am relieved. Julie would like to do a urine culture to make sure there's no infection, so after a quick stop at the lab in the next building we're back in the car. It's 10:15-- much earlier than I'd anticipated. I decide to go straight from the lab to the grocery store.
In the parking lot I finish my grocery list, then unload the girls. I realize I have neither my grocery bags nor the wrap. Darn. I guess this will be Lavender's first time in the big double racecar cart, if they have one available. Luckily, they do, and Lavender seems fine sitting facing away from me. Geneva keeps patting her and giving her hugs. Geneva and I maintain an easy dialogue about the food and the people we see. It's a very pleasant trip, punctuated by only one bathroom run. The challenging part there is hoisting two kids to the sink for handwashing afterward. Lots of little old ladies exclaim over the girls' extreme cuteness. I get two dirty looks from other shoppers when Geneva leans out and takes items from off of the shelves: once a jar of sprinkles, the other time a can of mushrooms. Whatever.
In the checkout line Geneva's patience suddenly unravels. She starts shrieking "I want out! NOW!" Oh jeez, this is really loud. And embarrassing. I'm not brave enough to look around me, so I assume the entire store is staring. Cupping Geneva's face in my hands, I address her firmly: "You may not speak to me that way. When you're ready to use kinder words to tell me how you feel, I will listen." After a few repetitions of this she pulls it together. Lavender plays with the pen on a chain while I pay. Geneva asks to push a button and I say "maybe," which in this case means "no," as she would have to flatten Lavender to reach the keypad. As I steer the cart out of the store both girls begin to whine, but as the rattling of the cart drowns it out I basically ignore it, tossing out the odd comment like "hey, we're almost done!" and "hmm, do you know where our car is?"
I always feel like we're hanging out in traffic when I unload the cart, and today is no exception, but I'm able to get both Geneva and Lavender into the cart in one massive armload, eliminating the "whom do I abandon in the cart while I buckle her sister in?" conundrum. As we drive home Geneva asks about the music we're listening to. She wants to know if it's "kuitar" music. I confirm that it is, performed by an artist named Ali Farka Toure, and enjoy listening to her pronounce that for a few minutes. As I'm driving we pass an espresso stand advertising a 20 ounce latte for $3.75. After last night I'm dead on my feet so I impulsively turn left. The barista chats with me about the weather: cloudy, but warm. Lavender has gone silent, and sure enough is fast asleep when we get home. I release Geneva into the yard while I unload the back of the car. I miss my canvas grocery bags; these plastic ones hold about three items apiece and have flopped uselessly around the back. Remembering that I haven't fed our hen yet, I ask Geneva to give some feed to Honey Chicken. She dashes back to the coop. Lavender snoozes on in the car, and I unload everything into the kitchen. Geneva comes back and dumps some chicken feed on the porch, then orders "sweep." Nice. I tell her that messes happen, but that she needs to be responsible for cleaning them up-- and that ordering me around is out of the question. We sweep off the porch together and then go back to the coop. I help Geneva refill Honey's trough with food-- "not too much!" cautions Geneva-- and we refill her water, too. Then I close up the car and bring the slumbering Lavender inside. As Geneva bounds toward the house she stumbles and shouts "dammat!" Looks like Avery and I need to have a conversation. Lavender continues her nap in my room while Geneva and I attend to the matter of lunch. She requests sandwiches and strawberries, which sounds good to me. I add hard-boiled eggs to the menu, to which Geneva responds "not that" until I tell her she doesn't have to eat the yolk. "I don't like that part either," I tell her. "Oh, okay."
I'm staring at the grocery-laden counter, wondering where I'm going to fix lunch, when Lavender awakens. She is fussy and in need of a snuggle. I hold her in one arm and try to spread peanut butter on a slice of bread with the other hand. It's hard, and I end up using my hip a lot. Soon I've got lunch ready and most of the groceries put away, and Geneva helps me carry her plate out to the table. I look around for Lavender's strawberry and realize Geneva has eaten it, so I duck back into the kitchen. This whole time I've been sipping on my coffee drink and I'm no longer sleepy. In fact, I'm practically vibrating. I need some real food, so I slap together a sandwich for myself and rejoin the girls. I help Lavender with her strawberry and egg while Geneva tells me a story involving Simpkin, the cat from Beatrix Potter's The Tailor of Gloucester. I ask if, after lunch, she would rather go outside or read The Tailor of Gloucester and she says "read!" So, we clear our plates to the sink, which by now is very full. I'll need to unload the clean dishes out of the dishwasher soon to keep the dirty ones from overflowing. But for now, we head to the nursery.
I change and nurse Lavender as I read The Tailor of Gloucester aloud. Geneva listens with shining eyes, answering questions about the plot and patting the book with her hands. I've never seen her quite as engaged with this particular story before! Lavender nurses contentedly, without any urgency, then sits up and watches her sister. It's just wonderful. After the story Geneva examines Lavender with her doctor tools while I get out my journal and begin writing (this!). I suggest to Geneva that she write in her journal, too, but she only gets out her colored pencils, which she and Lavender squabble over. Determined to write, I ignore the tussling until Geneva yanks a pencil out of Lavender's mouth and pushes her. I realize I've been paying too little attention to them both, but I'm upset at how rough Geneva is being. I remove the colored pencils to a shelf, which results immediately in a piercing scream. Quite pissed off now, I address Geneva sternly but she won't look at me, so I take hold of her face in one hand and turn it toward me rather sharply. Oh, crap. I was mad, and I grabbed her harder than I meant to. She yelps in surprise and bursts into real tears, which of course sets Lavender off again. Time for a change of scenery-- for all of us. I abandon the writing project for now and move us back into the kitchen, clearing off one side of the counter. Lavender goes into the bouncer with a handful of Cheerios, where she has a good view of the action. I start getting out cookie ingredients until Geneva's chirps of "can I see?" reach a crescendo. Her face lights up as I pull out the stepladder.
The cookie dough is looking great and it's time to add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture in the mixing bowl. I pour half of the flour in, at which point Geneva's apron comes untied. I step behind her to re-tie it, and in that instant she lunges for the mixer and turns it on high. Flour poofs wildly into the air, and for a moment I can't even see. Geneva, though surprised, is unfazed, and actually so am I. The mess is big but easy to clean, and the flour explosion was kind of funny. With a smile I order Geneva to watch from the nursery doorway while I sweep and wipe up the worst of it. She wants to help, but complies. The flour really is everywhere. I find myself wondering if bakers get White Lung. I also remember that there's a load of laundry souring in the washing machine, and add it to my mental list of Things to Do. When most of the flour is cleaned up I summon Geneva back into the kitchen. She has changed into a leotard and tutu and has lost most of her interest in baking. She watches, glassy-eyed, from the stepladder and asks if she can watch television. Despite my best efforts to move the baking project along it is already 3:30-- half an hour past the "sweet spot" at which point I may possibly get her to nap. Considering how little she slept last night I know she could use the rest, so I make her a deal: if she can lie down quietly and close her eyes for a little while without complaint, I will have a cookie and a little bit of television waiting for her when she gets up. Even as I'm doing it, I don't like that I'm using bribery, but then I reflect (as I always do in these situations) that you could also say I'm positively reinforcing good behavior. Shaking off the guilt, I usher her into the nursery. She whines a little bit, but her heart isn't in it. As I close the door she's making a blanket nest on the floor.
Now that it's just Lavender and me in the kitchen, I take her out of the bouncer and put her down on the floor to play. While she scoots around and plays with an ice cream scoop and a jar of sprinkles, I put away the last of the groceries and attempt to clean up the flour completely. Then I finally unload the clean dishes, chatting quietly with Lavender as I do. I know she is getting shortchanged in the conversation department, but I don't want to make too much noise with Geneva in the next room. I can hear her in there chattering away to herself. It's very sweet, but I wish she would get some sleep. Although not exactly appropriate to the situation, I think of a line from Futurama, delivered by the frightening, grizzled matriarch, Mom: "jam a bastard in it!" This makes me laugh. The dishwasher now empty, I turn to the sink brimming with dirty dishes. They had all been rinsed and ready to load, but the flour explosion covered them with a layer of dust that formed into a crusty dough and they must now be re-rinsed. Lavender is still rattling and rolling the sprinkle jar. Every nine minutes I lift her away from the oven so I can pull out another pan of cookies. Dishes done, I pick up Lavender and head downstairs to attend to the laundry. First I have to bring up the dry clothes, which I do with one arm. Lavender seems to be enjoying it but I drop several articles. I remember doing this all the time with Geneva but apparently I've lost the knack. I leave Lavender upstairs with a toy firetruck while I run down to switch the wet clothes over and start a new load. As I finish up I hear Lavender cry; she doesn't like to be all alone.
Back upstairs, Lavender and I play with the firetruck. Then we check the mail, and I let her destroy the Papa John's pizza coupons we won't use. I leave the front door open to let in some light and air. Lavender and I share a warm cookie-- almost 50-50!-- and I let her feed herself. Pretty soon there is cookie goop all over the living room floor, not to mention Lavender's hands, face, and feet. I grab a washcloth-- our last clean one!-- and tackle the mess. As I'm cleaning Lavender starts to gag. I'm horrified that I've poisoned her with cookie until she coughs up a piece of onion skin that has been drifting like a tumbleweed around the kitchen for the last day. For the second time today I feel sheepish but relieved.
Lavender is enjoying my undivided attention but starts to fuss after a little while. I realize her diaper is wet and needs to be changed, but by now the nursery is silent and I suspect Geneva has fallen asleep in there. Rather than inadvertently awaken her while getting Lavender a clean cloth diaper, I take a disposable one out of the hall closet. Once dry, Lavender is cheerful again. We snuggle and play for a few minutes more, then I sigh and reach for the pile of clean laundry. Just then, though, I notice the clock: 4:15. When did that happen? The focaccia bread I was going to make for dinner is now out of the question, so I scoop up Lavender and consult my grocery list, which is also my menu for the week. I choose a quicker meal-- roasted vegetable quesadillas-- and begin pulling veggies out of the refrigerator. I throw away some old leftovers while I'm at it. Lavender holds the refrigerator door open for me. It's an accident, probably, but I thank her anyway. I can be more chatty now that Geneva is fast asleep. I even crack the door open and peek in at her, then immediately wish I hadn't: the floor is obscured by the mixed-up puzzle pieces of three different puzzles. But, Geneva is resting peacefully, so I count my blessings and close the door.
Before I really get dinner underway I move Lavender to her high chair and place the high chair in the corner of the kitchen, where she can see what I'm doing without being dangerously near to the stove. The cat scratches at the door and after letting him in I leave the back door open, too. I don't even bother to turn the thermostat off, as the temperature indoors and outdoors is the same: sixty five. Sixty five. Did I mention I love Spring?
Dinner prep is basically a lot of chopping. Once I have the vegetables roasting in the oven I grate the cheese, giving some to Lavender. I pick up the phone, intending to call Kristen, but then realize I desperately need to sweep the floors and now might be the only good chance I get, with Lavender snacking in her high chair and Geneva napping. So I set the phone back down and pick up the broom. Just then Avery calls, saying he's on his way home. I'm glad he'll be back soon, but bummed that dinner won't be ready when he arrives. But back to the broom. After sweeping I wipe off the table. It occurs to me suddenly that I'm very physically uncomfortable. Oh, I have to pee, and I have crazy heartburn, for both of which I blame the coffee. Well, at least half of that problem is easily solved. On my way back to the kitchen I poke my head into the nursery and gently awaken the napping Geneva. She isn't in a completely foul mood, but isn't ready to get up yet, either. I'm back in the kitchen with Lavender putting the assembled quesadillas in the oven when Avery arrives home. Whew.
So there it is: my day with the girls. It was not the easiest or the most challenging day I've ever had. It was just a day. High points were watching those sisters love on each other in the shopping cart, reading together, eating the first strawberries of the season (from California, and they were a bit underripe, but still), driving with the windows open, snuggling Lavender, and watching Geneva converse with doctor Julie without needing any help from me. Low points? Well, I don't want to pick those out especially. I try not to lose my patience, to react to each situation with a fresh outlook rather than with the stress of a hundred previous aggravations, but I know I often fall short. I wrote when I started this journal entry that I didn't want to make things seem better or worse than they really were, and I think I've done a decent job of that at least. I'm not a saint, I'm not Martha Stewart, I'm not Mary Poppins. But if anyone (including myself many years from now) wonders what I do all day as a stay-at-home mom, I have an answer. See, all day I do something. It's not always, or even usually, the most difficult something ever, but the fact is that the work is constant, and therein lies the challenge: maintaining your patience and seeing the bigger picture when you never, not even for five minutes, can truly step outside of your task as a mom to gain some distance and perspective. I wrote somewhere once before that in my opinion the most challenging part of parenting isn't doing it, but never not doing it.