mEverything in my life features some photo of Anna and Elsa from Disney’s Frozen. From my preschool-age daughter’s clothing, to string cheese, to band-aids… pretty much 1 out of every 5 things I touch on any given day features at least one of the sister’s smiling faces. I’m half certain when I had radiation a few weeks ago I looked over at the beam they used and saw an Olaf decal. Though I couldn’t be sure. My Sven pillow might have been blocking the view.
If you don’t know who these characters are, me on my best behavior will tell you to go home and watch the movie. Me, on a good day, will tell you it’s filled with inspiring messages, great music, and adorable “inside jokes” over which you and your partner will simply laugh and laugh.
That’s me, on a good day.
Me, at 6:00am on a Monday will tell you, the childless Frozen novice, to walk, nay, run, to the most debaucherous place you can fathom and drink, no… eat, no… swear, no… punch someone in the face, until you’re so tired you can’t stand, and then, when you’ve drank/eaten/punched enough, sleep.
Sleep the restful sleep of a person who will not wake to the news that someone has pooped/peed/punched (again with the punching) themselves awake. Sleep like a person who is not startled by the preschooler, who somehow manages to be sticky in the day’s first minutes of wakefulness, declaring “there’s a fart trapped in my pillow.”
But that’s me on a Monday.
I love my children. I would not trade them for anything. I’ve been on, (almost- fingers crossed for the last one) every continent in this world. I’ve seen some things… and I would trade all of it to have these littles. They are my world.
I always feel the need to make the disclaimer. As if any negative comment in my life contains the asterisk of a statement “I love my children but…”
I suppose it doesn’t simply apply to the negative comments either. When I’m enjoying anything outside of my children I hold the inner monologue. “I loved work today, but I also love my children.” I love both.
Which leads me to the night of the fart and the pillow.
I gave the children a bath when something confusing happened. I had looked down and suddenly noticed several broken up grapes floating in the water. We didn’t have grapes for dinner. Where could they have possibly obtained grapes? How could they have smuggled them into the bathtub? One by one the blackish-purple bobbers popped to the surface of the water.
Finally, after squinting and analyzing these little round mysteries, I realized, those were not grapes. They used to be grapes. Then they became raisins. Then my son ate them. Then he took a bath and relaxed just enough to… you get the idea. Grapes. Toast may never be bread again, but apparently raisins can return to grapes.
Word of advice: if your child ever poops in the bathtub, try not to freak-out. Try not to startle and say “oh my God, it’s poop.”
Your panic makes them panic.
Realizing that she was floating in a stew of her brother’s former lunch, my daughter did what only every sensible person would do and barricaded herself into her half of the bathtub, surrounding herself with every half-empty shampoo bottle she could find. She did this, while I attempted to pick up the baby and get him out of the tub as he swatted and batted away at the floating poop nuggets, which seemed to be multiplying.
I set the baby to stand on a towel to drip dry for a second while I grabbed toilet paper and wipes to clean the horrific pez dispenser that his little rear-end had become, popping out one little grape or another with factory-like automation.
He stood there and when I looked to the bathtub again I saw the four year old on the absolute verge of a meltdown. The lip quiver… the hyperventilating silence that only means screaming is not far away. We’ve come to look at her tantrums like lightening before thunder. When we see the flash of a bolt in her eyes we start counting. One Mississippi. Two Mississippi. Three Mississippi. The longer we count, the louder we can expect the clap of thunder to be.
Four Mississippis. She began screaming, tears running down her face. What happened? What’s wrong? I reach to her and she turns around, pointing at a log floating in the tub. You know how when someone yawns, you pick up on the cue and you yawn too? Bathtub pooping apparently brings about the same phenomenon.
I left her brother to the towel and rushed to pick her up as I pondered how we would go about getting a Hazmat team to our house on a Sunday evening. I cleaned her up and wiped the tears away. She’s still potty-training and she needs tenderness. We talked about how accidents happen. “Even when accidents happen you still love me.”
It was really a beautiful moment. I was proud. I was being a mother. I had cleaned the four year old, patched up her damaged ego and basically, saved the world.
But wait, where’s the baby?
With the bathroom door cracked open just enough for a small human being to sneak through, I hear laughter coming from his room. The four-year-old and I look at each other. We got this. Let’s go see what he’s doing.
Now, I’m not much for horror movies. I can’t watch them. I feel too much empathy for the characters as they run and hide from ghosts and serial killers, and then, of course, I feel way too much empathy for the ghosts and serial killers. It’s a whole thing. Watching a horror movie becomes too much of an emotional experience for me. That aside, I’m pretty sure what my daughter and I saw in the hallway that night, mirrors any Wes Craven out there.
There was the cat. She looked at us as if to say “you know, I used to live alone…”
She walked the length of the upstairs hallway, a trail of brownish footprints leading the length from one room to the next, growing more faint with each step. We watched in silence. She circled back to where the footprints were complete, where they were the definitive mark a cat’s paw, in brown, on my hardwood floors, where my Son’s bedroom door was ajar.
We pushed open the door and found my 18 month old son, naked, with a pile of books to his left, a stuffed Elmo doll in his lap, and a pile of what was likely the remainder of his lunch, to his right. He laughed. We laughed. I cleaned up the cat before she ran to my laptop and listed herself in the classifieds. “Free cat to childless home.”
Bleach and mops and a million paper towels into the evening it was finally time to put the children to bed.
The baby is easy right now. I set him down in his crib. He smiles and waves. He blows me a kiss. I leave his room feeling like the best mom in the best diaper commercial.
The four year old, on the other hand, always chooses the last hour of any given day to reach any emotional/intellectual milestone. She wants to talk about life, about death, about concepts like loneliness or evolution, about Taylor Swift, you know, complicated matters.
It’s also in this hour, I have learned, that she reaches her highest level of sensory perception. Suddenly, this miniature person who needs me to repeat “put your shoes on” twelve times in a half-hour, can hear the cricket chirping and rustling through leaves outside her window, two stories down. Suddenly, this little individual whose attention will not be held by a song longer than four minutes, can recite (and must have an audience to do so) the entire length of the movie Frozen, orchestral overtures included.
Reasons she would not rest on this, the night of the bathtub poops:
Her socks did not match. Where is the matching sock? I think it’s downstairs. we have to go downstairs and find the matching sock or this sock will be lonely. Maybe I left it at Grandma’s house? We better call Grandma.
That shadow moved. I’m certain of it. I looked one way and then the other and the shadow keeps moving. It has long hair and a nose and whenever I move, the shadow moves.
I think I want to learn Karate. Tell me all about Karate. Now. Tonight. This instant. I saw a girl at the YMCA doing karate last week and it’s almost ten o’clock at night on a Sunday and I need to know everything there is to know about karate.
My physical needs are not being met. I’m hungry, but not for any food we have or any food that ever existed. I’m thirsty but only for water at a particular temperature, the measurement of which I cannot disclose to anyone.
Remember when we went to the park and we saw that giant dog? That was pretty cool. Let’s reminisce about that time right now.
There’s a fart trapped in my pillow.
She always falls asleep. She’s never not slept. There have been those nights full of tears and the ache and wonder that comes with just hoping I’m doing it right. That part of me, the one that on a good day would tell you to buy the actual Frozen DVD, the one with the extras and credits where the giant snow monster tap dances, that part of me… she wouldn’t tell you how exhausting Sundays are. She wouldn’t share the doubts that sit and fester over every little decision. She wouldn’t tell you about the blind spot in the kitchen where you can secretly eat a cookie while the children watch television in the playroom and cannot see you.
She wouldn’t share the humor found in owning an Elsa doll representing every phase of life- baby Elsa, toddler Elsa, adult Elsa, and geriatric do-they-still-have-medicare-in-Arendale Elsa.
Still, I think the version of me who misses sleep is the better mother. The me who was able to laugh off the fecal trail to bedtime drama is more complete. Parts of you go away for a little bit, the aspects that you used to think defined you and made you who you are recede dormant into the past. Then, growing every day are the parts of you that were planted deep within yourself. There’s a new you, not better, not worse. New. Tired and new.
There are times I ask myself “is this my life?” Eight years ago today I was hiking in the Badlands, writing and planning a trip to Amsterdam. I was waking up at ten in the morning, and running for fun (as opposed to out of fear or poop). Now I find myself negotiating with a little person who seems to be more intelligent than most of the people I’ve ever met. The contrast is stark and neither image loses value when placed next to the other.
I went into her bedroom for what felt like the hundredth time. She sat up as I took her pillow out of it’s pink and purple princess pillow case and shook it for, let’s count… one Mississippi. Two Mississippi. Three Mississippi.
Only three Mississippis to free the fart trapped in her pillow. There will be more noises and light reflecting restless fears and possibility but, for now, there will be rest.
Goodnight Anna. Goodnight Elsa. Goodnight Cricket. Goodnight Shadow.