I once heard it said by a “parenting expert”—that label alone makes me question its legitimacy—that parents should never have to raise their voices when dealing with unruly children. Today, as its own entity, would be evidence of my failure as a parent. My five year old, seems entirely unable—or unwilling—to amuse herself. Like a potty training puppy sniffing by the backdoor to be let out, she stood breathing by my elbow as I sat at my laptop, trying in desperation to claim a single hour of my day to write. But that hour was not to be sanctioned. Finally granted my grudging attention, she asked for Cheez-Its and chocolate milk—typical snack time fare in our house. So I retrieved the bequested items and resumed my seat, only to be immediately asked if she could go upstairs to go potty. Traditionally she doesn’t need to ask to go pee, except when her sisters are upstairs sleeping. My darling five-year-old averages the decibel level of a bullhorn whenever mounting stairs, putting on shoes, eating lunch, and, yes, going potty. And with our only toilet upstairs next to my other two somnambulant children, I was loath to let her go. Does that make me a wretched mother? Are my actions doused with too much self-interest?
I quickly found that, however self-interested my intentions, they were entirely founded. When my five-year-old cherub descended the stairs—her footfalls sounding as though she was hauling a vacuum behind her—lo, and behold, my very-wide-awake three-year-old was hot in pursuit. No, there was no writing time to be had today. Because, not only were two of my three children up and rampaging about, but the newly arrived wee one had massive poo in her pull-up. Now, all writing ambiance had now flown the proverbial coop and I was left instead with poo.
And, yes, that’s when the boiling kettle whistled and the yelling started. It didn’t last long, but the steam of frustration needed de-pressurized. Not a sterling moment in my parenting repertoire.
I must admit that the writing dream I had when I was twelve didn’t include, well, motherhood. I knew I wanted to be a mom. I knew I wanted to be a writer. I just never put the two together in the same equation. This was not an example of a paradigm shift, but a paradigm collision. I never considered that writing and mothering teetered on the brink of mutual exclusivity—though I am finding there is still a threshold of compatibility, scant though it may be.
There seems to be a drive amongst the “modern woman” to Have It All. That’s a phrase hocked around till it has lost all meaning and tangibility. My only comment to those striving for that ubiquitous “All” is that you cannot have it all at once. Something has to give. I guess that’s why I find my phase of life, in this moment of insanity, so intriguing—though much more so in the quieter moments that don’t include poo. I am a wife. I am a mother. I am a teacher. I am a student. I am a writer. Other interests and hobbies—singing, sewing, BBC watching—surround me too. But it’s the balancing of them that seems the untenable “All.”
So, while I grapple with my tightrope walk that I will never master until I reach the point in life that I don’t need to master it, I’ve decided that I refuse to relinquish my time with my husband and children, and I refuse to give up my teaching, writing, and graduate work. Therefore, since something must, in fact, give, I am quite willing to relinquish my hold on the only thing left to relinquish hold of: cleanliness. For the time being, my house will remain grungy, cluttered, with cranial-sized dust bunnies creeping out from beneath my sofa. A filing cabinet has vomited across my desktop. My Shark Steam Mop has abandonment issues. But I have no viable alternative.