About a week ago, I was inspired (infuriated might be a better word) by something my dentist said that made me want to strangle him with the floss he’d just used to clean in between my teeth. He started his typical small talk bit with:
“How are you?”
“How are the kids?”
They were the kind of questions that elicit responses like I’m good. The kids are good. Everything’s fine. Blah blah blah.
Then he asked… “How old are they now?”
Four and six. Pre-K and 1st grade.
Then he asked… “Still home?”
“Still home?” – when you are – is as miserable a question as “Are you pregnant?” – when you’re not. You might think I read too much into his inquiry and shouldn’t be so sensitive about it. “Still home?” could be interpreted many different ways. But, I was there. I heard it. I felt it. Your kids are how old? And you’re not back at work yet? Have you lost your ambition? Your kids aren’t babies anymore. What are you waiting for? Oh, I heard it. Oh, I felt it.
And then when I tried to write about it – about stay-at-home motherhood, choice, and everything in between – my mind clogged like a toilet. I couldn’t write a single word, because my dentist made me doubt myself. I honestly wasn’t sure if he was an asshole or if he was right (and an asshole), so I didn’t finish the essay, which got me thinking about how I really suck at finishing things.
Actually, there are some things I’m really good at finishing, like antibiotics, episodes of “The Good Wife,” and entire bags of Skinny Pop (and hopefully the 10K I’m running on Sunday morning). But then there are the things I’m incapable of completing, and I’m not just referring to baby books, scrapbooks, and family photo albums. I’m talking about the pile(s) of mail that I never quite get through. The laundry that gets folded but not put away. The super hero wall stickies that I put the boys’ room, except for the last one (“pow!”) that has to be applied on the wall above the fish tank, which requires a ladder and some awkward maneuvering. The 2006 and 2007 boxes of bills and bank statements that need to be shredded but instead are collecting dust in my laundry room. The box of stuff to be donated that lives in the corner of my dining room that I don’t even notice anymore. The pictures that still need to be hung on the wall in the living room. The toys that need to be sorted. The doors for my office closet. The book I’ve started writing a hundred times. It seems like my life is a series of unfinished projects.
Funny enough, Mike confessed to me in the car on Sunday that he, too, is frustrated that he’s easily distracted and has a hard time finishing things. It’s true. He’ll walk into a room to find his phone and an hour later I’ll find him building a bookshelf that requires a trip to Home Depot, where he’ll end up spending an afternoon researching raccoon-proof garbage cans. Maybe we all suck at finishing things.
Speaking of sucking at things, taking care of Harry post-surgery has been a huge challenge. If the tagline of Harry’s medical trauma was “expect the unexpected,” his recovery has unfolded in the same manner. Even with all he endured in the hospital, he’s still fighting herniated discs in his neck and back, and sadly, his blood sugar won’t normalize, which means the insulinoma, or cancer, has probably metastasized. He’s been on a complex feeding regime and an even more intricate medication schedule for weeks, and just when we thought he was finally making progress, we were told to consider chemotherapy as a last resort. No matter what we do, we fail to fix him.
As long as we’re on the topic of failing, when you give your kids a surprise treat or something special, do they respond with, “What else did you get me?” or “That’s all?” Mine sometimes often do, and it makes me want to strangle them with the same floss I fantasized using on my dentist. Even worse (actually, the strangling thing is probably worse), I can’t help but wonder if they’ve learned this lack of gratitude from me.
Last Friday night, I took the boys to a kids’ Shabbat service and dinner at our temple. It was a lovely event, but after an hour of standing in the middle of a category five hurricane of running and screaming children (with no wine in sight), I was ready to leave. Dylan wasn’t happy about it, so he whined the whole way home saying things like, “This was the worst night ever. I only got to bounce in the bounce house once. Why did you make me leave? This was the worst night ever!”
I wanted to pull the car over and run up and down the street screaming: “Why can’t you be grateful that you bounced in the bounce house at all? You bounce in bounces ALL the time! Do you realize how fortunate you are? Do you know how bad you’re making me feel?” And then I caught a glimpse of the moon. It was the biggest, fullest, brightest moon I’d ever seen. That supermoon from a few months ago had nothing on this one.
“Look up, boys. Look at the moon. Isn’t it beautiful? Can you forget for one minute about the bounce house and all the things you want or don’t have or wish were different and look at this enormous, breathtaking moon? You might never see one like this again.”
“Mommy,” Dylan said. “We see the moon all the time.”
“Not this moon, Dylan. This one is special. Really look at it.”
I don’t know if they really looked at it, but I sure did, and my mind unclogged a little bit. I stopped worrying about my choice to still be home, and realized that although I won’t ever go “back” to work, I will eventually move “forward” to a new endeavor. Moreover, I’ll be the one who knows when it’s time (not my a-hole dentist). I thought about how of all the things I have a hard time completing, this blog – this living, breathing journal of my life – isn’t one of them. I realized how fortunate I am that Harry – even with his terminal diagnosis – is still here and that my still home status allows me to give him the love and care he needs and deserves. I remembered that even though I wish my boys said thank you more often, they, like me, are works in progress, and, as usual, I’m not nearly finished.
“Moon moon moon, I can see
Moon moon moon, you’re taking care of me.”
– Laurie Berkner
10 responses to “Look Up, It’s The Moon (Or Unclogging The Toilet)”
Remember Dr. Seuss’ words: Don’t cry because it’s over…smile because it happened. You may not have finished but at least you started!
Thank. You. I needed that!
If it makes you feel any better, my children are just as ungrateful at times. The “What else did I get?” question comes more often than I’d like to admit. I find myself shoving a hand across their mouth to silence them, and giving apologetic looks to whoever was kind enough to bring the little brats anything lol.
And I’m also a starter. I like to start things. Finish…eh…not so much.
Great post Jen!!! I swear my dentist made a comment like this when I mentioned that G would be in school 5 mornings this year. They are all insensitive jerks : ).
What is it with dentists?!?!
Yes, yes! Once again, you speak for me. By the way, my boys are 12 and 7, and I’m still at home (and yes, still trying to justify my un-waged existence to myself, dentists, and random delivery drivers…) 🙂
Us “still at home” moms should never have to justify our existence or our decision to focus on caring for our family no matter how old our children are. I’ve written a lot on the struggles of life of a stay at home mom as well because people who haven’t done it don’t really “get” it and the reason we don’t get things done is because we are constantly interrupted by things that are much more important (like our children). If your children are happy and thriving, then you’re doing exactly what you need to be doing!
Thank you for your thoughtful and wise words. And you may have just coined a new term…Still at Home Mamas!
Great post and great comment! Just last night I was in tears because yet again the house was a pigsty, the laundry wasn’t folded, the dishwasher wasn’t loaded…and because I’m at home, it feels like a failure because that’s my job. But… the kids’ homework was done, they’d had a good sit-down family meal, they made it to kung fu class and were finally tucked happily in bed. I guess that’s what matters.
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