I know having three young kids is a lot.
How could I not? No one lets me forget even if I want to.
“Well, you certainly have your hands full,” says every well-meaning and very unoriginal person I cross paths with anywhere in public when I have my kids with me.
I thought that the oldest starting kindergarten might start to relieve the pressure a little, but I was wrong. Now, there are still two children at home all day to corral, the younger of which is at the age where the gap between physical ability and judgment is at its peak. All the chairs in our home are permanently marooned on their sides so that we can leave her alone for thirty seconds without her climbing on top of the refrigerator to swan dive onto an unsuspecting chihuahua. In addition, instead of formless days, now there is a schedule to keep and school work to do and myriad little things to keep up with (as all parents of school-age children know all too well).
Intellectually, I get how hard this time is—right in the thick of it. But, that doesn’t mean I have fully embraced this reality on a deeper level.
These past several weeks have been particularly trying for various reasons. We had a lot of extra stuff going on: birthday parties every weekend, minor medical procedures, Halloween, school events, vet appointments, and even a bout of scarlet fever.
Yes, apparently scarlet fever is still a thing. Luckily, though, I was a huge fan of The Velveteen Rabbit when I was a kid, so I knew exactly what to do when the kindergartner was diagnosed. I placed him on immediate quarantine and burned all his toys in a giant bonfire in the backyard.
Okay, fine. I didn’t do that. Even though I really wanted to because the volume and general scatteredness of the toys in our home often leaves me wondering whether we still have floors.
“Do you remember when we were young and carefree and our house had floors?” I sometimes ask my wife in my darker moments.
But, alas, instead of toy immolation, we settled on a different solution to our scarlet fever problem. We gave our son antibiotics and sent him out to trick-or-treat. That worked too.
In addition to the busy-ness, Victorian era illness, and pre-occupation with melting the faces off a pile of plastic toys in a glorious inferno, the kids’ sleep schedules have been terrible. I could blame the time change, but it’s more that they’re just awful sleepers sometimes. Well, the middle child is an awful sleeper all the time.
So, when you add it all up, what you get is two adults trying to juggle too much and cater to the needs of three very needy small children while operating on fragmented and diminished sleep. It’s a recipe for sadness and pyromaniacal fantasies.
On more than one occasion recently, at least one of the kids has stayed up until around 10:30 at night, which leaves only about an hour of downtime before one of the other kids wakes up for the first nocturnal struggle. Then there is another wake-up somewhere in between midnight and the 5:30 a.m. start to the day.
The lack of sleep is bad, but for me, the lack of downtime at the end of the day is worse. I’m sure stay-at-home parents in the audience can relate. The hours after the kids are in bed are crucial to my mental well-being.
Those are the hours where I revel in the relief of not being needed and complete tasks that give me some small sense of accomplishment, whether it’s writing or emptying the dishwasher or putting away toys neatly in the toy bin and not dynamiting them into oblivion.
Days spent alone with small children can be so muddled and laborious that I need those nighttime hours to focus on something else. Something that activates a different part of my mind.
So, when those solitary nighttime hours are lost, if only temporarily, and the days start to run together even more than normal, when there is no beginning or end, just a never-ending middle, it’s easy for the heavy dark clouds to roll in.
And sometimes, when that happens, the only thing to do is stay up too late and write about it. Even if it means getting even less than less than enough sleep.
Because, when you’re in the thick of it, you have to do what you have to do to keep your internal bonfire burning bright.