Have you ever heard someone say that being a mom is the hardest job in the world? I have. It's not something that gets said very often these days (if you're not getting paid for your job, how can society judge what you're worth?) but Oprah makes a point to mention it from time to time (she knows value has nothing to do with money). I always appreciate the affirmation but sometimes think, "Really? This is the hardest job? But all I do is hang out with Liam. And he's awesome!"
Most of the time, I don't realize it's hard because I have no idea how much I put into it. I may be teaching, loving, disciplining, feeding, holding, laughing, being, playing, planning, and learning all at the same time but at the end of the day, it's only the tangibles I remember. We went to the park and painted a few pictures and picked up some milk at the grocery store and... wait. Is that it? Why am I so tired?
I'm tired because "painting a few pictures" actually means a heck of a lot more than sticking a brush in Liam's hand and plopping him in front of a piece of paper. I have to encourage him to open the paint all by himself even though it takes forever and makes him so frustrated he cries, remind him to use his words and ask nicely when he needs help with something, praise him for making good choices, show him once again how to mix yellow and blue to make green, teach him Spanish words like rojo (red) and blanco (white), help him experiment with different brushes and painting techniques, squelch the urge to freak out when he gets in touch with his inner Jackson Pollock, let him choose as many pieces of paper as he feels inspired to fill, make sure he cleans up his own mess when he's finished no matter how badly he wants to walk away and watch Wonder Pets (while ignoring the fact that it would be so much easier to just clean it up myself), sing the clean up song, ask him if he can find the paint that matches the lid in my hand, sing the team work song, ask him how many more paints need to be put away, give him positive encouragement for helping, applaud his creativity, and wait until he's out of sight to re-clean everything he just cleaned. All this while channeling the patience of Mahatma Gandhi and the enthusiasm of Richard Simmons from the second he wakes up in the morning until I kiss his sweet head and lay him down at night.
Whew! No wonder Oprah says it's hard. On the surface, being a mom might mean nothing but play dates and pinafores but good moms know that parenting has little to do with with what's on the surface. It's the many, many layers underneath that wear us out and mold our children into the people they will become.
Of course, I normally don't notice the layers. (Imagine how exhausting it would be if I did!) I just get in the zone and the next thing I know I've turned a peanut butter and honey sandwich into a lesson on bees and fractions and negotiation skills. I don't even realize I'm doing it.
In fact, the only reason I noticed this week is because I was sick and totally off my game. I still went through all the motions, of course, but was lacking my usual panache (not to mention my patience and enthusiasm). It wasn't good. In fact, it was so bad, I got ratted out by my own son.
Liam was putting away his paints while I was counting the seconds until Bill walked through the door to relieve me of my duties. I was acutely aware at how LONG it was taking him to clean up and sincerely hoped that he couldn't tell that the more congested I got, the more his high pitched voice made me wince. He was just about to put the last lid on the paint when the tiny container slipped off the table and splattered blue paint all over the walls, the floor, and, just in case I wasn't paying attention, the top of my head.
On a good day, I would have said something like, "Oops! Looks like the paint fell on the floor. No big deal, accidents happen! Would you please grab a towel and help me clean this up? This is a good reminder of why it's so important to be careful when we're using our paints." On a really good day we would have laughed about the (washable) paint in my hair and maybe put some in Liam's hair as well. On a great day, the word gravity would have found its way into the conversation.
But this was not a good day.
Here's Liam reenacting what I said which, incidentally is what he said the moment Bill walked through the door:
For the record, I did not emphasize that I was really, really, really mad at him. True, I said, "That's it. I'm done." I even said I was really mad. But not at him. Just, like, in general. If you hadn't noticed he has somewhat of a flair for the dramatic.
The next day, my congestion morphed into an evil migraine and I remained painfully out of the zone. Fortunately Liam had school from 9-2 and I was crossing my fingers that he would take a nice long nap after we got home. I laid him down and started trying on dresses for an upcoming Christmas party to keep from feeling too sorry for myself. Not ten minutes after I laid him down he started calling to me from his room, "Mama! I need a clean diaper!" Since this is something we've been working on (more clear communication from him, less anticipation of his needs from me), I had to respond right away. I hurried into his room in a cocktail dress only to realize I'd been duped. He didn't need a clean diaper, he just didn't want to take a nap.
I was really, really mad at him (just kidding) so I didn't feel too bad continuing to try on dresses while he played in my room. He was writing numbers and letters in his notebook while I took pictures of myself in the mirror. The whole time he was writing he was narrating loudly.
"L...8...H...I! Mama, what's that spell?"
"O...J...7...P! Mama, what does O-J-7-P spell?"
After a few more tries, I realized what I was doing (or, more accurately, what I was not doing) and put away my camera. "Buddy, I'm so sorry. Mama's not being a very good listener right now, am I? Now, tell me again what you were saying."
He stood up, walked over to me and said, in a very matter-of-fact voice, "Mama, you need a time out for not listening."
I don't normally let him call the shots but he totally had a point. I asked him where he wanted me to sit and was grateful to spend two uninterrupted minutes on my bed thinking about what I had done. When my time out was over, I apologized for not listening and gave him a big hug. Then I checked the clock to see how much longer until the second shift got home, sucked it up and marched into his room to play. And parent.