Midwestern Mama Cooking up Life in the HeartlandNavigation
I’m a newly single mom of two young kids and toddler twins. I have all of the ingredients in life to make an awesome soup — come along as I tear up the recipe card, throw humor, honesty, and heartfelt hope into the pot, and give it a stir. I simmer with love as I write the unexpected story of my family.
So, here’s the deal, Jen. Can I call you Jen? I feel like I can, so I’m going to.
Jen, you’re about to become the “everday” parent.
I know – what the heck is that?
It’s the term that Milo has for me: Dad is the “fun” parent and I’m the “everyday” parent. Like silverware. No one actually eats with the real silver unless there’s an event (a capital e Event). People use the stainless for everyday silverware because it doesn’t require thought, doesn’t require extra care, and doesn’t mind the perils of the dishwasher or getting lost in between the couch cushions.
The everyday silver is sturdy. And functional. And always found in the drawer to the right of the sink. It isn’t cradled by velvet-lined cases ensconced in the bottom of the buffet, waiting for dukes and duchesses to come for dinner to make an appearance.
The everyday parent is much the same. We’re serviceable. We get the job done. We might even be cute, funny, and quirky as we do it. But we don’t gleam; we don’t steal the show. We’re the ultimate team players because we mix with the good plates and the kid plates and the paper plates alike. We really understand that our job is to get the food to the kids’ mouths, to nourish them and feed them daily as they grow and change and become the people they’re becoming.
But it’s not glamorous. It’s not three-thousand-dollars-a-night penthouse suites in Vegas. It’s more like camping in the backyard because there’s a swim meet and a dance class and music lessons and all of the millions of kid things that cram into the squares on the calendar. When you’re the everyday parent, you know who is coming and going, where things are, and how early you have to leave one location to get the kid to the next location on time. The real silver doesn’t have a clue about the calendar because, again, it only comes out for special occasions and quickly retreats as soon as the capital e Event is over.
But the thing about being the everyday silverware is that you feel the small hands that grasp you as they grow and learn and change daily. You learn their rhythms and know when they’re off the beat. You know spelling lists and state capitals and all of the places that the lovie can hide. You can tell in an instant if a child is sick or sad or scared and you know how to make it better. You find yourself useful and doing jobs you never thought you’d do, all with the goal of feeding the spirits of the children.
You might think it stings to hear that you’re not the “fun” parent and it does, a little. But then you’ll think about the word “everyday” and realize that your children know you’re there every day. That most mornings, they wake up to your kisses and crawl sleepily into your lap for snuggles before refusing to get dressed. They’ll also go to sleep with your kisses and lullabies and gentle tuck-ins. They know what to expect when you pick them up from school and daycare. They know how to push your buttons for maximum effect, but that’s because you’re there every day. Every day picking up the slack, on top of their lives, and watching for obstacles which would halt forward momentum.
On the flipside, you’re not the “fun” parent who feels pressure to make every moment special because you’re supposed to be fun, right? You won’t miss the kids for weeks on end when you travel. You won’t have to watch orchestra concerts filmed on a cell phone or ask for recounts of baseball games because you weren’t sitting in the dust behind the dugout. That isolation is what happens when you only come out for capital e Events. Your every day is largely unknown to your children, as is theirs to you. You become mythical and larger than life and not even superheroes can live up to that.
No, thank you. I’ll take everyday any day. I am fine resting in the drawer when the duke and duchess come for dinner because I know that tomorrow the kids are going to need to eat again and will be looking for me to feed them.
Everyday is my every day and I couldn’t be happier about it. I hope that you’ll feel that way, too, Jen.
My hands hover, frozen over her head.
“A little while ago, Grandmother,” I answer.
Her eyes, misty with memory, search the room. They don’t see the two-ton weight pressing on my heart.
She nods once and I continue brushing her fine hair.Read More
I thought it was going to get easier.
The kids are getting older; they are all more capable than they were a year ago. There are fewer diapers, fewer clothing changes, less laundry.
And, in some ways, it has gotten easier. Milo regularly helps me load stuff into the van in the morning. Violet brushes her own hair and ties her own shoes. Willa wakes up dry every morning. And Juliet buckles herself into her car seat. Those things are easier.
It is easier to get the kids into and out of buildings because the twins can walk and carry their dance bag and don’t need me to carry them with already too-full arms. The older kids are comfortable with supervising the young ones for a minute or two while I use the bathroom or switch the laundry. Those things are easier, too.
Some things are not easier.
Last year was such a blur of panic; anxiety and fear melted over one another, then hardened into a crunchy candy coating. I was protected by a shield inscribed with, “Keep moving forward, no matter the circumstances.”
But constant motion doesn’t allow for the quiet space one needs in order to process, to count tree rings and mark passing milestones. It doesn’t leave room for respite, for recharging, for rejuvenation.
I am calm and patient as always. I am focused and determined and moving forward in my career and as a single parent. I am marching through life to the best of my ability every moment, every day. So when I hit a wall I can’t blow through, I am astonished — just flabbergasted.
Halloween is the wall right now. I need to ride an elephant through it, to knock it down and crush it into rubble.
But I can’t find my damn elephant right now.
When the kids begged to decorate for Halloween, I groaned (inwardly, of course). Halloween is Scott’s favorite holiday, not mine. But my children with their excellent memories recall the way we’ve traditionally decorated the house and wanted to duplicate it. Last year, it seemed necessary to maintain the tradition because I felt very strongly that I needed to show them that, despite all of the changes, we can still have fun and celebrate and create lasting memories.
This year? I look at the Halloween decorations and want to throw them into a roiling witch’s cauldron.
I’m not angry or sad or jealous — just tired. Those decorations seem like so much more trouble than they’re worth. Plastic bats, dancing skeletons, spooky spiders. Not worth the additional clutter or clean-up.
The kids are worth the trouble, though, and I let them decorate as they wanted. They were thrilled to dash around decorating willy-nilly.
The decorated house looks the same as last year, but the kids are taller, potty-trained and have longer hair. I’m kind of like the house. Still pretty much the same, still feeling a bit lonely and neglected. Still dressed up for someone else’s holiday.Read More