Brad and I are exhausted.
It’s not something we enjoy, as in “enjoy every minute of it,” that phrase dispensed like vehicle exhaust on a tired runner by well-meaning parents who are past this stage. In our exhaustion we always come back to the understanding that these days are numbered, they could be so much more exhausting, and they are days we both had nearly given up on before we met. When we met I was 29 and Brad was 37. Twenty-nine sounds young to me now, but starting a family at 37 still sounds borderline irresponsible, especially when one half of the union wanted more than just a couple of kids. Brad warned me with his wisdom–four children will be expensive and we’re not exactly young–but I could not see it with my heart. In his practical way, he insisted we pay off a large part of our combined debt before we attempted to have children. By the time we accomplished this goal I was 32. Setting aside the details for a moment, God built in me the desire for multiple children and blessed this desire by making the process fairly easy from start to finish. Within eight years, we had two girls and two boys. Now we find ourselves in our 4th decade of life, with Brad cracking the door on 50 yrs. As our bodies feel the sting of age, we are surrounded by small people with boundless energy and very little couth. I have begun to wish at least one of them was OCD, but I know better than to truly long for someone else’s trials.
Neither Brad nor I have the energy to live on four hours of sleep. Even as the girls grow more independent, overall the children’s needs are relentless, shifting, challenging. We have tried to determine what we need to give up to create more order, peace, and rest in our lives.
After much thought, we’ve decided the children should go live with my parents in Montana.
What we did see is that our school commute is taking a toll. We drive 400 miles a week for school alone, and that’s a conservative estimate. But this was anticipated the summer we moved into a our new house, and we looked into homeschooling because of it. It was a short study. While I’m open to the idea of homeschooling, Brad has always been mostly opposed. There was no Still Small Voice for either of us saying, “Yes, undertake the education of your children within your home.” Conversely we are continually reassured that we’re exactly where we belong at our kids’ schools.
We also saw that having the girls in sports is consuming many hours and dollars. Most cross country meets are an hour away and many weeks we have participated in two races, one for school and one for additional practice. One week, we did three races. Each race was at least an hour drive one way; the round trip costs half a tank in the old Tahoe. With anxiety creeping into my stomach and heart, we discussed quitting cross country. We decided against it because we want the girls to be involved in sports, or another activity that expands their worldview and challenges them. Running is a tough sport that we both had learned to love earlier in life, and we see our girls have some talent for it. Neither one of them is raking in medals, but they have good form, they’re learning to run through mental and physical pain, and they’re improving both in skill and attitude. I’ve always felt kinship with the running community and want this for my girls. Runners are individuals to the core, but they also have a deep respect the obstacles fellow runners overcome to achieve their goals. Brad and I reasoned that removing the girls from the only afterschool activity we are participating in, would be short-sighted when thinking of our overall goals for our kids.
There are other time consumers that mean the house is messier and more chaotic than we like. I work 2-3 shifts a week at the hospital. I could try to stay up later or get up earlier but have found that leaves me unproductive the next day, so when I work, I get little done at home before or after my shift. Brad works a full-time job as well. We go to church. Ideally, per our pastor who surely is no different from any other pastor, we would be in church three times a week–twice on Sunday and once on Wednesday. Admittedly, we don’t make it three times a week every week. This evening was a classic example. We attended church this morning, and then drove straight to my in-laws home since Brad rarely has time to see them during the week. While he visited I ran to the grocery store, and by then it was time to return home where we needed to prepare for the week ahead. Cutting back on our work and church experiences is not an option just as cutting our schools and cross country experiences is not desirable.
There must be another way to find greater peace and less stress at home.
I’ve read many articles, listened to the advice of parents whose children are older, not to mention ingested, digested and regurgitated the “enjoy every minute” bit. Both girls and our oldest son help with chores including laundry, dishes, sweeping, picking up, packing lunches, laying out clothes for the next day, and other random daily household tasks. This helps and also adds to the mess, as every parent knows! One of my favorite pieces of advice includes a long list that begins with “lower your standards” followed by “lower them again” when it comes to household orderliness. As alluded to above, we actively realize and ponder the fact that our lives could be so much more hectic and anxiety laden. We thank God every day for the health of our Sophia who was plagued with bronchitis and pneumonia from age 2 to 6. She has been well for five months now, and we count it a miracle. We also know families who have children with chronic illnesses who spend weeks and months in the hospital. We speak to each other solemnly of parents who have buried their children; these parents who would love to have dust bunnies piled up in the corners because meal prep, eating, and clean up alone takes so much time dust bunnies are left to multiply at will.
Despite these coping mechanisms–remembering solid truths–we are exhausted and sometimes discouraged. Our children are often complimented on their obedience by teachers, relatives and baby-sitters, but they are regular kids. At home they frequently behave like raccoons or miniature Vikings pillaging and leaving destruction throughout the house. Joshua is constantly discovering one of the seemingly hundreds of thousands of pens, pencils, crayons, and markers in every available drawer and using it to scribble giant, hairy spiders on the floor or walls. My four-year old’s room is covered in trash, clothes–dirty and clean–books, toys, aforementioned dust bunnies, and disgustingly, sometimes even discarded pull ups. To deal with clutter downstairs Brad has the kids remove it from sight. “Just get it out of my sight!” I hear him instructing them. And miraculously, it’s gone. Stuffed away in closets, the TV-less TV cabinet, the spare room, and the play pen no one plays in anymore. There the clutter waits for me go on a day long processing venture. On these days, everything gets organized into keep or donate bins. Bags of trash-toys and papers go into the burn barrel.
We also grow weary of the very real possibility that one of our kids, the boys in particular, could inadvertently kill or maim himself. Unless they are both asleep, it’s difficult to relax.
We aren’t hoarders possessing more objects than we can maintain. However our children receive papers or toys from nearly every teacher, doting relative, and institution they come into contact with. We aren’t bad, lazy parents. I don’t even blame our tiredness entirely on age. I hear parents of all ages complaining of exhaustion and a craving for peace when their children are young. We are, however, navigating through those tricky years of our children’s lives when food on the floor, their faces, or their clothes is irrelevant to them as long as their bellies are full. Those glorious years when it’s funny to hear my seven-year-old protest that she can’t help fold the laundry because she already had other plans! Those maddening years when my four-year old alternately walks like he’s made of freshly prepared pasta or is kin to the rusted Tin Man. He remains completely unconcerned that I am trying to salvage my reputation for being late to every event. We also don’t allow our kids to run over us with rampant disobedience. But they are kids, and what they need is time, plenty of time, to learn to tie their shoes, gather their belongings, get out the door, learn to load the dish washer, button their shirt one button off all the way down and start over. Everything related to them takes three or four times longer than if it was just us grown ups. Multiply this by four, and the recipe for I Need a Nap is well prepared.
So what then? Live in a state of angst and frustration? Of course not.
It’s 10:30 pm and, although I should be sleeping, I’m doing something I ache to do: write.
There were a thousand tasks to do today to prepare for the week ahead, but we took three hours and visited Brad’s parents instead, a joy for us and them.
Often we tell the kids to go outside and play even though the laundry monster is lounging on the couch, and it would be lovely on the eyes if they would help remove all traces of dust, and clutter too, from the house.
Most nights I go upstairs willing myself to ignore the clothes, towels, and toys and just talk with them, pray with them, sing them a special song, or read a book.
We say, “Yes” as often as we can to their requests to help, even though it will take longer and be messier than if we just did it ourselves. Josiah is convinced Daddy can’t do his work outside without his helper.
And I humbly admit, even though that phrase causes the heat to rise on my neck and face, I do pause to actively enjoy the minute I’m in. Not every single minute, that’s silly. It’s just a phrase after all, I tell my literal self. I look at their faces and try to memorize their expressions, because once they’re grown, those expressions are gone. I purpose in my heart not to have regrets over allowing these years to fly by. Is it still excruciatingly annoying to find that my destructive child has busted the tail light off the Tahoe so it’s dangling by the wires? Absolutely. But at least it’s still dangling and can be fixed, the Tahoe is old and paid for, and knowing the child, it wasn’t a malicious act. So every moment, upon every moment, is an act of giving up to God what I cannot possibly handle on my own–that is, raising our children for their ultimate purpose: to know God and love Him in a peaceful, joyful home. I will never be so organized– even if I stay at home 24/7, quit extracurricular activities, and send my children to school on the bus–that my 9, 6, 4, and 2-year-old will not make my house the kind of house that looks lived in.
Above all there are the prayers. God knows we need stamina, patience, and peace in these, the most innocent and carefree days of our children lives.
My husband, an earnest student of Revelation and the more complicated theologies, sometimes asks Him for these things in eloquent sentences.
And sometimes he cuts to the chase, “May we raise them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. God help us.”