“How do you do it all?” As a homeschooling, work-at-home mom of many, this is a question I hear fairly often.
Usually, people ask “how I do it all” when I am outside of my home, sitting in the bleachers at a basketball game or standing in line at the pharmacy. The fact that I am out of my home generally means that I am dressed, have passed a brush through my hair, and might have even managed to put on a matching pair of earrings. All of which give them an unfair impression of my “do-it-all-ness.”
To be honest in my reply, I should carry around photos of myself and my home one day about two weeks ago when, as I prepared for an upcoming trip, the level of “crazy” in my life shot through the roof. Work deadlines multiplied and came speeding toward me. Wrinkled piles of laundry lurked around every corner. The kitchen sink overflowed with last night’s sticky dishes, and the dining-room table drowned beneath a pile of torn coloring books and ungraded school papers.
In all of the chaos, I would have thought that someone told three-year-old Daniel that his mother was extra busy and so now would be an opportune time to make a nuisance of himself. Except that I know Daniel needs no telling these kinds of things.
A small child just knows when something is up. When Mama is distracted. When schedules are overloaded. When tensions fill the air. When it would be terrifically inconvenient for him to demand to wear the red striped shirt he wore last weekend that is now sitting at the bottom of the dirty clothes hamper.
So of course that’s what he did.
“I want my stwiped shirt,” he announced.
“That one is dirty,” I answered cheerfully, attempting to pull a blue replacement over his head.
He ducked out of the way. “I want my stwiped shirt,” he repeated ominously.
Any parent of a three-year-old knows this voice. It’s the subtly threatening one. The one that says, “I am prepared to be patient with your ineptitude for only a short while longer. Meet my demands immediately or face the unpleasant consequences.”
The unpleasant consequences can vary, but they often include high-pitched screeches, the throwing of objects, the flailing of body parts, and some guttural growling.
When I attempted the blue shirt again, Daniel might have done some of those things. And I might have dropped the blue shirt on the spot, raced to the bathroom, pawed my way through a hamper-full of ripe laundry, and pulled a slightly damp, rather reeking red striped shirt from its bowels.
You can spare me the lecture. I know all about not accommodating toddler extortion and refusing to reward tantrums. I know all about giving small children choices in matters they can reasonably control, but maintaining enough parental power so as not to give them the impression that the world revolves around their every whim.
But I also know when to throw in the towel. Or shirt, as the case may be.
I once sat behind a couple on a plane who were traveling with their toddler, Tyler. Throughout the entire flight, I watched those two individuals expend every last drop of energy they had in a desperate attempt to figure out “what Tyler would like.” They hurried to meet his every demand quickly enough to avoid the tantrum the boy threatened to throw when met with even the slightest disappointment.
The Cheerios aren’t honey nut? Screech!
The blankie isn’t the Barney one? Whine!
The iPod wasn’t playing just the right song at just the right moment? Kick!
By the end of the flight, it was enough to make a normally mild-mannered mommish type want to suggest that perhaps “what Tyler would like” is a swift swat on the behind.
I don’t want to raise a Tyler. But a good mom knows not only when to lay down the law but also when she’s licked. A good mom knows that we don’t make or break our children’s futures with every confrontation and decision. The kinds of grown ups our children will be is determined by a balance between the times we held our ground and the times we gave way. And about a thousand other things.
Mostly, children are shaped by love — how much we give them and how much we teach them to give. Sometimes love is a red striped shirt retrieved from the hamper. And sometimes it’s an insistence upon the blue one. I will never “do it all,” but if I manage to shower my kids with healthy doses of both kinds, I figure I’ll have done enough.