I remember the moment like it was yesterday even though it was three weeks ago. I was rushing around the house and felt completely overwhelmed. Both boys were crying. Everywhere I looked was covered with things I needed to put away or clean. I had dishes to do, a meal to cook, the floor to clean, bathrooms to scrub, a diaper to change, and I was fairly certain my four year old and I had not done a single educational thing together all day. I felt like screaming and I had been a bossy, grumpy, mama all afternoon. Then, things got worse. While vacuuming with my youngest on my back, I took a step forward just as my other son called for me and I stubbed my toe on the vacuum and broke it. Not the vacuum. At least one bone in my toe. I felt the crack and the pain after you've felt it once is undeniable. This was the last thing I needed. It was also the exact thing he needed.
You see, I learned something the next day as movement of any kind caused agony. My problem wasn't the number of things on my to do list or how little I was accomplishing or even that my kids needed more than I could give. My problem was what I was expecting myself to accomplish and my way of trying to make those accomplishments. With my toe broken and in pain, I relaxed my expectations for myself because I had to rest my foot. Imagine my amazement when I discovered that even though I was able to do much less, everything seemed less stressful. My eldest son, whom I'd been randomly attacking with educational ideas that he would then push away, suddenly began to come to me with educational ideas. "Let's do puzzles, mama. Let's do mazes. Let's build bridges. Let's build houses. Let's do tangrams." It turns out that he was dying to do fun learning activities with me, he just didn't want to do it when I was in a hurry. Likewise, because I was spending less time running around the house attempting to clean like a mad woman and more time sitting in the living room or playroom with my children, my youngest became a lot less demanding because he had what he wanted, my attention. Dinner still got cooked every night (although admittedly at the end of cooking more complicated meals where I am on my feet all the time, my toe is killing me). The clothes still got washed and folded. Chores still got done, but sometimes things had to be shifted to the next day in order to give my foot time to rest. Surprisingly, while my house has not gotten cleaner, it hasn't gotten any messier, either. It turns out that the more time I spend in the room with my boys, the less time they have to make ridiculously huge messes because I'm there helping them to clean as we go instead of there some of the time and then missing while I frantically clean stuff in another area of the room.
I think what I finally realized is that this is a "Broken Toe" period of mothering. It is a time when expectations of myself, my house, and my life need to get a little more relaxed so that I can appreciate the hard work that is going on. All mothers of young children are a little handicapped by the circumstance of being mothers of young children. Young children cannot be independent. The job of taking care of them is messy and time consuming and it precludes perfection (or even really good work) as a housekeeper. It is also rewarding and time sensitive. While I will have the rest of my life to scrub dishes, floors, windows, laundry, etc. (although hopefully in decreasing amounts as the years go on!), I only have a few years to be a mom of young children and when this season ends, it ends. Never to come again. I can either relax my expectations of what "accomplishment" looks like right now or I can be constantly disappointed when I don't measure up, because my kids' needs are not going to lessen for awhile yet and they will always come first. They might was well come first with me smiling and watching and (occasionally) resting and healing. After all, it's better than if they come first because they have to demand it from me when I'm grumbling, preoccupied, and frenzied.
So, lesson learned, Universe. Now can I please have my toe completely healed in the next week or two?
Thanks for reading,