In my post entitled, “You Have Your Hands Full,” I said I had had quite a day at the train museum.
Let’s back up a bit. Recently, “So You Would Like to Have Three Children” has been widely shared, and the comments have poured in. Many of them are from people sharing their own experiences, which is great. Some of them say that my post sounds like their lives, and some say that hasn’t been their experience. Some people do not think I should complain about my kids, and some think that I should.
All of that is fine with me. I love being engaged in my community, and I think sharing stories is a critical part of that. And I’m growing slightly more impervious to criticism.
I think the comments that get me, or perhaps just perplex me, are the very few comments that have claimed that motherhood or parenthood are easy. Some add that if I just had discipline and structure, it would be easy*
I’m afraid I don’t buy that. And my trip to the train museum is why. I’ll even kind of break it down into a play-by-play.
We get to the museum. I skipped church, wanting to have some actual time with my kids that wasn’t immersed in school, sports, or church.
I know that the children’s father has brought them more recently to this museum, that they remember it, and so commit a parenting fail here. I do not slow things down at the front entrance and explain my expectations, as I normally do. I always start public excursions by handing out business cards (with my phone number on them), by telling them what to do if we got separated, and by asking them to stay with me. This time we kind of start off willy-nilly.
So they do what they always do if you don’t slow it down. They kind of scatter and run all over the place, leaving me feeling like I am trying to keep caterpillars from climbing out of a box. “Wait!” “Hey!” “Come back!” And I was silly and didn’t bring the stroller for Noah, vaguely thinking that it would be hard to have in the museum. But the kid is enormous, at the top of the growth charts, and the train museum is huge, so abandoning my fallback stroller was unwise. It turns out OK; I just have to regroup after the fact, which is always harder. So sure, I set the stage by using up unnecessary energy.
Next phase is visiting the museum itself. It’s always challenging to bring the children to places like this, because my daughter, nearly eight, wants to read the history of how they used this train car as a post office, while my middle son, four and a half, wants to see as much machinery as he can as quickly as possible, and my youngest son, just over two, is focused on trying to just make it up the steps with an ultimate goal of catching up with the middle son. Nobody quite gets to do what he or she wants to do.
But really, everything goes fine. We just amble (or scurry, really) around, looking at trains. There is the odd complaint, and the toddler periodically falls down, but it goes well. Then we want to find the upstairs part, with the toy trains, and we have to wander all over the museum (which is large enough to house multiple full-sized antique trains) trying to find it. Did I ever mention I am not gifted in spatial relationships?
We stop by the bathroom. The four year old goes into the men’s room, and the rest of us go into the women’s room. The four year old does a great job of emerging and waiting right there for us. We happily keep trying to find the stairs.
We find the stairs. The two older kids run up the I-can’t-believe-how-tall-these-are stairs, and the toddler says, “I do it myseff.” I let him take the stairs, one at a time, even though they appear to be actually getting longer as we climb them. We reach the top. I am exhausted.
Everyone starts playing with the toy trains, and I sit down and breathe a sigh of relief. I like this part of the museum. The kids don’t want to go anywhere else, so I can enjoy watching them enjoy themselves and rest a little. We are there for approximately one minute, and then:
The four year old says he has to go potty.
“You just went potty!” I search frantically for the meaning in this statement. The child just exited the bathroom five minutes ago. I was there.
“Yes, but I still need to go.” I stare at him mutely. I look at his toddler brother, who has just finished selecting which trains he wants to play with. Noah is NOT going to want to leave this area. I look at my daughter, who is also playing happily. There are times when I’ll put her in charge of watching her brother momentarily. But in a building of this size, in a place this public, this is not going to be able to be one of those times. I look around at the room of unfamiliar faces and wish I were with someone I could ask to watch the toddler. Sh*t!
“OK, let’s go,” I tell the four year old. I tell his brother, “Let’s go. We’ll be right back. Asher has to go potty.” Perhaps unsurprisingly, this is meaningless to the two year old victim of Mommy spoiling just-started playtime. He won’t come with us.
I pick him up. And he thrashes and tries to push himself out of my arms all the way down the endless flight of stairs and as we weave back and forth among the enormous trains in this enormous building. Apparently the bathroom I am heading for is about as far away as it could possibly be from the play area, and my son is screaming, SCREAMING, at the top of his lungs. People turn to stare, because this isn’t just fussing–he’s thrashing and screaming as if he were trying to save his own life. It’s all I can do to keep him in my arms, being as he weighs about a third of what I weigh. Periodically he squirrels down enough that I’m kind of holding him from his armpits, where he dangles like an enraged wet noodle. I can’t carry him this way. But I have to, so I get him all the way to the bathroom. Thankfully the four year old is calm enough to just proceed to the bathroom and go in, because I am not even particularly aware of him as I fight Noah.
So then we have to wait for Asher. But Noah wants to turn and flee back to the toy trains. And I can’t let him do that, and Asher’s not old enough to be told, “Find the toy train room across the museum and up the stairs, kid.” So I sit on the steps of a train, and try to restrain Noah while Asher takes his sweet time in the bathroom. Just try holding down a screaming, thrashing human being while someone else without great coordination enters a bathroom, undresses himself, goes #2, re-dresses himself, and washes his hands.
Several people look at me sympathetically. Some try to say things to me. I’m honestly not sure what they say. I just tried to fix a patient, neutral expression onto my face and look like there is nothing to look at here, people–move along. An older lady does manage to tell me that they’ve all been there. I still remember her face, her flowing white hair, hazy through the cloud of frantic screams rising around my face like steam.
Asher emerges. We can finally go back, thank goodness.
Only Noah is exhausted from his trauma, and can’t walk. He lays inert in my arms, sobbing, and I carry him all the way back across the museum, weaving among the trains, and back up the enormous stairs.
This is actually the point I described in the other post, when a woman tell me I have my hands full after I say I have three kids. She doesn’t even know what we’ve just gone through. She says this just looking at the three of them playing happily with toy trains, smiling like angels. I don’t tell her. I wait until my fatigued muscles recover to even consider going anywhere else. My daughter tells me she’s bored; I ask her to play with the toddler, and she does, and seems to enjoy it.
Though transitions and leavings places is usually not our family’s strong suit, trying to leave the museum also goes OK. It takes a while. But we get out. I’m in the home stretch, and I’m looking forward to going home for nap. My arms and legs ache, and I’m tired, but the kids are happy and looking forward to the lunch I say is in the car.
I pay for my parking, and we only wander a little before I spot my car. I dig for my keys, and bark at the kids, who are trying to scamper around in the parking garage, that this is still a road, and they can still get hit. I can’t find my keys.
I can’t find my keys.
My keys aren’t in my purse.
They must be here. I know I must have the keys. I put the kids on this little platform area and turn my purse inside out. And the diaper bag. I search outer and inner pockets. I bark at the kids, who are attempting to scatter again, tired of waiting in one place.
I call roadside assistance. I have to wait 45 minutes in a parking garage with three children. I feed them whatever I can find in the diaper bag, and try to ignore how horribly filthy they are becoming in the garage, and try not to think about what they are touching on the floor of the platform and the pillars. Noah has a poopy diaper (of course he does), which I try to change while he is standing.
Roadside assistance comes. When he opens the door, it sets off the panic alarm on the van, which you can only turn off with the keys. Frightened by the noise, Noah screams and cries and tries to cling to my legs while I’m digging in the car. I think my blood pressure is rising to epic levels. I try to stay cool and systematic in my search.
I can’t find my keys.
My keys aren’t in the car.
The man tries to help me find the keys. We fail. He leaves. I call the train museum to ask if they have found any keys. They haven’t. I start to cry.
I call my ex, basically the only person I can think of who can take the three children, even though it’s his day off. “Can you help me? Will you come get the kids?” I start to cry again and feel embarrassed. I figure if I can just get them off to the nap that should have started thirty minutes prior, it doesn’t matter if I’m stuck. I can surely find a way to my home, find someone to let me in, get my spare keys, get back. He agrees to come.
He shows up. We put the car seats into his car. He suggests that he could drive me home. I go to get my diaper bag. And I see that somehow the keys are dangling outside of one of the outside pockets, kind of stuck to some threads on the bag. The very pocket I already searched at least twice. I have a moment of wishing that they weren’t there, because somehow it’s less embarrassing if the keys are actually lost. I feel sort of defensive, as if I know for sure that the keys were not actually there a few minutes ago. We put all the car seats back. And then, when my ex shuts the door, Noah realizes that Daddy has only shown up for a moment, and he starts bawling. He cries all the way home, except the final five minutes, in which I am desperately trying to keep him awake so he will nap at home.
Game over. Today’s game, that is. Or really, this morning’s game.
I am not saying this is how every day goes. But the thing is, nothing actually went wrong on Sunday. It was just hard. It was a hard day. It was a mixture of an average occurrence with a toddler and a bad day with car keys, with lots of nice fun with the kids. I wanted to cry once and I did cry twice. The boys and I took a three-hour nap.
Some days, things really do go wrong. Some days are fairly easy all the way through, nearly every part. But not many. Because I am responsible for three tiny human beings who have no filters yet, who are still learning that they are not the center of the universe, who are still learning to be kind and selfless. And they need a fairly intense amount of physical help. And one of them cries every single day the entire time I am cooking, because he doesn’t understand that dinner doesn’t magically appear on the table–or that sometimes he’ll have to take a break from playing because someone else needs to go to the bathroom.
Parenting is hard. At my children’s ages, it’s mostly hard because it’s tiring and physically demanding. And it’s hard because you are throwing all of your life, heart, and energy into trying to do it right. Trying to raise these tiny humans into responsible, loving, socially acceptable large humans. I would not throw less energy, heart, or life into it, and I wouldn’t give my children up for anything. But parenting is hard work. That’s why it changes you. Aren’t there sayings about how nothing worth having comes easy? It seems like there are. I can’t remember. I’m too tired today.
*Randomly and for the record, discipline and structure are supremely important to me, in my own life and in my parenting philosophy. They do help make things easIER. But they don’t make parenting easy.
*I don’t know when I last locked my keys in, but it seems to be a frequent occurrence over the last year. At least this time I didn’t have to make a diaper out of a maxi pad.