Sometimes, the best thing you can do for your kids is to do something for yourself.
The thing is - when you have little ones - there is pretty much nothing that can bring you down. Or at least, that's what you have to keep telling yourself. A sinus infection that somehow turned into a painful swollen lymph node that let me know it was there every time I tried to swallow...I wanted to turn to gather the kids and say, "You - make lunch and dinner for your brothers. You - finish the mountain of laundry by the washer. You - watch the baby and make sure that he doesn't eat any Lego or climb up the stairs. I'm going to go back to bed." But, of course, when the oldest is seven, I risk making even more work for myself in the long run by attempting to hand over the reigns. So I push my way through, excusing my own short fuse and increased mini tantrums over the boys' annoying behavior because - really - I just feel crumby.
And this week, the Engineer has to work in Houston. All day on Sunday - with each painful swallow - I told myself, "Just get it done. One more bag packed, one more thing tucked into it's place into the van. Just a six-hour drive and then you can get the kids in bed in the hotel room and get in that amazing Jacuzzi. That's probably just what you need."
"So I pushed and pushed (and kept myself motivated by listening to an audio book about distance runners who run for twenty hours or more at a stretch. Next to that, what's a little sore throat?)"
The next day, we went down to the hotel restaurant to for breakfast. This is my kids favorite part of their hotel stay. They have access to all the junk that they don't get at home: preservative-laden packaged pastries, breakfast cereals that probably have less nutrients than the cardboard box they come in. Before Baby came along, I could monitor their bowls, enforce some standards. It's a little different now. Green comes to the table with a Leaning Tower of Bagels balanced on his plate and Orange is on his heels with one fist full of individual butter pats and the other first full of jelly packages. They dump their loot on the table and share. I'm so focused on getting the next spoonful of avocado in Baby's mouth that I don't notice till their on their second bagels that they didn't bring any silverware with them. Butter and jelly have been smoothed over the bagels trusty finger-power. Meanwhile, the Munchkin has slipped away from the table and is returning with two tall glasses of apple juice, drops sloshing out with each step he takes. "Here, Mommy. I brought you some. Are you so proud of me?"
Baby squeals not-quietly for his next bite and while I'm distracted with him, Green rushes off for a bowel of cereal. I see him out of the corner of my eye, speed walking back to the table with his bowl and I'm willing him not to spill. Orange remembers he wants apple juice, too, and darts out from the table, taking off in a dead run for the buffet, in the nick of time dodging a head-on collision with Green, but catching his elbow enough to cause a small tidal wave of milk to surge over the rim of the bowl and make landfall on Green's shirt. He swerves between other patrons, and I'm trying to decide whether it would be more uncouth to yell loudly after him to watch where he is going or to just let him take down a few people. No time to ponder though, because Baby has dug the last mouthful of avocado out from his cheek and is smearing it on my lap. Fifteen minutes later I stand up to go, and with clenched teeth say, "Come on, boys. Upstairs. We're done." Green is just returning to the table with a full napkin clenched like a kerchief. Orange is stuffing his pockets with butter and jelly packets. "What's in the napkin?"
Green guiltily peels back a corner. Another stack of bagels.
"No..." I hiss.
"Please! I'm still hungry!"
Baby begins blowing raspberries and all remaining traces of of avocado are splattered on the side of my face and the Munchkin says, "I'm just going to get one more glass of juice."
"Stop!" I whisper-yell. "Nobody take a step in any other direction except the elevator."
"Bagels?..." Green tenatively ventures.
"Fine." I feel my face getting red. "Let's just get upstairs." I'm one of those mothers. Kids running wild and she can't maintain discipline in the ranks. Humiliating. I know the boys can feel the hot anger radiating off of me. They keep to their own side of the elevator and look penitent...at least until the doors open up and the long hallway stretches out in front of them, beckoning them to turn it into a racetrack while they zoom forward with their most enthusiastic engine noises.
I need a break. I can't take it anymore. That Jacuzzi sounds pretty good right now...but I snap at the boys to get their coats and shoes on because we have to get groceries for the week (and after that I'll get in the Jacuzzi) and we get back just in time to make lunch for everyone (after that, I'll do it), and I nag them to do their school work (after that).
Finally, the baby is down for his nap and I take the monitor and traipse down with the boys to the pool. The steam is rising off the bubbling Jacuzzi and the boys are already sitting on the edge with their legs stirring the water. I've waited and waited for this. It's going to be amazing. And I sink into the water, it's just amazing as I told myself it would be. "Oh my gosh..."I breathe out.
"What, Mommy? What's wrong?"
"Nothing. This just feels so wonderful!" I'm letting it all melt away, letting the warmth go deeper and deeper and focusing on how completely good I feel. "I'm so happy..." I half-close my eyes and lean my head back against the edge and purr, "I just love the whole world right now."
Green leans towards Orange, delight plain on his face, and whispers,
“She's so cute when she does that!”
And I laughed and laughed - which made the delight all the more plain on their faces. "Guys, I sure do enjoy having you around." I had a childhood memory then: I remembered exactly how warm and safe and happy I felt whenever I knew that my Mom was happy. I realized that doing this thing that I thought was just for my own well-being was actually the kids' highlight of the day. Because for the next two hours, we alternated between soaking, cooling off in the big pool and snuggling on the recliners under mountains of towels while they confided in me their secret plans for hacking Nerf Guns, and their own atomic theories and plans for who they think they should marry. They wouldn't leave my side; just wanted to be with me. It was a good reminder to me what a huge role my emotions play in their sense of well-being. If the saying, "When momma ain't happy, ain't nobody happy" is true in the negative, it's true in the positive also. "When momma is truly happy, everybody is very happy."
Because I have a passel of kids, there's always going to be plenty of opportunity for short fuses, plenty of chances to express my annoyance, my frustration, my exhaustion. And there are always enough things to busy-fy me that it's easy to play the role of martyr. But heaven knows I want my kids to have in me a bright-lit corner to come back to no matter what happens out there in the world. And making the choice to stop doing for them for a short time and to instead let them see me happily recharging, renewing...might be an easily-overlooked way to become that light in which they bask and grow.