John's dad has said of John's birth, "He had a hard time to come out." It hardly seems like a memorable quote, those ordinary words, so slightly syntactically off. But something about the expression on his Dad's face, his eyes squeezed shut, his head shaking slightly no from side to side, his hands squeezed into fists at his sides, made the difficulty of John's 10-pound, large-headed entry into the world so real. John and I used to say that to each other when we were dealing with something difficult, "This is a hard time to get through," "I'm having a hard time to deal with this," and so on. I wish John were here today so that I could say it to him, so that he could help me with my hard time, because I am, indeed, having a hard time of it right now.
I make no excuses for my hard time. Plenty of other people out there are having harder times, or would at least like a change of pace in the difficulties they are experiencing. I have my health, I have Maddie and Riley, I have a gorgeous new house, and I have a great job. I have lots of friends, I don't struggle financially, and the sun is shining.
Things are just hard lately. Work is overwhelming. There are projects and people and changes, to the point that it is hard for me to focus when I'm there and it invades my brainspace when I'm not.
It affects my parenting. I don't feel like my best self. Maddie and Riley continue to not sleep enough; they have dark circles and crabby attitudes and whiny voices. Melatonin has been a mixed bag; it seems to help Maddie go to sleep, which is good, but it has no effect on how late they do (or don't) sleep. I'm tired, too. We're all tired, and we take our crabby attitudes out on each other with our whiny voices.
Riley is engaged in an experiment called Truth versus Lie. More accurately, it's called Lie All the Time about Totally Dumb Stuff. Some of it is funny, like when he talks as though he's an expert on some totally random subject, but all of it is disturbing on some level. It's crazy frustrating to me to say, "Riley, did you dry your hands on a towel?" get the reply, "Of course, Mama," then look up and see that his dripping-wet hands by his sides. To my knowledge, he hasn't lied to me about anything big, but I feel like I can't trust his answer on anything, and it's an awful feeling. I've tried to talk to him about it, but he's unable or unwilling to articulate why he is doing this, and I'm flummoxed as to what it's all about. Attention-seeking? Maddie does tend to dominate my time, by sheer force of will. Normal, five-year-old experimentation and button-pushing? Maybe. Something else entirely? Could be, or a combo. It's exacerbated by the fact that my reaction to it appears to be out of line with what is happening, insomuch as it makes me fly off the handle and completely lose my cool.
Meanwhile, Maddie is very clingy and demanding with me. Despite the fact that, to my knowledge, I have never given her reason to doubt that I will return from anywhere I have been, she is obsessed with the idea that I might leave or not return. After she went to bed the other night, I took a bag of trash out to the can outside our back fence; when I got back inside (after an absence of under a minute, with the door left open) she was downstairs, panicked, looking for me. She'd heard me unlock the door and thought I was leaving her and Riley alone. She can't get enough of me; Riley, too, to a certain extent. After spending their whole lives in daycare and/or school, they both in the past month or so beg me to stay home every day.
I don't think it's any coincidence that all of this behavior coincides with our trip to family camp almost a month ago. We spent a week up on Orcas Island in the San Juans, doing nothing but spend time together. We slept in a sweet little cabin, ate meals in the dining hall, went to the beach every day, played games on the lawn, did crafts, stayed up late for campfire, and took naps every afternoon. We'd never in our lives had time like that together before. No work, no chores, no obligations. The night we got home from camp was miserable; I had a migraine, we were all super-tired, and on some level, we all knew that the next day was back to the endless logistical machine of life that seems to allow us little time to enjoy each others' company.
As a person, it can be hard for me to be in the moment; I'm always thinking about the chores that need to be done, what's coming next, what appointments need to be made, what food needs to be cooked, how I can prepare for what the next day will bring. Being a single parent exacerbates this tendency as I'm, for the most part, the only one who can take care of these things. Don't get me wrong: Zulma, family, and friends help out a lot. But the logistics of life fall to me, and Maddie and Riley get the short end of the stick. I'm constantly multitasking and trying to make chores fun. While this is not inherently bad, it does mean that I rarely feel like I give the twins my full attention, and often the attention I do allocate to them is not my best self.
This is not me beating myself up. This is simply an acknowledgment of our imperfect reality. And, to a certain extent, my wish that I could shift to an alternate, if equally imperfect, reality. I'm at a point where I wish I could be home more. As the kids start full-time school, I wish I could be the one who dropped them off and picked them up each day. I love the thought of taking them to their lessons and sports practices, of having more than 20 minutes to cook dinner together on the nights we don't have something else scheduled, of just getting more breathing room than the two hours at night and the two hours in the morning. I don't doubt that part of the reason they get up so early is that they want to spend more time with me. It saddens me that they crave that time even though I'm not much fun at that hour, despite my best efforts.
It's just a hard time to get through. We all seem to be unhappy with our current arrangement, but I haven't taken the space to see how I can try to fix it. My hairdresser said to me last night, after acknowledging similar struggles with her kids, that her mom has called this age the "I hate you, don't leave me" age. Yes, they can be sweet as pie, but they also seem to simultaneously not want you to go anywhere, but want to use you as their outlet for negativity. The literature would say that this is because they feel safe. Great. Age appropriate, perhaps. Combined with other forces, likely. It's just a hard time, a hard time.