Sometimes your not-quite-3 year old, still awake an hour past her bedtime, briefly stops crying – specifically, about how you forgot to grab Snakey (a giant, purple-and-pink stuffed snake) from her preschool cubby – to make you feel just a little bit more guilty.
“Why did you talk to Daddy like that?”
Because, sweetie, sometimes, the crushing sense that all you do is never, ever enough drains your patience reserves.
Like, you stop at Costco on the way home from work (after getting stuck in traffic) to get individual hummus packs and underpants for both your 3 year old and your 6 year old; and then hours later, the 6 year old throws a screaming, weeping tantrum because you got her one pack of underwear and got the newly-potty-trained 3 year old two packs. (Because, you know, the 3 year old only has a few pairs, and is likely to have some accidents as she gets used to underwear. But when confronted with this reasoning, the 6 year old wails the equivalent of, “ATTICA!!”)
Like, you finally arrive home from Costco with a little time to spare, and you spend it bringing your purchases inside; shutting windows and turning on the air so everyone’s comfortable when they arrive home; moving the laundry – including the sheets and mattress cover your 6 year old peed on the night before – into the dryer; and ordering your daughters’ dinner.
Like, you pick up and deliver their food, and you give them plenty of time to eat it and read a few books with you before leaving for gymnastics. But because you’re so focused on getting them fed and across town, and this is the first night on this particular schedule, you uncharacteristically forget to clear their cubbies of lunchboxes and beloved stuffed animals (see: Snakey – plus Neve’s equivalent of Old Faithful, Doggie). So when your 3 year old, after sabotaging bedtime in every way possible, finally lies down on her bed and asks for Snakey, well, you’re S.O.L.
You explain to her that it’s at preschool, and that you can’t get in the building.
“Go get it now!”
“I can’t. We’ll have to wait until tomorrow.”
“I want Snakey!”
“I’m sorry. I was trying to get you to gymnastics, and I forgot Snakey. It was an accident.”
“I want Snakey!”
“There’s absolutely nothing I can about this right now, kiddo. The place is locked up, and I don’t have a key.”
“Daddy can get it.”
“No, no he can’t.”
Of course, all of this comes on the heels of your 3 year old twisting your arm to read 2 more books to her than you originally intended; demanding to sleep in a bunk bed – naturally, you don’t have any bunk beds – and committing mutiny by up and leaving the room.
She gets dragged back by your husband, who, when she begs for Mommy to come back, makes her promise to be nice. She then proceeds to pull the window blinds next to her bed up and down, asks to be patted, requests that you to sing a song that you don’t know, and gets irritated when you don’t know it.
Then your husband – ticked off since accidentally hearing on the Tigers’ radio broadcast that the U.S. Men’s Soccer Team won their World Cup game (all day, he’d been looking forward to watching the game after the girls went to bed) – comes in to your 3 year old’s dark room to ask, with a sigh, what you might want for dinner.
When he’d asked earlier, you’d said you didn’t care. Which was absolutely true. With all the stress, you’re not hungry.
But given the crummy night he’s having – you’re both having – you think, “He just wants direction. Even if you really don’t care what you’re going to eat, give him an answer to work with instead of ambivalence.”
You picture the week’s worth of leftovers clogging the refrigerator and say, “Let’s just have leftovers.”
“Perfect,” he says grimly, as if your answer has just made things even worse.
So your voice rises. “I don’t care. If you want to order something, order something. I just thought you wanted an answer, so I gave you one. But do whatever you want. Nothing I say right now is going to be a good answer.”
He throws his hands up in resignation, closes the door, and it’s at this moment when your 3 year old snaps out of her own Snakey-inspired whining and crying to ask, “Why did you talk to Daddy like that?”
“Because nothing’s ever enough,” you say, like your preschooler has suddenly transformed into a therapist. “Because I take the time to buy something you and Lily need, and Lily screams at me for it. Because I get you guys dinner, get you to gymnastics, and I pack snacks and your favorite shoes to wear for after class, but all you can do is punish me for forgetting Snakey. Because Daddy wants an answer, but no answer is going to be satisfying. It all gets to be pretty frustrating. And that’s why I talked like that.”
Neve’s eyes are closed, though you know she’s not asleep.
You wonder if the baby monitor is on downstairs. You hope it’s not, of course, because you sound like a raving, crazy person.
You stare at your maddening 3 year old and remember she doesn’t understand a lick of what you just unloaded on her, and she’s exhausted to boot. So you lean toward her face and say, “Give me a kiss.”
Without opening her eyes, she puckers, and you say, “No matter what, I love you.”
She nods and whispers, “Love you, too, Mommy.”
She finally goes to sleep.
You go down and fold the laundry. Your husband warms up leftover, homemade fajitas and burgers and dispiritedly calls you to the table. You sit in silence, chewing, coasting in that holding pattern that lies between holding a grudge and letting it go.
You look at the fajitas on your husband’s plate and realize you can’t remember when he originally made them.
“Do those taste OK? Are they still good?” You ask.
He shrugs. “I think so. There was a big thing of stir fry in there that wasn’t good. I had to throw the whole thing out. You were right about using up some of these leftovers.”
“I just thought that if we ordered in, we’d have even more stuff shoved in the fridge, and it already seems so packed.”
And just like that, by way of a pithy exchange about leftovers, you’ve expressed your concern for him, he’s made a concession, and you’re suddenly striding back toward your better selves.
After dinner, you write while your husband watches the World Cup game on the DVR, albeit with far less passion and enjoyment than he otherwise would have.
He switches off the TV to head to the bedroom you share. You will soon follow in his path and sleep, only to wake hours later and find the slate once again swept clean – the saving grace of parenting, of marriage, of family life.
And for you, at least, this is enough.