By Jill Chafin
I saw you there, in the Whole Foods produce section. Pushing your cart, a toddler nestled inside, a sweet baby clinging on your hip. Your beautiful hair, cascading down in elegant curls. Your swishy skirt and knee high boots. Your sparkling, dangly earrings and subtle glints of make-up. Your pristine white coat. You look rested, peaceful, put together.
Please tell me your secret.
My day is one chaotic moment blurred into the next.
I stumble into the blinding light of the morning, trying to remember who I am and how I got here. Yes, I wanted children. And I'm truly grateful for them. But I always knew mornings would be a struggle. I used to sleep nine hours a night, before kids. Now I'm lucky if I get six hours of broken sleep. My REM and deep cycles have been stolen from me – due to chronic insomnia and nighttime breastfeeding – leaving me scattered and unfocused.
I'm lucky that my husband does the first part of the morning shift so I can sleep a little longer. He battles the rapid fire of hurled sippy cups and spoons flung with crusted oatmeal while I nestle deeper into my soft, soft pillow. I should use that time to shower. I should use that time to get dressed, to work on my novel, to go sweat at the gym, to catch up on chores, bills, emails. But I don't. I don't because I choose extra sleep.
I clean up from breakfast – the sweep, sweep, sweep of abandoned toast lumps and chunks of eggs. We go to the park, where I chase my son, watching him climb higher and higher every day, my daughter strapped to me, tugging at my neck hairs, laughing at the breeze. Snacks, potty breaks, then lunch. The kids fight getting ready for nap, thrashing and flipping on the changing table like wild alligators. I manhandle them into diapers and sleepsacks, and toss them into their cribs. I breathlessly whisper I love yous, and close the door. Silence.
Nap time. The oasis of the stay-at-home parent. Finally, I can land into this day. But first, there's the chaos of the kitchen. More thrown food. Spilled cups. Globs of peanut butter stuck under the table edge. Sweep, sweep, sweep. There's laundry. There's a war zone of toys – I pick up some and tiptoe over the rest. The doorbell rings and I curse the Amazon delivery guy. DO NOT RING THE DOORBELL DURING NAP TIME. I keep meaning to order that sign. Maybe it's available on Amazon?
The phone rings and I purposely avoid answering it. I can talk anytime, but not during the revered nap time. Now's my chance to shower, and sometimes I do, but often I don't. I should put myself together, get out of my yoga pants, maybe do something with my ratty, gnarly hair. Where's my make-up hiding these days?
But instead, I finish the chores, gobble down the rest of my lunch, and sit at my computer. I catch up on emails. I go on Facebook. I try to write something, or edit something, or submit my work. I pay bills. I go on Facebook. I work on our taxes. I go on Facebook again. I make a doctor's appointment. Sometimes I stare into space, trying to remember all the things I said I would do during nap time. And I forget to clean the rest of the house. I forget to put myself together.
The kids wake up. Diaper changes, whining, cuddles, snacks, maybe some screen time. We venture out, go for a long walk, go to the park again. And I see more moms like you. They look like they stepped out from their professional lives, and maybe they did. But I know some of them stay home all day, just like me. And yet they look fabulous: hair down, crisp pants, no dark circles under their eyes. My shirt hangs loosely, part of my bra exposed in my haste to cover up after nursing. Sweat stains line my armpits. My pants have freshly pressed handprints – of mud, peanut butter & jelly, and snotty goobers. And let's not even talk about the state of my shoes.
We go on playdates and marvel at the order of the house. Is it always like this or did they clean up just for us? There are no rubber duckies crammed under the toilet. No dust bombs floating out from under the couch. No random pieces of recycling strewn across the kitchen floor (my daughter's latest obsession). The table is clear – no piles of bills, snotty tissues, broken toys waiting to be fixed. Even the fridge handle is clean; where are the grubby, sticky handprints?
What am I doing wrong?
If I woke up earlier, I could shower, fix my hair, put on nice, clean clothes. But how do you prevent the stains from breakfast, lunch, snack, dinner, breastfeeding, and the random spit-up? Those little hands are everywhere. If I wear white, that's the day someone decides to have a poop explosion on me.
And the state of our house? I can spend all day picking up toys (and I do), but they'll always make their way back across the floor, as if it's in their destiny to be constantly underfoot. Night comes, the kids are nestled in their cribs, and my husband is still at work. A sweet silence pulses through the house. I'm blissfully exhausted. A day well spent running, playing, getting dirty. All I can do is turn on Netflix, or settle into a good book. Where'd that chocolate go?
So to the mom who is so put together: please tell me your secret. Do you have extra help? Do you never sleep? How do you maintain your crisp, refreshed look throughout the day while having fun with your kids? If I want clean clothes, I need to change outfits several times a day, like a snake constantly shedding its skin. And if I want to wear my hair down, I better be prepared to deal with the headache of my daughter tugging on it all day. And the courageousness of wearing dangling earrings with a baby and toddler in tow? I applaud you.
I know there are other moms like me. Dropping things, frantically trying to get out the door on time, forgetting to brush our teeth, wearing mismatched socks. I chase my naked son down the hallway, while he's trying to poop, his sister gnawing on a yogurt container from the recycling bin, and realize my shirt is on backwards.
To the mom who looks like she has it together: you are my hero. You do motherhood, AND you hold your head up high, classy and dignified. You might not think you are amazing, you might have your own struggles, but you are inspiring.
And I know I'm a good mom too, even beneath the layers of dirt, spilled food, and wrinkled clothes.
Jill Chafin is a freelance writer, aerialist & dancer, food enthusiast, and mama. She was runner-up in the 2012 America's Next Author Competition and holds a BA in Psychology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She's currently working on several novels.
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