In the two weeks since my mom moved out, I’ve become quickly reacquainted with the desperation, the rage, the smothering futility of motherhood. It’s back with a vengeance. The first time, I had one small baby to not screw up while I struggled to handle my shit. This time, it’s two babies with ever-competing needs and a little boy who has reached the age where he will remember the shitshow of his mother trying to get through the day without screaming expletives in everyone’s crying faces.
There is so, so much crying.
My toddler hit our mother’s helper in the face last week because she wanted to wipe spaghetti sauce off his mouth. It started with him evading her reach and knocking things off the table, then progressed to him throwing toys and then the wet paper towel under the couch. When she bent to get it back, he smacked her, hard. I was nursing both babies when it happened, so I had to hand them safely off to her, unbuckle out of my large nursing pillow, and take him back to his room. I wanted to hug him and tell him I was sorry that he’s had so little of me lately, that there is always so much noise and having to wait. I wanted the mother’s helper to leave because I was embarrassed and I was angry and I didn’t want to look like I didn’t discipline my child and I didn’t want to discipline him in any of the ways that look like traditional discipline. I wanted him to cry in my arms until he felt better. Instead, I talked to him about mistakes and how our frustrations can get the best of us. I talked about how to maintain friendships by making amends when we’ve hurt others. I did not want to make him say he was sorry, but we got there anyway because a part of me needed to show this young woman that my child hasn’t been raised by wolves. I felt sick as I told him that an apology would help her feel better — I felt sick because he also didn’t feel good. It was why he hit her.
A few days before the hit, in his enthusiasm to sleep in bed with Mom and Dad and the babies (because he started calling our room Mom and Dad and The Girls’, like we all got to be together and he was excluded), he accidentally kneed Caroline in the head and hurt her. I held Caroline close to my chest. Theo buried his head into the bed and cried next to me, and I told him his sister was okay, told him he’d only made a mistake. When they both stopped crying I googled infant head injury.
When both girls cry at the same time, I put them in the twin carrier and pace around the house singing made up songs about how we can walk and sing and wear pink and green and listen to 1D and sometimes sleep. Sometimes, when both girls cry, Theo lets out an ear-piercing scream. Other times, he tries to soothe them by shouting the alphabet song over them. Sometimes, I suck in a powerful breath to expel a good, hard STOP FUCKING CRYING, but I swallow it down instead because they are babies. They’re just babies. The breath burns through my chest until it doesn’t.
I curse a lot more when Josh is home. It’s immature, but I think I just need someone to see my frustration. It’s the tree falling in the woods. When he’s not here to see it, there’s not much point.
When I get to take Theo grocery shopping, just the two of us, he likes to listen to “Uptown Funk.” I tried this week to expand his taste a little, and every single song I played, he shouted over it from the back seat, “Uptown funk you uuuuuuuup.”
When I slip up and mutter a harsh word, he says, “Funk? Funk you up, Mom?”
He would prefer, he tells me (when I’m alone with the three of them), all diplomacy and innocence, to leave the girls at home this time. “Sorry, buddy. CPS would have a problem with that.”
I haven’t really been alone these two weeks. A friend, my sister-in-law, my aunt and cousin, my in-laws have come over and kept us company, done cleaning. I’ve looked forward to their arrival, but I’ve also been exhausted by extra voices in the house, Theo getting over-excited, not having privacy I didn’t know I wanted. If the babies are asleep when someone else is here, it feels like a waste of their help because I can manage fine when they’re asleep; I need someone when they’re both crying. If the babies are not asleep, I can’t help wondering if they would be if it were quieter.
I have a friend with a toddler and a baby the same age as the girls. I want desperately to see her. She’s my closest mom friend here. But I worry about Theo not wanting to share his toys with her daughter. I worry that three babies and two toddlers are too much for us to handle and she will regret coming over or I will. I want to have a nice, long talk with her like we used to, and I’m afraid we won’t be able to, and that I will miss it even more if we try and fail.
I took Theo to the pool last week, and some older kids tried to take his Hot Wheels. They asked first, but it was more to initiate play than to get permission. I stood over all the kids and expanded on his meek no: “He doesn’t want to share right now.” A girl grabbed one and dove under the water, and when she came up, I said, “Please give us the car back. He doesn’t want to share.” She told me she didn’t have a car. She squeezed it tighter in her hand and tucked it into her swimsuit. I wasn’t going to grab it from her suit. I had a vision of what that scene might look like. But damn it, this kid, I wanted to shake her. I wanted to scream, “He doesn’t get what he wants all day, all week. He doesn’t have to share with you!” The other kids were quick to point out the injustice of her takng the toy without permission. They also took advantage of the distraction and said, “Can we play?” and slowly took the other cars while Theo watched them. They left one for him. He quickly joined in racing his car with the others, and he seemed to have a good time, so I let it go. But as soon as the first girl pulled the car back out, I grabbed it from her hands and said, “You didn’t ask.”
Josh and I both used to say, when the girls screamed at night, “I don’t like our babies.” If they had a good day, though, and I was feeling closer to them, and he said it, I felt differently about it. Like he didn’t like our life, our family. “I hope you like our babies soon,” I said once. It wasn’t fair. I complain about them far more than he does.
I still look at my life sometimes and think, Why on earth do I have twins?
When they both cry, I want to take them outside because babies are often soothed by going outside. But it’s way too hot to take babies outside right now. When they both cry, I want to get out of the house, so I take all the kids to Target, but to get there, I have to get three children into car seats. Sometimes first I have to feed both babies and burp them and change their diapers or their clothes. I dread the babies outgrowing their carrier (soon) because then how will I leave the house ever again?
When either of the babies cries, when either one starts to fuss, when I let out a heavy sigh, when my clipped tone reveals even a hint of impatience, Theo asks, “Are you okay, Mom?”
Today, I said, “No, right now I’m not okay. I’m frustrated because I wanted to read this book with you but this stupid baby won’t let me.”
This stupid baby.
There are so many issues with what I said and how I said it I won’t even bother to dissect that one.
All day, he asks me if I’m okay, if I’m fine. And I often tell him, of course, Mommy’s fine. Nothing’s wrong. Often, nothing is very wrong. He misinterprets a sigh, or he anticipates that a fussing baby will upset me though it doesn’t always.
Are you okay?
Are you fine?
Are you all right?
These are the questions I am always asking him, analyzing his every action and change in tone. Are you feeling frustrated? Do you feel overwhelmed?
And so all day we are checking back and forth, gauging the other’s mood, acknowledging the tension as it coils in the other with each passing hour.
Do you need to cry? It’s okay to cry.
I have been lamenting to those close to me that Theo is a mess. I think I’ve been talking about myself.
When I first researched postpartum depression, when Theo was a baby, nearly every source emphasized that a mother’s health was important because a happy mother was necessary for a happy baby. So I gave him exaggerated smiles and sang the same songs again and again. It was easy to fake happiness for a baby.
I am trying so very hard to be a good mother to all my kids, to be a healthy mother — for real — and this time I have a little mirror, keeping me in check, showing me where my weak points are. He sees me much more clearly now. And this time, he’ll remember.
When he asks if everything’s okay, I won’t lie. He knows it’s a lie. Instead, I try to say, “I’m overwhelmed right now, but as soon as this passes, and it will, I’m going to be fine.”