Tuesday was rough. Between the twins' squabbles over toys, potty training mishaps, Cheerios crunching under my feet from breakfast, and the random toys lurking in every corner, it all got to me. I found myself getting so angry at my kids' such slight misbehaviors. I started lecturing loudly about how they are supposed to listen and obey instantaneously. I blamed them for our being late (even though we were just a few minutes behind schedule) and ignored their innocent questions while I drove the car fuming.
By naptime I was DONE. I retreated to my computer after I had tucked them in, and I was still so worked up I couldn't even look at their picture that is on the background of my laptop screen. It wasn't that I was still mad at them, I was mostly angry with myself. I was too ashamed to see their beautiful bright faces grinning broadly back at me. I had lashed out on this innocent, lively pair, and had allowed their little brother to hear and see it all take place. Surely they had made some mistakes that had called for necessary parental intervention and instruction, but nothing had warranted such extreme moodiness and frankly, immaturity, on my part. I have little doubt that my increasingly frequent outbursts and their dramatic squabbles with each other are related.
So I started to brood in what I call my Dark Nest, a.k.a my husband's oversized armchair. Even though I knew it was not an uplifting activity, I resorted to Facebook. I snidely rolled my eyes at certain happy posts, and I quickly skimmed over darling pictures of happy families. I dismissed the smiles and became even just the slightest bit jealous, even though I knew that most people post pictures of the good times and rarely post updates of the crummy ones. Looking at Facebook allowed me to enter a state of jadedness; it was my virtual escape. But being in a constant state of "whatever" is not the same as a healthy habit of learning to sweat the small stuff.... I felt like a complete failure, and the longer I brooded, the longer I remained frustrated with my inability to handle the stress.
I laid down on the couch for a nap, but I was too wound up to fall asleep. Needless to say, I did not feel rejuvinated when everyone woke up.
By bedtime I was running on fumes. The finish line was in sight: just one book, one half-hearted prayer, and lights out (cross your fingers they stay in bed). Elisabeth came back from the bookshelf with her book choice and I sighed deeply. She had chosen a children's book, written in German, based on folklore from my father's small hometown village in Switzerland. Normally I would have delighted in sharing a piece of our family's heritage with her, but tonight I just wanted a short and quick story. This particular story was on the longer side, and I usually read it to them in German, giving a brief summary after every page in English, which meant an even longer story. I debated just summarizing each page in English, but I knew they would not allow me to get away with short-cutting it.
So I propped up a pillow behind my back, took a deep breath, and started to read. They cuddled on either side of me with their legs curled up and leaning on my belly. Elisabeth had her two middle fingers in her mouth, a habit she has had since she was born. Even though I read in German, they listened intently, and I felt them relax against my body. Perhaps it was the artful illustrations, perhaps it was the cadence of my voice, or perhaps it was simply the end of a trying day and they were beginning to let sleepiness overtake them....or perhaps they started to relax as they felt me relax, as my angry and sarcastic words had to take a backseat to the clever words of the text. It was the most peaceful part of the day.
In the morning Elisabeth came into my bed to snuggle, as she does every morning. She climbed over me and buried herself deep in the blankets next to me, sucking on those same two fingers, her forehead nestled close to mine. Sometimes she narrates all the thoughts in her head, abruptly ending the morning slumber, but today she just lay there. I dozed back to sleep listening to her breath and finger sucking, the softness of her skin a gentle reminder of her presence. The only way I can interpret her action is that it was the softest and sweetest act of forgiveness, one of the most perfect acts a childlike faith can execute.
In that moment I started to pray. I didn't run down the list of things I need to do, should probably do, might do.....and add prayer to it. There are some days that I have the mental focus to order my day first thing in the morning, and on those days fitting in prayer is pretty easy, and my day goes well. But this particular morning I was still feeling overtired, upset, and with Elisabeth gently breathing next to me, undeserving. I was in no place to organize tasks in my head. I finally realized that despite the emotional and mental chaos, I can, and MUST, incorporate prayer into the day. And even though it may not fit perfectly on my agenda, prayer can be done amidst the dirty kitchen, unmade bed, and unfolded laundry. And yes, even during a morning snuggle. Especially during a morning snuggle.
Before kids, I used to get up with my alarm, sit with my hot cup of coffee (programmed from the night before), and pray through a running list of things in my head. I made sure everything was covered. With little ones I have opted for catching as much sleep as possible in the mornings, and therefore the set-time prayer schedule has been hard to pin down. Even though I know in my head prayer can happen whenever and however, it has admittedly been difficult for me to fully comprehend the power of unplanned prayer. I am beginning to realize that my day goes better when prayer is on my to-do list, because I am in control of my agenda. And yet, on the days when I feel hopelessly out of control, the desperate prayers at the random times get me through the day with so much more grace because it is my ultimate confession that God is in control.
So I prayed in the moment without any structure, without any memorized morning offering, without any mental list of the types of things I should pray for. I simply begged God for patience for the day, at least more patience than I had the day before. I told Him how grateful I am for this little body snuggled up close to mine, and even though she's here before the sun is up, I know that someday I will miss these moments. I asked St. Francois de Sales to pray for me, to pray that I would go through the day with a spirit of gentleness.
For the rest of the day, I was so much calmer . We went to the preschool story hour at the town library and they girls were wonderful. I didn't even bark at them when we arrived 10 minutes late. They let me help them with the craft activity without demanding they do it their way. They sat with the other kids and sang songs with big smiles. They politely ate their snack, and even cleaned up on their own, even though I was preoccupied with their little brother. Lunchtime went smoothly, and even that blasted transition from lunch to naptime was a breeze. I believe they sensed a calmer, more relaxed mom, and thus didn't have the need to push back or engage in a preschool power struggle. They knew they had my undivided attention (as opposed to my preoccupied, worrisome, overwhelmed attention), and therefore did not have to resort to getting my attention through bad behavior. Naptime was long and peaceful. I did not feel worn out, but had enough energy to pop in an exercise DVD. The house was just as messy, the disorderly piles of random clothes and toys still taunted me, but I let it go, because I had admitted that I can't do everything.....and I allowed God to take care of the rest.
The beauty of prayer is that any and every activity can be consecrated to God, whether it be changing a poopy diaper, picking up broken crayons, and all the other mundane tasks that are a part of the day. It doesn't have to be a perfectly quiet and uninterrupted period of time. I am beginning to learn that there is much peace and even holiness in the daily chaos of motherhood. I like to think that God is more pleased with the desperate, I-can-only-get-through-the-day-by-your-grace prayers than the regimented I've-got-the-day-already-ordered-and-God-happens-to-be-the-first-thing-on-the-list-prayers.
Being a wife and mom has been the most unstructured, messy, and unpredictable chapter of my life, and it has been the greatest, most sanctifying blessing I could have ever been given.