Two days in the life of a Mum. One ordinary… one extraordinary. One just plain ol’ crappy, one…. well. How to describe it?
Terrifying? Life-changing? Is that too dramatic?
I’ll let you decide.
These are the days that shaped my world last week, and how I’ve changed because of them.
I know today will be crazy right from the start. An over-scheduled, chasing my tail kind of day.
I’m tired from the get-go. Restless legs and a three-to-four-hour stretch of insomnia during the night is a regular occurrence now at 33 weeks pregnant. I’m beginning to think I’ll be less exhausted with a newborn. Hubby makes me a coffee. Bless him. The boys leave for school with Dad in the usual Friday whirl of lunches-library bag-homework-do you have your hat-I SAID get your SOCKS on-where’s your hat-clean your teeth-hurry UP Dad’s in the car-WHERE are your SOCKS??
We leave shortly after for Miss Three’s swimming lesson, and due to the craziness of our brand-new Friday schedule, we won’t be back home until 5pm. I try to pack for every eventuality for our big day out. Swimming stuff, water bottle for playgroup, morning snack for one, iPad to entertain Miss Three at her brother’s therapy session at lunchtime, afternoon snacks for all of them, etc etc.
I think I’ve done okay.
The wheels fall off with surprising speed.
It starts with the tantrum from Hades on the way to swimming. A previously unmentioned-all-morning teensy-tiny sore on Allegra’s foot triggers sudden sheer panic at the prospect of getting into the water. I carry her in from the car, wailing. When she sees the pool she starts screaming blue murder right in my ear, so loud my head rings. I do a pretty good Mary Poppins impression, but no amount of cheerful coaxing will get her anywhere near the water. The teacher suggests rescheduling the lesson. It’s barely 9am and already the stupid squeaky-new schedule is turning to shizzle. Bless her heart, swim teach pulls out the distraction of the century in the form of a toy pirate ship and some REAL treasure to hunt for – gold money!! The screaming finally stops and swim class begins. Better late than never.
When she gets out I realise I’ve forgotten to pack dry clothes to change into. I mean, really?! #pregnantbrain
No time to go home; we’ve double booked the swim lesson on top of the start of playgroup, twenty minutes drive away. I squish her into an emergency set of clothes I unearth from my handbag. Shirt two sizes too small. It’s been in there for a while, apparently. Assess the effect. More than a hint of the abandoned child about this outfit. I bundle my orphan Annie into the car and tantrum #2 begins instantly because she wants to watch something on my phone and the battery is dead. (Already). I give my Mary Poppins voice another go as I explain this (over her wails of anguish) and distract her with food.
Things don’t improve much at playgroup. Tantrum #3 is because I won’t give her the second snack I’ve packed in my bag. She’s already had one on the way, and the table at Playgroup is loaded with iced sticky bun, watermelon, and chocolate chip cookies. Besides, I need that snack for this afternoon! I’m trying to be prepared, dammit! She’s kicking on the floor and doesn’t appreciate my logic, OR my increasingly strained not-very-Mary Poppins tone.
Tantrums #4, 5 & 6: She gets stuck on the slide. Repeatedly. At least she’s stopped clinging to me by this stage and gone to play. It only took forty minutes for this to occur. #winning
I can’t believe I was naive enough to think three years between siblings would be a “nice gap”. My other three were so close together that I thought this would be a walk in the park. Meanwhile, baby #4 is due in 5 weeks via C-section, and I still have a very high-maintenance tantrum-thrower.
Surely she should be over this phase by now. But no. It only seems to be escalating.
I daydream about a 5-week behaviour boot camp that will transform her into an angel before baby arrives. I cannot handle this awfulness as WELL as a crying baby. If there was a legal limit on the amount of screaming and crying one mother should have to endure, my kids would all be in jail by now. Don’t they understand that my patience quota has been completely used up? No. They don’t. They just keep on poking the bear.
My kids have no sense of danger.
We leave playgroup early in order to make the thirty minute drive into town to pick up middle child for his Occupational Therapy appointment. Allegra needs an hour’s sleep on a good day. Today, three hours would’ve been preferable. She naps in the car for 20 minutes and wakes up crying when we get to school. It’s a rush to make the appointment on time, but we get there. Tantrum #7 occurs when I won’t let her play in the OT room where Aran is working with his therapist. I take her to the playroom full of toys instead and she wails like it’s the Gulag. I am such a mean, mean mother. Exasperated, I ignore her and read a magazine from 2014 about a couple expecting conjoined twins. They’re so excited to meet their baby girls. I Google what happened to them and learn that the twins died 19 days after birth. I cry. Thank you, pregnancy hormones.
Aran is hyper after his session. Probably because it takes place during his school lunch hour, and instead of burning off energy on the playground (which is sorely needed for a kid like him) he has to work on his handwriting. The kids play a noisy, boisterous game while I wait for the receptionist to get off the phone so I can pay. I shush them repeatedly, but “Inside Voice” is not making any sort of appearance today. The lady gets off the phone and I make the kids apologise to her. She raises her eyes at my pregnant belly.
“You’re just a glutton for punishment, aren’t you?”
I agree with a slightly strained smile that I am, indeed, a glutton for punishment. And this isn’t even all of them.
I feel woebegone as I nag the kids out of the building and into the car. Why did I ever think a fourth child was a good idea? I clearly can’t even handle the three I have.
We pull into the shops to pick up some groceries and thus kill time before we’re able to pick up the firstborn from school. Hyper behaviour continues as I scold the kids up and down the aisles. We stop past the chemist on the way out. I haven’t slept in three nights and someone told me Magnesium helps with restless legs. I ask the chemist for Magnesium. I feel proud that I remembered this while I was actually at the shops, instead of at 2am. Tonight, I will sleep!! Huzzah!
She tells me apologetically that because I’m pregnant, I need to clear it with my GP first. I recognise her as the same lady I asked about taking Vitamin B when I was struggling with depression a year ago. She told me the same thing back then about needing to see a GP first, since at that time I was trying to conceive, aaaaand I burst into tears in her shop. I wonder if she recognises me as that crazy emotional lady. I put on a bright smile to reassure her that no tears are forthcoming today. I kind of want to punch her though. Sometimes people just snap, ya know? I picture myself being interrogated in a police room. “It was all because of the restless legs,” I’ll say. “Did you know sleep deprivation is a form of torture?”
Being in prison sounds rather restful, actually. They don’t let children in, do they?
We march out of the shops, me yelling at the kids with gritted teeth to stay with me and not run out into the car park.
We get to school 5 minutes before the bell. (The kids argue all the way there.) I’m proud of myself because I need to be early today if I’m to make it back down to the coast in time for the boys to do their very first lesson of swimming squad. I’m towards the front of the queue of cars, but the queue doesn’t move. Carpark lady who shepherds the kids to the waiting cars is late. Then she’s breaking up a fight. We all sit. I look at my watch. All the people who parked and went in to collect their kids have been and gone. We sit some more. THIRTY-FIVE MINUTES it takes from when I pulled into the school grounds till when we pull back onto the highway.
I grit my teeth. We are going to be so late for swimming. At this point I realise I also forgot the boys togs when I packed that morning, so we’ll have to go home before we go to the pool. We will be beyond late. My stress level rises to boiling point.
Firstborn school son chooses this perfect moment to ask if I brought the iPads. (Daddy usually picks up the kids on Fridays and this is their Friday treat.) I explain that I was not thinking of Friday afternoon treats when I left home at 8.30 that morning. I can’t even pretend to care. Firstborn bursts into tears and starts to whine simultaneously. I grip the steering wheel. I’ve done my crying quota today, kid. It was all used up by 10am. I give the kids the one iPad to share and the squabbling begins. We arrive at the pool twenty minutes late for a forty-minute session and the coach asks the kids where their goggles and fins are. Dammit – we were just at home a few minutes ago to collect togs and towels, how did I forget these essentials??!
I am an incompetent mother. Another strike for #pregnancybrain.
My face turns red and I bend very busily over Allegra’s shoes so I can pretend I didn’t hear him ask. It’s the first day of this new crazy over-scheduled routine, maybe things will get better next time? I resolve to type a list of everything we’ll need on a Friday and blow it up super-sized to stick to the wall.
I let the kids have some free play time after their lesson because it seems easier than having to get them out of the pool and actually deal with them. But it’s getting late so eventually it’s time to go. The kids have other ideas. They keep jumping back in and disappearing under the water while I call, my voice getting louder and increasingly strident. I am one of THOSE mothers. I feel sure everyone is secretly judging me. The whole day has been a disaster and I’m cranky, cranky, cranky as I herd my little ferals home.
Mary Poppins has disappeared for good, and in her place is the Wicked Witch of the West. I snap at everyone, somehow survive arsenic hour and get them all to bed, then spend the rest of the evening feeling guilty for being so irritable with my kids.
It’s crappy days like these that make me think I’m crazy having a fourth child. The kids’ behaviour is doing my head in. Worse, I feel like I’m failing as a mother. I should be doing better. I studied child behaviour management at university, for heaven’s sake. I used to manage a class of 30 children with ease and style. How is it that these three mini dictators have so completely unraveled me? I’m a mess.
I cry a little into my pillow, then fall asleep exhausted, only to wake again (as usual) at 2am, unable to go back to sleep. In the dark, belly baby somersaults and kicks. My legs twitch. I stare at the ceiling and sigh.
I’m feeling hormonal today. Hubby leaves early for music practice at church, and I drag myself out of bed to get the kids’ breakfasts. It’s like wading through wet cement. I haven’t had a decent night’s sleep in 7.5 months, and it’s all finally caught up on me this morning. Everything makes me want to cry. I keep tearing up unexpectedly over absolutely nothing. Thanks again, pregnancy hormones.
We run late to church, purely because I am moving about as slowly as a toddler who’s been told to tidy up. I have no motivation left today for this motherhood gig. What I really want to do is call in sick and spend the rest of the day in bed watching chick flicks, eating chocolate and crying indulgently. Everyone needs a break sometime. I’m happy to take leave without pay from motherhood. Okay, boss? #fair’sfair #dreaming
At church I keep having to disappear to the bathroom because I’m crying. About nothing. Did I mention that? Nothing at all. It’s a little embarrassing. #pregnantproblems
Hubby stays after church to pack up his music gear, and I take two of the kids with me to the shops. We’re going to a church potluck lunch, so I need to pick up some food to share. I check my watch – heaps of time to kill. We shop for new clothes and shoes for the kids, sorely needed as they’ve grown out of everything. Time evaporates, the way it does, and suddenly I’ve gone from being early to once again running late. I load the kids into the car, feeling flustered. My head feels like it’s stuffed with cotton wool. I tear up again. Why?! Seriously, I have no idea.
I program the address into the GPS and we start to drive. Jaxon and Allegra are taking turns hassling me about stuff and bickering at each other. Allegra starts to whine. She’s HUNGRY. It doesn’t MATTER that we’ll be eating lunch in approximately 5 minutes. She’s hungry NOW. My hands tighten on the steering wheel. I’m so distracted. My head is so full of noise. We’re late and the adrenalin of that is prickling at me and the kids are whining and where on EARTH am I going? I don’t know this area at all. I glance down at the GPS while snapping something to try and keep the kids quiet so I can concentrate, because I just can’t THINK –
A bang like the world imploding.
The impact throws us all sideways, violently.
I hear Jaxon and Allegra screaming. We’re spinning around, tyres screeching, a crash, we had a crash, we’ve been hit.
Whirl of vertigo and metallic noise like one long drawn-out scream.
The car comes to a shuddering halt. The kids are wailing in fright. I open the door, what happened, how did that happen? I’m in shock, shaking. The world seems flat and very bright. The kids, are the kids okay? They’re screaming, screaming, but they’re fine, I think they’re fine. The car has spun around and is facing back across a highway.
The highway I just drove straight across without looking.
I drove straight through a give way sign without even seeing it and across a major highway.
My mouth is very dry. I can’t believe this is happening. How could I do that? How did that happen? How?
A car pulls up behind us and a woman runs up to me breathlessly, am I okay? I don’t know, I don’t know. I think I’m okay. I’m crying a little. Hands shaking, shaking. The car is in the middle of the road and I’m worried because I need to move it. I try to turn the car around and pull off to the shoulder but the car is not working, something is wrong, it won’t move, a weird scraping sound, maybe I’m on the gutter? The woman is gesturing at me. “Leave it! Leave it! It’s okay!” I get out and see that the back half of the car is lying crumpled on the road, the wheel axel twisted under at a sick angle like a broken leg. I unbuckle the kids, get them to the side of the road. They’re sobbing. I hug them tight, my precious kids, I am so sorry. The woman, the sweet stranger, picks up Allegra and cuddles her. Her husband is on the phone and she tells me he’s calling emergency.
My belly is aching, but I feel bub move. Thank God.
I go back to the car and switch on my hazards. I’m still worried about my car in the middle of the wrong side of the road, facing the oncoming traffic, it seems so wrong, so bad. I did that.
The car that hit us limps further down the road and pulls over, crumpled and battered. A young couple come over. I’m apologising breathlessly, I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry. I can’t believe what I’ve done. They’re okay. Thank God, they’re okay.
They have a four-month-old baby in the car.
I’m tearful and flustered and falling apart. They’re nice to me, undeservedly, probably because I had kids in my car as well and the kids are crying and I’m heavily pregnant and a mess. They tell me it’s okay. Their baby slept through the whole thing.
Oh, God. What if?
The thought is sickening.
What if I’d hurt that baby? What if I’d hurt my own kids? I would never forgive myself. My fault. All my fault.
Sweet stranger lady gets a teddy bear out of the car for Allegra. I smooth Jaxon’s hair with a trembling hand. He’s still crying, my poor darling. So scared. His head hurts where he knocked it. I need to call hubby, need him to be here. I get the phone out of the car and it rings in my hand, it’s Stephen, where are we? We’re late to lunch.
I tell him, my voice unsteady, and the world slows a little to the sound of his caught breath on the other end of the line. One of those defining moments you never expect until it actually happens.
“Babe, we had an accident. But it’s okay. We’re all okay.”
He’s on his way. The world rocks and steadies slightly. When he comes he holds me and does not let go. I bury myself in his arms, drinking in his strength and comfort.
The police arrive and start diverting traffic. The fire engine comes. Then the ambulance, to check everyone over.
We’re all okay.
I’ve been having contractions since the accident. Sunday and Monday, every two minutes for hours on end. Not full-on labour pain, just Braxton Hicks, tight and uncomfortable, a clenching ache that builds and recedes. The regularity of it worries me. It wasn’t like that before. I’m only 33 weeks. Too early, baby, too early.
I call my obstetrician and he wants to monitor baby at the hospital with the CTG. I go in for an afternoon appointment, but after an hour strapped to the CTG machine, doc says he wants to admit me overnight, just to be on the safe side. The good news is baby is healthy and happy, but they’ll give me steroids for baby’s lungs – just in case.
I didn’t come prepared for an overnight stay. We live too far away for Stephen and the kids to duck home and grab anything. I kiss my kids goodbye, then call a friend who brings around emergency clothes, toothbrush, hairbrush.
I read a little, watch a little TV. Gradually, the contractions settle and stop.
Mostly, I sit in bed for hour upon hour, and I think.
I think about Friday, just a few short days ago, when I had such a crappy day. I think of the tantrums and the stressed-out schedule and my impatience and my sweet three-year-old daughter who has been driving her mother insane with her constant demands and whining and crying. I think of my recent ambivalence about this pregnancy. I was so excited at the start – and yet recently, along with my accumulating tiredness, there’s been growing panic about how I’m going to manage four kids, the niggling thought that perhaps I was wrong, shouldn’t have pushed so hard for a fourth; maybe it was all a really bad idea.
I think of how things could have gone, only yesterday when I inexplicably drove straight across a busy major highway without even looking up from the map.
I think about how easily I could have lost it all in the space of a heartbeat, the space of one indrawn breath. Just one momentary lapse in concentration that could have so quickly and irrevocably altered our entire world forever.
A split second’s difference in timing. An impact further forward, on a passenger side door. A bigger car like the Landcruisers with bull bars that are all over these coastal roads instead of the small bubble car that hit us.
God help us, a truck.
It could so easily have been so different. So horribly, tragically different.
I think of my crappy, totally ordinary day on Friday, and I’m suddenly overwhelmed with gratitude for it. For all of it. The tantrums, the whining, the trials and the everyday challenges of motherhood, even the relentless pregnancy insomnia and tiredness, because what an astounding privilege it is to have these kids, alive and well, this healthy baby kicking and moving inside my belly.
The very ordinariness of the crappy day is exactly what makes it such a blessing. On the same day that I’m struggling with pregnancy hormones and whining kids, someone else somewhere in the world has lost their child.
Someone who would give anything at all to have just one more ordinary, crappy day.
I think of when they told us our daughter might have a brain tumour. I think of the couple in the magazine who lost their conjoined twins. And of course, I know it wasn’t just pregnancy hormones that made me drip tears onto those glossy pages, because how can I ever read a story about twins without thinking of my sister and brother in law, who lost their precious little baby girl, born at 24 weeks?
I think of how blessed we are to be alive. To be able to do the mundane and the difficult, because really, none of it is truly difficult. The years will pass and the tantrums will stop and one day I WILL have a full night’s sleep again, and in the meantime, there’s always coffee.
And I want to raise my glass and make a toast to the crappy day, because sitting here in this hospital bed, I’ve realised what a blessing it truly is.
Crappy days, great days, mundane days, repetitive days, days of tantrums, days of fun and tickles, days of sweet sleepy prayers whispered into grown-up ears, days of little chubby legs and potty accidents and way too much crying, days of whining, days of bone-deep exhaustion, days of fixing boo-boos and fixing snacks and folding laundry and wiping up spills and reading stories and living life.
Yes. Here’s to the ordinary crappy day. Because somehow the maths works out all funny.
Put them all together, and they add