I don’t think I could even begin to count the number of times I’ve received comments (or worse, looks) while in the grocery store, drugstore, or pharmacy that sound exactly like this: “Oh my… you have your hands full.” Of course, such comments usually seem to come when I’m either blissfully unaware of how ridiculous a scene my three children and I might be or when I’m utterly exhausted and have given in to all of my children’s crying and am allowing them all to eat of out unpurchased cereal boxes, while explaining to my almost-seven-year-old that it is NOT stealing because we are planning to pay for them, meanwhile praying that my headache subsides and that my one-year-old doesn’t choke on the handful of high-fructose-corn-syrup pellets he’s just shoved into his mouth.
Despite painstaking trips to the grocery store that take 510 times longer than they might take the average child-less individual, having children opens up a life to experiences that would never be possible without them. Our children open our eyes to all different ways of seeing things, they bless us by letting us watch them learn to live and interact with each other and the world at large and they make us smile and help us find joy when life might otherwise seem kind of like a dismal and lonely Sunday afternoon.
Having children (specifically three children) also means that at any given moment, one’s home features scenes that bear direct semblance to the SuperNanny previews that make all of us grimace. Mornings where no one wants to get ready and everyone is late because someone took someone else’s turn to open the door. Nights where all three children scream, in unison, for over an hour, refuse to eat the first ACTUAL (not from a bag or box) vitamin-rich, balanced meal you have taken time to assemble and bake (with visions of winning mother-of-the life award when your children are older) and then give earnest warnings to your husband when he arrives home: “Just so you know – Mom made a really disgusting dinner tonight.”
But perhaps worse than any chaotic moment of misbehaviors, there is: the stomach flu.
Of course, the actual flu is horrible. It is an awful feeling to extend your hands in unparalleled panic in order to catch the vomit coming from your three-year-old child, to go through rounds of vomit trying not to hurl, unable to sleep, praying that your washing machine doesn’t break, all the while dreading when the next child is going to start vomiting… or worse when YOU might start to vomit.
I think the average flu lasts about 24 hours – maybe slightly more or slightly less and when you consider the actual hours that represents, ONE DAY, doesn’t actually sound that horrible. But any parent knows that it isn’t JUST one day. The days before and after are also rightly considered days of hell. Somehow children seem to have this ability to SENSE that they are going to get sick days in advance, and start fitfully sleeping, waking up for snacks, crying that they are not tired and refusing to be quiet almost as if they believe that we, as parents, need a serious round of parenting calisthenics, in order to prepare for the upcoming trenches of sleeplessness, running for buckets, sanitizing of all surfaces (non-porous & otherwise), hand washing and endless piles of laundry.
The nights following the flu are equally as horrible, in addition to the fact that you are now indescribably sleep deprived as well as riddled with fear that crying = vomit. Given recent history, your children have realized that they actually get to CHOOSE to sleep while also realizing that their cries of pity and your fears of their malnourishment elicit your endless empathetic offers to comfort them; offers which mainly consist of Jell-O, carbonated beverages and cartoons.
(panicked parent just startled out of deep sleep): “What’s wrong honey? Do you need to throw up? Where’s the bucket? Do you know where the bucket is? Just try to hold it in… Do you know where the bucket is?”
(crying child): “I want some soda”
“Do you need to throw up?”
“No. I want some soda.”
“No. You cannot have soda.”
“But you let me have some last night”
“But last night you were sick, now you’re not and you need to drink water”
“But I don’t like water. I like soda.”
“You cannot have soda. You need to have water. The doctor said that you need to have water. AND SLEEP.”
“But I want soda”
“Honey, you cannot have soda… Here – take a drink of water…”
“But WHY????? I want soda” ::LOUD SCREAMS LIKE THAT CAUSED FROM SEVERE PAIN::
While the waking up is painful, it’s the reality that one of the other children will be waking up for the day in just a few short hours that really brings one close to the brink of tears. It’s in these moments that one begins to ask themselves how they are going to actually be able to drive without endangering others on the road tomorrow while commuting to work, how they are going to deliver any presentation or make conversation with other coworkers with any form of coherence, or really how they are going to survive raising ANY of their other children. Memories of life before becoming a parent seem non-existent and thoughts of friends or family who have no children and actually get to choose to sleep in or to stay up or to sleep for eight… or even six uninterrupted hours almost cause envy to the point of anger.
Nights like these often end with early groggy mornings of neck cramps and shivering and piles of your drool on a pink and purple stuffed animal, because out of complete and utter exhaustion, in refusal to give in on the soda, you just eventually crawled into the miniature bed and laid next to your three-year-old, using one of her 17 stuffed animals as a pillow, on top of her blankets, and within three seconds fell asleep to the rhythm of her nursing her pacifier (a battle that you have not even begun to fight). But one glance down at her precious chubby hand resting on top of yours, and one glance over to the profile of her sweet round cheeks, with curls gracing her forehead… and somehow you are lost… somehow everything else disappears and every battle, every missed minute of sleep, every bucket (and missed bucket) of vomit, and every moment of self-questioning is completely and utterly worth it.
To all the people in the store who have shaken their heads or commented, I usually smile. Because the truth is… having children is totally worth it… hands full and all.