At one point time, it was a recurring scene in my bathroom.
Saturday. Early evening. We’d just finished a delicious dinner of Penne Pasta and Chicken, that both boys actually ate. It was nearing bedtime. The last leg of the marathon-day of being at home with my boys all day long. Because I tend to fall asleep somewhere between 8:30-9:00 from some kind of deep, tired-to-the-bone cellular exhaustion, I knew if I’d wanted to take a relaxing bath, it was now or never. The boys had gone outside for one last hurrah and my husband had settled himself in his chair to watch a baseball game.
Sneaking upstairs with my allotted one glass of wine per evening, I tip-toed up to the Master bathroom and silently shut the door. I put on Pandora (my Sufjan Stevens Station) and drew a bath. I poured gobs of lavender Bubble Bath into the streaming water and set my wine on the side of the tub. With a head-band keeping my short hair out of my face, I retrieved the package of my Cucumber and Oats mud mask kept in one of the drawers, and liberally applied the lime-green layer all over my face, careful to avoid my eyes and my nostrils. Looking back at myself in the mirror, I was eerily reminded of the scene in Mommy Dearest where Joan Crawford ran around the house in her robe and mud mask screaming, “No more wire hangers!!!”.
Why is it always in our mud-masks and pajamas that our kids decided to mis-behave?
With the bathtub filled with water that I like almost-too-hot, I slowly lower myself in, settle down so the water is up around my neck and take a sweet sip of my wine, my mud mask slowly beginning to harden. I can feel myself relaxing. The hectic day almost behind me. My nerves, taut from 6:30am on, slowly loosening.
But, as any mother knows, it’s dangerous to allow yourself to relax, unless your children have been asleep at least 45 minutes. It is futile to let one’s guard down and allow oneself to enter into the realm of tranquility when bedtime isn’t for another half hour. Honestly, what was I thinking?
I hear the main door downstairs shut with a slam and the sound that always, always follows: “Mom!?”.
My eyelids shoot open in panic as my ears follow the footsteps of my 6-year-old son fervently searching for me downstairs, calling out “Mom” every few seconds. Then, footsteps coming up the stairs. “Mom!?”. I refuse to answer and actually pull the shower curtain all the way across in the hopes that it will serve as a ruse.
But alas, I hear the bedroom door open, sneakers coming across the carpet and in one swift move, the bathroom door flies open, hitting the wall behind it, as my 6-year-old comes in and announces to the shower curtain, “I have to poop”.
“Seriously?” the shower curtain responds, not hiding its irritation whatsoever. “Seriously? We have three bathrooms in this house and you have to poop in this one?”.
Oblivious to my tone, he gets comfortable on the toilet and matter-of-factly responds, “Well, I don’t like to poop alone. I like having company”. Plop, plop, plop. The tranquil ambiance of my Bath time slowly receding. I take another long draw from my wine glass as he proceeds to tell me all about the imaginary game of “camping” that they are playing outside by the brook that I mind-numbingly listen to.
To my dismay, another set of familiar footsteps are nearing. Up the stairs, across the carpet and in the doorway. “Mom!?” I hear my 5-year-old son bellow. And all at once, the shower curtain is swiftly thrown open. I’m smacked in the face with a pungent layer of poop that the shower curtain had been holding at bay, and standing before me is my 38-pound twig of a son, top-heavy with our required 4-wheeler helmet that probably weighs as much as he does, and often throws him off-balance.
“Mom, can you do my helmet?” he asks, tipping his head back to reveal the disconnected straps. I down another gulp of wine and reach up to thread the straps that I have to fasten and un-fasten a hundred times a day.
“Ach! Ugh!” he starts gagging. “Mom, not so tight. It’s too tight. “.
My 5-year-old attempts to turn around, but bumps into my 6-year-old who (is apparently finished) hollers at him to “watch what you’re doing!” and the boys proceed to fight in my tiny bathroom that no longer smells like the calming aroma of lavender, but now smells like a ripe mixture of bowel movements, dirt, 4-wheeler gasoline and boy-sweat.
I sharply pull the curtain back across the tub as the sounds of their bickering move back across the carpet, down the hall and down the stairs. I reach for my empty glass of wine and sadly realize that I binge-drank it in less than 10 minutes. My water is now luke-warm and the bubbles, almost all gone. I sigh and get out, Sufjan singing a melancholy song, mocking me and my sad attempt to foster some kind of peace in the house. I abruptly shut him off as the water loudly drains and I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror, my mud mask crumbling off and falling into the sink.
It was a moment such as this that catapulted me into this new phase of Motherhood that could be aptly named “Go Away”. Much to my dismay, I had always envisioned myself calmly and warmly guiding my boys toward Independence. Holding firm in my stance that they do things for themselves, trusting in their abilities. Ushering them toward Self-Reliance with a smile and wink.
Like everything else in my life, it is unfolding in ways I had never imagined. Sitting in front of my computer frantically typing away at notes or trying to get some kind of work done, they barge in wielding an Ice Pop and some scissors, “Can you open this please?”, obeying my strict orders not to use sharp scissors alone.
But alas, I’ve noticed that the longer I am a mother, the lower my standards sink.
“Do it yourself” I say now, my desire to not have to immediately drop what I’m doing now trumps the likelihood that they will sever a finger. I’m just willing to take that risk. I know scissors cannot cut through bone and we have a lifetime supply of Star Wars band-aids if they do in fact nick themselves in the process.
In the last few months, I’ve noticed myself saying the following on a daily basis:
Do it yourself. Yes you can.
Get off me.
I don’t care.
In sharp contrast to the idealistic fantasy I had of warmly shepherding my boys toward autonomy with the confidence and assurance that they needed, it more closely resembles that of a Bouncer tossing two drunken delinquents out into the dusty parking lot of a dive bar rife with Hell’s Angels motorcycles. Why can nothing go as planned? Why must I always envision aspects of motherhood as a Utopia when I know damn well it’s more akin to the final scene in Reservoir Dogs?
I guess no matter how my boys separate from me and arrive at the gates of self-sufficiency (whether it’s with suitcases packed and smiles upon their faces, or my foot on their behinds sending them skidding along the gravel), it doesn’t really matter, as long as they get there.
At least, that’s what I like to tell myself.