Well, I’m back!
Back from Italy, back from Rome, back from the black hole of blogosphere oblivion where I have been dwelling in a fog of jetlag and exhaustion. Ever since we touched down in Denver I’ve been playing catch-up on All of the Things–on housework, youth sports (oops, did I miss the deadline for indoor soccer signups?), kid dental appointments and surgeries, meal planning, radio shows, and parent teacher conferences.
Oh yes, I had a parent teacher conference less than twelve hours after our plane landed. That is no joke, people! (Thank goodness it was a good conference about a good kid doing good things at school. My sleep-deprived brain could not have handled anything more! Or, maybe I should say, less.)
I love to travel, I really do, but as my children are getting older it’s becoming increasingly difficult. Probably because they DO stuff, important-to-them stuff, things-which-cannot-be-missed stuff. And though my fearless parents somehow manage to shuttle them all around to the aforementioned stuff (and probably do a better job of getting them there on time than I typically do), it’s a lot to juggle and keep track of, and perhaps most of all, I hate missing out on all the stuff. Soccer games of determined eight- and eleven-year-olds , my six-year-old’s first meeting of Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, and then all the daily touch and go for which gelato and cappuccino are, surprisingly, no substitute. Not that I’m complaining. Because gelato and cappuccino.
Basically I had a great time in Rome, but I also love my life. As is. In all its messy and mundane glory. It’s occasionally tempting to sit back and think hey, were it not for all these small people running around I could be doing other stuff, but all told I don’t want to be doing other stuff. While we were off visiting Assisi and traversing the Amalfi Coast, I honestly really missed the late-night knocks on my bedroom door from the two-year-old, and I missed watching everybody pile out of the car at school in the morning with lunches and backpacks and “I love you Mom!”s. Also, sticky hugs. Can’t get enough of those.
It’s good, I think, to get away sometimes. Even if just for a couple of hours, it’s good to miss your fighting kids and your broken dishwasher, and your hanging-on-by-a-thread oven door. (That being said, January kitchen remodel, you cannot come soon enough.)
We attended an All Saints Day party yesterday afternoon, where we really didn’t know a whole lot of anyone. And compared to everyone else there, we had A LOT OF KIDS, which is funny because mostly we spend time with people we know super well and who, even if they don’t have A LOT OF KIDS, are accustomed to us and our special brand of crazy. And they love us anyway. So I spent a large portion of the afternoon verifying that my people were keeping it together and keeping up appearances that we’re just your average family, even though the truth is that we’re really kind of…weird. My kids’ saint costumes were all thrown together from random items found and scrounged in various closets, the stuffed raccoon my son used to complete his Saint Francis of Assisi get-up is extra funny to all of us because we had a family of real raccoons living in our house recently, my two-year-old likes to glare at other little kids in an effort to intimidate them and establish her alpha dominance, and none of us bats an eye when it comes to stuff like Down syndrome, melt-downs, happy-but-noisy car-rides, and the bikes and scooters forever littering our yard. Sometimes we can barely make it past our little mudroom and into the house, for all the shoes and jackets lying all over the ground. And once you do get into the house? Beware that oven door hanging down onto the ground.
Over the years and the babies I’ve had to learn to pick my battles, to let go, to give stuff up. To be okay with fingerprints on the windows and a kid going to school in an ill-fitting shirt every now and again. I am accustomed to the occasional tantrum, display of sassy tween attitude, and that weird stuff your kid does that makes you say “WHY ARE THEY DOING THAT BECAUSE I NEVER TAUGHT THEM TO DO THAT”. For a long time I was afraid to “be okay” with the whole “good enough” parenting philosophy, because I thought it meant I would be a bad mom or that my kids would wind up in a juvenile detention center by the time they graduated from Kindergarten. And I would drive myself crazy trying to control, account for, and explain every little deviation from what I perceived was the norm for proper children’s behavior. But now? Now I realize that accepting things as they come, allowing for mistakes and not taking every single thing as a reflection on my own parenting abilities is actually, well, really healthy. It’s good. It is, ultimately, leaning into life, which is always shifting and changing and unbelievably messy. Maybe we can live under the illusion that we’re in control for a time, but no matter who you are, it remains just that: an illusion.
And I guarantee that if you have enough kids or parent long enough, you’ll figure that out. Your precious little snowflake will point at a lady in the store and yell that she looks like a witch, or your eight year old will toot during adoration, sending All of the Children into a fit of inappropriate laughter, right there in the Real Presence of Jesus–and, if you’re really lucky, the presence of disapproving elderly parishioners. Your kid with ADHD will keep forgetting to bring his sloppy, wrinkled homework page home to work on it, and your dryer vent will be knocked down by children who insist on riding their bikes right up to the front door, no matter how many times you tell them NOT TO DO THAT. You’ll find weird food in your kids’ bedrooms and your cute little two-year-old will pick up, and regularly execute the phrase, “What the heck”.
But I’m convinced that all of that doesn’t automatically mean you’ve lost the fight, given up, or become A Very Bad Mom. It doesn’t mean your kids are destined to be jerks or social deviants or bad Christians. It means, I think, that they are kids. With their own unique personalities, gifts, and quirks. Oh, the quirks! There are so.many.quirks. And so we all walk around comparing ourselves and our kids to other people, our ragtag All Saints Day costumes that include a pair of Dad’s old socks worn around the neck to look like part of a nun’s habit, and we get all insecure because we decide we don’t measure up. Especially if you have a lot of kids, because look: I speak from experience when I say there is just plain nowhere to hide all the quirks when you have eight kids! Someone is inevitably going to be smelling bad, being loud, tattling, or being generally all-around ridiculous and annoying. People see us coming and they’re like, whoa, that is some wild stuff.
And, well, it is.
Kids are wild.
Parenthood is wild.
Life is kind of wild.
You can try all you want to tame your life, but kids will mess it up. Every.single.time.
And in the best, most beautiful way.
Because for every inconvenient or embarrassingly awkward thing my kids do, there are about a million amazing things, too. The way my eight-year-old daughter with Down syndrome cheers on her siblings during their sports events. How my son, in spite of his messy homework, spent a bunch of his scholar dollars he earned at school on cheesy books about child celebrities that he gifts to his sister for her birthday. How that same son accepted all my other daughter’s trick-or-treated Laffy Taffy, in exchange for a bunch of his own better candy, because she can’t eat that taffy with her braces and expander. How she noticed and came and told me how generous he had been, and how much it meant to her. How my other son gets so excited about serving at the altar at Mass, and rings the bells and carries the big crucifix and takes it so seriously. How my kids accept, love, and sacrifice for their siblings with special needs. How my daughter earns awards at school and works so hard at everything she does. How my two-year-old gives out hugs and kisses to her family members even if she tries to act real tough around other kids.
And the thing is that we do have high expectations, I do teach my kids to respect adults and be kind to one another and to get their homework done. There are indeed time-outs and talkings-to for bad behavior, and I tell my daughter no, it’s not okay for toddlers to say “what the heck”, or to smuggle plastic smurf figurines out of the thrift store. I do my best to maintain a relatively orderly and chaos-free home and, overall, we’re doing pretty good. But I also accept that life happens, and that few things about my life as a mom are as pristine and majestic as what you see when you visit a place like St. Peter’s Basilica. Instead, I lead an existence where raccoons invade my attic, and I have to spend hours in uncomfortable IEP meetings every single year, and one of my kids really needs her fingernails clipped but I keep forgetting to do it. My children like a good poop joke and, right as we were leaving the party last evening, several of them filled up plastic cups of water for the five-minute car-ride home–as if we don’t ever give them water–and one of the cups spilled all over the hostess’ floor.
What was it I said about not being able to hide when you have eight kids?
So we journeyed home, disheveled saint costumes and cups of water and all, and then there were showers and good nights and a middle-schooler up late putting finishing touches on an essay about Pope John Paul II, while the toddler fell asleep on the couch. Around midnight or so she knocked on our bedroom door, and my husband made her up a bed on our floor because she tends to kick and punch us in the face when she sleeps with us. Then at 6:50 this morning it was getting up and getting dressed and seeing kids off to school, the start of another wild and crazy week.
Our beautiful, messy, insane-but-incredible normal.
Rome was amazing, but it’s so good to be back.