I mentioned I was taking a blogging break, but what I didn’t bring up was the fact that my family was heading to rural Maine for a much-needed respite. There was no TV. No Internet. No real bathroom (just an outhouse at the end of the pathway through the woods). No distractions (well, except for the distractions moms just can’t get away from like toddlers trying to kill themselves at every opportunity). No makeup. No deadlines. And absolutely no worries.
But there were plenty of wily frogs, but they were no match for Madeline. Our fearless hunter was constantly in search of unsuspecting critters (mostly frogs but sometimes Daddy Long Leg Spiders or bright green inchworms). When she’d scout one out, she’d crouch low and wait until she could close her hand on top of it. Then she’d cup the hapless victim gently in her hand, show off her plunder, and then finally release the little guy.
At one point, Madeline told her Aunt Rachel, “I’m going to marry a frog and have frog babies. I love frogs.” I just hope her chosen frog doesn’t turn into a prince when she kisses him because I honestly think she’d be disappointed.
She also waded in the shallows of the lake Dave’s family’s cabin overlooks and unsuccessfully attempted to catch minnows. The little ones got away, but the big one did not. On a fishing expedition with her Pop, they snagged a large bass. Pop was about to throw it back, but the poor sucker had no chance for survival once his beloved granddaughter said, “I want to eat it, Pop.” She then proceeded to watch him chop off its head and clean the fish. She told me all about the process despite me telling her (really I was begging; folks, I’m a former vegetarian) I’d rather be spared the details of the fish’s unfortunate fate. Where did this child come from? Growing up, I enjoyed being outdoors and was quite content when I went fishing with my dad and brothers – that is until we actually caught a fish. Then I panicked. “Don’t hurt it! Oh my gosh! Is the hook stuck in its mouth? Dad, put it back in the water before it dies!”
While I wasn’t the willing witness to the beheading of fish, I did enjoy long walks through the woods and helped Madeline discover fairy houses with mica mirrors and moss beds that were hidden in the woods. We found mushrooms that were resplendent orange and reminded me of something out of Willy Wonka’s edible forest. We stumbled upon the tiniest newt hiding at the base of a tree. We saw chipmunks and red squirrels scurrying through the ferns. We drew pictures in her nature journal and read stories at bedtime by firelight.
All the while in the back of mind I couldn’t help but wonder why back at home I feel so rushed and don’t seem to appreciate simple pleasures enough or to notice the outdoors. Part of it has to do with the fact that we live in a city, but there’s still nature around us. Madeline notices it all the time – from the earthworm in our small garden bed to the butterfly flitting by us in a parking lot, but I feel like I’m always saying, “Come on. Let’s go,” either with my words or my actions.
She hands me treasures – pebbles, strands of pinestraw, sometimes even bugs. Too often I scarcely look at them and either surreptitiously get rid of them or toss them into what we call her nature bowl (not the bugs, of course), which is just what the name implies: a bowl for her myriad natural artifacts.
Back home my little ones, I hate to admit, sometimes have to compete with technology. There’s always another email to send, another article to research, or a phone call to make.
When I was in Maine, I had time to reevaluate my priorities, to think about how busy I’d become (through no one’s fault but my own). At the start of our trip, I was obsessing over a stain on Madeline’s clothing when she looked at me and said, “Don’t worry about it. We’re at camp. It doesn’t matter.” And that dirt smudge didn’t matter. The only thing that did was spending time with my family. Isn’t that the way it should be most of the time?
I’m always going to have things pulling me in a million directions. There are everyday tasks like laundry and preparing meals that must be done. But there are other things that can wait.
One of the biggest challenges for me since becoming a mom is not being able to finish tasks. I was always used to getting things done. I’d make a to-do list and I’d start doing things. By the end of the day, everything was taken care of, and I felt accomplished.
I still make to-do lists, but I find I’m perpetually frustrated because I can’t ever seem to get everything done. Sometimes I’ll be trying to do something when Rae wakes up unexpectedly from a nap or Madeline says she needs help with going potty and I want to scream, “Not now! Just let me finish.” There are days when Madeline says, “I’m hungry,” and I want to say, “Well then, go make yourself a sandwich. Can’t you see I’m busy?”
At the same time, my kids are saying, “Can’t you see I need you?”
I’ve used this analogy before, but the 5 and under set (and all kids at some level) are black holes of needs. As their moms, we’re fillers. Just when I think I’ve satisfied every need imaginable and can finally work on a project, a child needs me. It can be infuriating. But maybe the source of my frustration is not my children but how I approach my day and what I see as needing to be done.
I’ll always make to-do lists. You can’t take the anal out of a Type-Aer. Even in Maine I had some things I wanted to do (like sleep more and read a few novels). However, I clearly wasn’t overly ambitious there (shouldn’t sleep always be on my to-do list?). If I was interrupted, it wasn’t as big of a deal. I gave myself plenty of time to just spend time with my kids. I realize it has to be that way right now in my life. I’m not suggesting my kids can’t learn to play by themselves or fix themselves a snack. A major part of being a mom is teaching children how to be self-sufficient. But sometimes I think I expect too much out of both the kids and me.
My week in the woods has made me realize that I have to work on two things:
First, I have to learn to be less ambitious (yes, this is a recurring theme on this blog and in my life). Madeline recently told me to just be lazy. I think it was her way of saying, “Mommy, take a chill pill.” My daily to-do list doesn’t have to include “run six miles” or “clean the baseboards.” There are days when I’m doing pretty good if I can actually take a shower and break a sweat for 10 minutes during an afternoon dance party with the girls.
Second, I have to realize that once I start a task, I may not be able to finish it. Leaving loose ends drives me absolutely crazy, but my kids deserve more than a frazzled mom who’s constantly saying, “Now now,” or “In a minute.” I can’t expect them to sit and play quietly while I make a dozen phone calls or write a feature article. I have to divide my tasks into smaller, shorter, and more manageable chunks.
Yesterday it was back to reality. I had heaps of laundry looming over me, emails to respond to, phone calls to return, but I also had children to love.
I was on the phone when I heard Madeline say, “That’s enough, Mommy. You’ve been on the phone too long.” And she was right. She’d reached her limit after playing pretend with her stuffed animals through three phone calls, so I wrapped the conversation up and played a game with her.
Did I finish everything on my to-do list? No way. Did I make a little girl and her baby sister feel cared for and loved? I think so. So all in all, I’d say it was a pretty productive day.