Thursday, November 1, 2012

The cloud of witnesses


Today, I survived one of motherhood's most defining moments: The Full-Blown, All-Out Meltdown of Epic Proportions. It was library story time (because really, what better place is there for all three children to completely fall apart than the public library?). We had cheated morning nap time to run an errand- a silly mistake, given the late bedtime of my tiny trick-or-treaters last night. On the way home, SuperSam asked if we could pleeeeeease go to the library for story time.

My foolish heart said something like this: Oh, poor kid, he never gets to go to story time. He didn't even get to check out books this week because of the storm. The Sisters really need a nap, but maybe they can just hang out sleepily in the stroller while he checks out his books and listens to the story. Everyone did so well in the grocery store, I'm sure we can hang on a little longer.


This is pure mama folly, a classic case of not using my brain. This is silly talk, a deliberate flaunting of the rules of morning nap:
  1. Do not skip morning nap.
  2. If you skip morning nap, don't do it on a day after you let them stay up late. (The day after Halloween, for example.)
  3. Don't take all three of them anywhere by yourself that people might reasonably expect voices to be kept at a low to moderate volume. (The library comes to mind.)
  4. If you take them to such a place, certainly don't do it during what would otherwise be morning nap time (if you hadn't so recklessly decided to skip it).
  5. At the first sign of distress, cut your losses and run for the door.
Should you choose to ignore these commandments, only you are responsible for what may occur.

Things started out pretty smoothly with everyone on the rug for the beginning of the first story. The Sisters were engaged with a pile of board books, and I was pulling them back in turn if they started to crawl too far away or tried to lick another kid's shoe. SuperSam was even sitting down most of the time.

Then, The Bug bumped her head...and she wailed. Louder and more piercing screams kept coming out of her tiny mouth as I tried to comfort her. The story volunteer couldn't read over the noise. I scooped The Bug up in one arm, grabbed up The Belle in the other arm, and carried them out of the room to the large print section around the corner. I peered at SuperSam through the glass partition as I shushed and bounced The Bug while trying to keep The Belle from deshelving a collection of Italian language audio books.

By now, The Bug was screeching a full octave above where she had started out. As The Belle was occupied with the audio books, I discreetly tucked myself into a chair with The Bug, hoping she would calm down if she nursed.

This poorly considered decision proved disastrous. Consider the rules of nursing twins:
  1. If you nurse one baby, you must be prepared to nurse both.
  2. If you try to fool the babies and nurse only one at a time, you will cause a Nursing Triangle Relationship Crisis, and you will certainly be sorry.
  3. When both babies start screaming and you are awkwardly trying to hold them while you adjust your clothes, everyone in whatever public place you are occupying will turn around and gawk at you, and your Nursing Triangle Crisis will become a Very Public Event.

    Now The Bug and The Belle were screaming in consort, and there was no calming them. They were both so hysterical, they were hiccuping in between cries and gasping for air. SuperSam was staring at me from the story time rug, so I mouthed to him, "We have to go."

    He apparently reads lips well. His countenance darkened immediately, as if a fast-moving summer thunderstorm had overtaken him.

    Oh, dear reader! By now you must know that I am clearly off today, as for my third strike I boldly broke the cardinal rule of going out with preschoolers:

    Never tell a preschooler it's time to leave without a warning first. She who ignores this rule risks dire peril.

      SuperSam yelled, "NO!" and threw his small body onto the story time rug, narrowly missing a little girl dressed as a tree frog and losing one of his shoes in the process. By this time, all the children, the story time volunteer and all the parents in the room were just staring at us. I hissed at SuperSam to get up as I tried to carefully lower the screaming babies one at a time into the double stroller. The Belle's face was purple, and The Bug was beating her tiny hands against my chest. SuperSam narrowed his eyes, responded, "I WILL NOT!" and kicked the stroller. When both babies were secure, I scooped up all our library books, hung the library bag from the stroller handle, grabbed SuperSam, and half carried, half dragged him out of the room while trying to steer the stroller with one hand.

      Everyone watched us go.
      All three of my children were crying inconsolably.
      I was not crying, though I felt like it...and who could blame me?

      A few pieces of candy from Ms. Debbie, SuperSam's favorite librarian, helped to ease the sting of leaving story time before the juice boxes had been handed out. The babies stopped screaming when we stepped outside (at least until I buckled them into their car seats, when they promptly resumed as if on cue). When we got home ten minutes later, I turned on Sesame Street for SuperSam, nursed the girls, stuck them in their high chairs with a handful of Cheerios on the trays, and started preparing lunch with Elmo singing in the background.

      As I stirred the macaroni and waited for the broccoli in the microwave to be less frozen, I replayed the events of the morning. It felt awful for a few minutes in the library to be the one everyone was staring at. I won't even try to guess how many people said, "She sure has her hands full," after we left.

      There are a lot of witnesses to my parenting these days. It feels very public. We attract attention wherever we go, and people feel free to comment about how the children are behaving or what they are wearing or who they look like. It's hard to teach SuperSam about how to be polite in public (i.e., it's not kind to stare at people or talk about how fat someone is or how yellow her teeth are) when people seem to feel so entitled to stare and make comments about us.

      I do have my hands full, and I contributed to today's messy meltdown by being a little slack with our routine. The thing is, we are often on the receiving end of stares and comments. Usually, it's fine, and we handle it well. We have it under control. Today, though, I could have used a hand. There were a lot of other parents in the room, most of whom we know at least a little, and no one helped.

      It's All Saints Day, and we're headed to Mass this evening at 6 pm. That's right before the girls' bedtime, and it will be a risky move to have them in a quiet place at that time of night. I'd like to think that people will be understanding, since there's no nursery provided, but at least one of us will probably be out of the service most of the time with one to three children, depending on who needs to be taken out at the moment. Church, like the library, is a place where a lot of people know us. It's also the place where we are most likely to get stares if our children are loud.

      Normally, All Saints Day is one of my favorite days in the whole year. The Church celebrates the lives of holy men and women individually all year long by feasting on days dedicated to each of them. Today is the feast for all of them, the day dedicated to all saints, past, present, and future - even the ones we don't know about yet. I love this day because it reminds me that we're constantly surrounded by those who came before, people like us who took what they had to work with and gave it to God, who did extraordinary things to bring about the Kingdom of God on earth, whose examples shine before each of us. And what's more, we're laying the groundwork for those to come after us. We're all one Body, throughout time and space...we are each other's community. The great cloud of witnesses, our companions for the journey of life, are with us wherever we go.

      Today, though, for the first time, I find myself wishing there were fewer witnesses throughout time and more encouragers. I long for some more pats on the back and some more cheerleaders around me. I admire all the holy men and women of the centuries, but today, I think it would be easier to be holy if I didn't feel so completely up to my eyeballs folding socks and washing dishes and sweeping floors and wiping crayon off the walls.

      Why aren't there more saints to encourage parents? What would St. Hildegard of Bingen have done in the library today with the three screaming children? Would St. John of the Cross be as eloquent if he could only do his writing during nap time? Would even Our Blessed Mother have lost her patience with a tantruming preschooler Jesus if she was trying to balance twinfants and an armful of groceries in the checkout line?

      In the middle of my discouragement, I had a realization.

      You all are a cloud of witnesses. You and the words you share with me.

      You who read my posts and e-mail to tell me you felt encouraged by what I wrote, you friends who send cheery texts in the middle of the day for no reason, you who tweet through difficult bed times and share your stories with me, you bloggers whose words wrap around me with the warmth of a blanket. You may not be saints in the traditional sense, but we are each other's companions on the journey. We are sharing words, even if we don't share space. We're keeping each other company along the way.

      And that, my friends, is an encouragement to me. It is worth celebrating.

      Happy All Saints Day to each of you. Thanks for being part of my cloud and for letting me be part of yours.