Tonight the weather man told us winter was over.
“Yes, spring has arrived! Just look at these temps folks, 63, 73, 75, 76 – I think we’ve finally put the cold behind us.”
And so just like that the shortest winter of my life is over. We had two snowstorms, the kind that melt within a day or two but school is shut down for a week because the country roads are still iced over and kids can’t get into town. There were a few weeks where the weather was too cold for afternoons at the park, but even then the sun would break through and the birds were chirping and our grass had already started growing at the end of January.
And yet. And. Yet. This has been one of the hardest winters of my life. Drew has been carrying us financially since I quit my jobs in November. His load includes full time course work, TA-ing two sections of a undergrad course, and now a whole lot of hours at a grocery store near campus, shifts that keep him out until 11 or midnight when he rushes home to try and cram in an hour or two of reading before succumbing to sheer exhaustion. I teeter between feeling like I have the most luxurious life in the world (hanging with my favorite people all day, playing games, living in yoga pants) and the most miserable existence (being screamed at for hours, so much poop, messes that don’t end). The long days of solo-parenting are exhausting and I spend way too much time obsessing about if I’m doing this parenting gig the right way.
We do have Sundays together, so that’s something. Because we are thoughtful people who know the importance of prioritizing family life, we like to save all our best arguments for our one precious day together. A week’s worth of stress and anxiety and exhaustion explodes out of us as the kids squirm away from soggy diaper changes and dump bowls of cereal on the ground. (“See-wol”, Evelyn calls it. “Uh-oh see-wol”.) There’s always layers to these fights – the issue at hand, the issues the issue at hand reminds us of (cue long list of resentments) and the much larger problem of exhausting life circumstances that are not only causing these stressful situations but also severely limiting our capacity for rationality and kindness. It’s the pits.
By naptime we are friends again, crying and then laughing about how absurd it is to do life with toddlers in grad school. A few weeks ago a friend told us he was accepted into a PhD program out of state and he and his wife and two young kids would be moving this summer. My first thought was “Are you crazy!? You’re going to uproot your whole family from this wonderful community and start over in a place where you don’t know a single soul?” And then I remembered. Oh yeah. We did that. What were we thinking? And why didn’t anybody stop us?
Last week I posted a picture of my collection of seed catalogs and a friend commented on how beautiful they were and surely there is something to be written about the contrast between seeds and the optimism of new life against the dark grayness of winter. I’m sure there is something beautiful to be written about the wonder of planning a garden while the snow falls and the sun sets at 5:30 and you’ve forgotten what it feels like to enjoy the wind in your face, but when I read her comment I was having one of those very worst days and my mind was like a wrung-out sponge, dry and useless. All day Rowan had been always just one step ahead of me, making messes faster than I could clean them up. Evelyn would not stop screeching for me to hold her, affixed to my leg while I cleaned up pee and then marker off the wall and then a box of cereal on the stairs and then a full cup of milk spilled in the living room.
So when I paused and saw her inspiring comment I couldn’t help but cry in that ugly only-when-you’re-alone way, feeling like my life was such a joke. In that moment I couldn’t summon a single image of joyful spring. I couldn’t form even one thoughtful sentence in response, let alone imagine a compelling piece about pressing into spring from the dark days of winter.
And then as I sat pondering my own slide into stay-at-home-mom oblivion, Evelyn threw a book at me and it caught me square in the face and I lost my mind and yelled and threw the book down the stairs. And then of course I cried some more because I’m a grown woman who was sitting on the dirty floor crying and throwing things because of messes and because a small child just threw a book about easter at my face and also my life is meaningless and marriage is really hard and how will we pay the bills and we’ve had a whole freaking week of freezing weather and my new kentucky constitution just can’t handle it.
And then an hour later we were all snuggled in on the couch and they were demanding that I repeatedly read/sing their new favorite book which is just page after page of beautiful illustrated lyrics for “What a Wonderful World”. I sent out some SOS texts to some other mom friends wondering if I’m going crazy and how do we survive this insane season of life and please tell me I’m not the only one who might not make it to the other side and they wrote back and made me laugh and gave me strength to get through to bedtime.
I was dreading today. Yesterday was rough and my meltdown from last week was still fresh in my mind. We had just had another one of those talks about if we’re doing the right thing or if we should give up and get normal jobs and give up on this dream, and also why did we have kids so young? What exactly were we thinking?
But then Drew left for work and the kids wandered out of the kitchen without a second look back. And then, you guys, they sat down and started to read a book together. Unprompted. They were giggling and turning pages and pointing out “tucks” and “actors” and chattering off all manner of animal sounds from their favorite farm book. Over the next hour I listened to two podcasts, cleaned the kitchen (like, all the way. floor swept and everything. you should have seen it!) and rounded up all the laundry to take downstairs. Another hour later and I was still sitting with the dirty laundry, reading blogs and the news and listening to the giggles of my two former psychopaths laughing hysterically as they jumped on their beds together. It was glorious. A warm breeze of spring-hope that things are going to be all right. In my basement, hope smelled faintly of urine and graham crackers and damp towels, but it was enough.
Enough for today. Enough for the next mess and the next meltdown. Sometimes, enough is the best you can do. Enough helps me let go of the pressure of both “what were we thinking?” and “what will we do next?” Enough makes it okay to live lots of small and exhausting days and to both love and hate them intensely. Enough allows friends to reach across miles and remind me I’m not as alone as I think and oh hey, maybe if I remembered to ask my friends how they were doing they might feel a little less alone too. Enough can be yelled at the top of your lungs when you just can’t take it anymore and it can be sighed with a shrug and a half-smile as you survey your attempts at dinner or dressing the children or picking up the playroom.
I was enough today. I enjoyed some unexpected rest and Drew came home early and we got through. And of course, the kids far exceeded my wildest expectations so tomorrow is most certainly going to be a downer, but that’s okay too. We will take it one hour at a time and remember that we are leaning into spring and trying new things and also sometimes we sit on the couch and watch youtube videos of chicks hatching or seagulls taking flight because that’s what toddlers like to do and it will bring us one hour closer to bedtime.
I’m sending love to all you weary people who stumble across this little blog. If you ever want to come over and have an average day in my messy house and feel better about yourself/vent about your stressful life, we’re here almost all the time and we will definitely put on pants and clear a path for you if you text when you’re on your way. You are enough and we like you that way.