Yesterday morning began when a toddler came crying into my room, holding a moist and squishy turd in her hand. 'My done a poo!' she was sobbing, aghast as it oozed between her fingers. She's been experimenting with nappy off time lately, and this is the first time it's coincided with a bowel movement. 'Well, that's one way to learn,' I thought, as I somewhat gingerly knelt to cuddle her, then called for the other girls to bring me some wipes immediately.
'We can't find them,' they called in singsong unison. I told them exactly where they were, but again they sang, 'We can't find them. They're not here.'
So I left my two year old with instructions to Stand Still Don't Move!, and fetched them myself from exactly where I said they were, where they have indeed been for six years and eleven months now; and cleaning up the mess I fumed at four and six year olds and their selective blindness.
Twenty minutes later my four year old traipsed chicken poo through the back room.
And that's when I began to shout. I shouted and shouted as I dug out the paper towels and picked up stinky chicken droppings from the mat and the rug, and collected a great green-tinged ball from under the kitchen table.
And then I had to say, 'I'm sorry.'
I've been exhausted lately, tired and flat and sick of the kids and life at home. I feel like I had one child too many. I'm more than ready for them all to be out of the house six hours a day while I do other things. I'm tired of watching 'ballet concerts' and puppet shows and tired of picking up the mess or corralling them into doing it. I'm fed up with their squabbling, and the two year old's tantrums, and hearing her shout 'no' every minute of the day. I'm tired of being the adult, understanding and mature; and I'm tired of failing to be the adult, of losing my temper or just shutting the kids out. I'm sick of being patient, of tricking a two year old into keeping her shoes on or sitting in a car seat. I just want to slap her.
My two and four year olds squabble over who gets to sit in my lap; who gets to listen to a story. 'Go away!' screams the two year old at her sister, 'Don't listen!'. I talk about sharing until I'm blue in the face; I talk about the expansiveness of love. And then one of them hits the other. I'm so sick of them fighting over the pecking order, I could scream.
And I'm totally fed up with faeces, human or otherwise.
I've felt this way for months, on and off. Yet I do have a two year old. I can't park her in day care five days a week just because I'm fed up; yet I wonder how I got to the point that I even daydream such a thing.
I can't really believe I made the wrong decision to have a third child.
I had been certain we should have only two kids and yet was devastated by the thought. In private I cried time and again; and late one night, after I picked up a friend from the airport and we talked the way you do when it's dark outside and you're driving fast, I started sobbing, blinded by tears as I roared on at 110. I wiped my streaming eyes and nose with my sleeve, and glanced at her. She was looking at me oddly; then she said kindly, quietly, 'You can have three, you know.' It was a thunderbolt, a revelation, a gift; and I snuffled and wept in pathetic gratitude as I turned onto Bell Street and steered the way home.
And I had such clear visions, such beautiful images when I sat with the idea. I saw a group of children running up the stairs into the sky, colourful skirts swirling and voices laughing; I saw loving arms extended towards me, and a baby lying between us, and knew that to enter into the presence of love was to pick the baby up.
How did I get from that to this? Is my two year old really so hard, so devastating, that I don't want to be home with my children anymore? Well, no. She may be flexing her independence, but even in my jaded state I can see she's an absolute delight. Maybe it's just that, after almost seven years at home, I've had enough. And yet I have no choice; I must find ways to cherish it or I'll go mad.
After school today I put on a video, too flat to encourage another option – my kids don't fight when they're hypnotized by tv. But instead of using it as a babysitter while I rushed around and did things, for once I sat in the lounge room and watched with them. My four year old came and curled up in my lap; my two year old snuggled into my side. After the movie, my six year old wandered over for a hug and a kiss.
And maybe, just maybe, there's a clue. Maybe it was okay for the floor to stay crunchy; the second load of washing can wait. Maybe the garden can stay weedy; the papers can stay in a heap on the bench; my inbox can load up unread emails while I watch Mary Poppins. Maybe if I could sit with my kids more often, rather than forever Organising and Doing, things might feel a little easier.
How to manage it, I don't quite know. The washing can't wait forever; kids still have to get to kinder and school; the floor really is disgusting most nights. But a latte and a babycino in a coffee shop; a long play in a shady park; a lazy morning with books or friends; a slow visit to the library; a shared cooking activity: perhaps these ways of taking time, of drifting at a childlike pace – exactly the activities that are so easily axed when it all feels too grindingly tedious and the drive to be busy dominates – perhaps, just perhaps, they are as necessary to our family's health as the prompt cleaning up of the poo.