It started when I heard water running.
Coffee not yet in hand, hair not yet brushed, I realized at 8:05 one Monday morning that my triplet toddlers were one step ahead of me, and in the morning flurry had bamboozled their way into our bedroom, and subsequently our bathroom, and today was the day that they figured out how to turn on the bathtub.
I found them giggling and soaking wet. One of my sons was standing in a sizeable puddle as he happily leaned his entire upper half over the edge of the tub toward the Niagara Falls of a cold water faucet.
Convincing triplet toddlers to go somewhere that they don’t want to go is no small feat, but of course I somehow had to get them all out of the bathroom. It took multiple trips, and I did it — and although I did turn off the faucet, I left the puddle there, because, priorities.
This was only the beginning. My kids went cackling down the hall, chasing each other and quickly (thankfully) forgetting all about the bathtub. I noticed a particularly squashed remnant of banana from breakfast and grabbed a roll of paper towels, thinking about what to make for dinner.
And then I suddenly stopped.
A feeling of dread came over me as I heard that terrifying sound that all moms of toddlers fear most: silence.
Of course. There they were, so happy, absolutely ecstatic, as they splashed around in the toilet of the hall bathroom.
“Who left this door open,” I grumbled to myself as I scrubbed chubby toddler hands, holding a baby up to the sink while keeping the toilet lid down with my foot, and watching my third toddler unroll the entire roll of toilet paper.
I was sweating at this point, which only got worse as my children proceeded to find a loophole in my cardboard box/dining room chair obstacle course that blocked the stairs (don’t judge, we have awkward stairs and it took us forever to find a baby gate that fit).
Of course they sobbed inconsolably because I removed them from said stairs, and finally settled in on the living room floor with a pile of books and some extra loud toddler tunes.
I finally managed to get the banana cleaned up, and then I turned to my toddler who had followed me into the kitchen, and noticed that he had something brown on his face.
Peering closer, I gasped. “Is that POOP?”
I swept him up to the changing table, bracing myself to clean up the biggest blowout the world had ever seen. Unfastened the diaper, wet wipe at the ready … but no. There was nothing there.
I started to panic. If there was no poop here, where did the poop come from? Visions of poop covered children roaming through the house danced through my head. I re-diapered this baby and ran back, quickly examining my other two, and I noticed that one had poop on his fingers.
“IT’S YOU!” I exclaimed, snatching him, holding him at arm’s length, and rushing back to the changing table.
Setting him down, I once again braced myself for the blowout, wet wipe at the ready: nope. Nothing here either.
“What in the world?” I wondered as I frantically washed his hands and turned to the third child. Checked his diaper: finally, there was the poop.
After extensive thought and thorough examination of all the evidence, I came to the conclusion that there was only one possible solution to this mystery. My son must have decided to look inside his brother’s diaper, found poop, and then reached in, touched it, and wiped it on his other brother’s face.
All while I cleaned up one squashed banana.
And now, because I had taken everything fun away, the boys were all beginning to cry and climb on mom, the eternal and exclusive source of all entertainment.
I looked at the clock, sweaty, desperate, hoping it would be almost naptime or dinnertime or SOMETHING that would give me a chance to catch my breath from this insanity. It was 8:15 a.m.
To my fellow mamas who are tired of the mantra, “the days are long, but the years are short”: yeah, I know it’s true, and it’s worth repeating, but it doesn’t always help in moments of total chaos.
It doesn’t help when there’s a huge puddle in your bathroom and you can’t clean it up, when the crying won’t stop, when there’s poop on your child’s face, when you’re feeling totally and completely overwhelmed.
And if you let it, that moment can take you over. You can wallow in it. You can cry too. You can become consumed with jealousy as you think about your husband having coffee with adults, sitting in a chair with nobody touching him. You can think bitterly about that family on Instagram that has a full time nanny for their single child. You can lay down on the floor with your poopy children and you can allow that negativity to overwhelm you, to flood through you, to cripple you.
But you don’t have to. You have a choice in that moment, mamas.
You might choose it through gritted teeth, through frustration or even desperation, but you can choose joy.
The world will tell you that those hard moments are the worst thing that can happen to anyone and that you have every right to be miserable. It will tell you that motherhood is a “Big Fat F%$# You” and that it’s not fulfilling. It will tell you that you shouldn’t have to go through this. It will tell you to wallow all day long and it will steal the joy in your children’s childhood right out from under you.
I think we’ve all had moments like this and we’ve probably all wallowed at some point. So you know that no matter what the world tells you, wallowing doesn’t feel good. It doesn’t make you happy. It definitely doesn’t make your children happy. And the rest of your day doesn’t get better very fast.
You may agree that it’s better to choose joy (or at least laugh instead of cry?) but, how?
- Pray. My go to is (can you handle this eloquence?) “Lord, help me.”
- Take a deep breath.
- Make a change. Some of you out there might be able to just choose joy in a moment that keeps getting worse and worse, but that’s not something I can do. Find a distraction that stops the crying or whatever the immediate issue is, long enough that you can begin to think clearly. If all your children are cranky, for example, put them in the car and go somewhere. Anywhere. Or just drive around, give them goldfish and blast 90s pop songs or whatever you need to do.
- Stay off of social media until the moment passes. Don’t look at social media when you’re feeling vulnerable, overwhelmed, or frustrated. It will almost always make it worse.
- Plan something small but fun for you, that you can look forward to. Trip to Trader Joe’s for mom’s favorite cookies later? Perfect. Phone call to a friend so you can vent about whatever happened and move past it? Enlist your husband to bring home wine for when this day is finally over? Plan in something small that will make you happy and focus on that thing. It will be like a little life raft that pulls you up, out of drowning, and onto the shore where choosing joy gets easier and easier.
I did this that day. I removed myself from the downward spiral. I put my crying children in the car and I prayed and I blasted mom’s music and I drank a Diet Coke at 8:20 a.m. and I thought about how I was going to skip cooking that day and make frozen pizza for dinner, which by the way frozen pizza is incredible, and the thought made me a little relieved and a little happier.
And then I passed by the neighborhood park and I realized I could stop there and the boys might be happy in the swings (and they were). And before I knew it, it was naptime, and I had plenty of coffee and time to myself and new energy, and I spent naptime re-babyproofing the things my children had learned how to break into that morning, and the rest of the day was so much happier and SO much easier.
Mamas, you might be dealing with bigger problems than mine. I have no idea how you’re feeling, what you’re going through, and whether or not this little list will actually help you. But what I do know is that in small but overwhelming moments like these, wallowing will make you feel worse.
I can’t exactly tell you, “when life gives you poop, make lemonade,” but…well, you get the picture.