My greatest dream, for as long as I can remember, was to have babies. Lots of babies. “Stair-step” babies. I saw the closeness of my mom and her 4 siblings, the end product of the years my grandmother had invested into raising her troupe. I watched as several of my aunts had strings of babies. I loved seeing tots with tousled heads running around and giggling joyfully. I watched those babies play together, grow up together, and become each others’ best friends and support systems.
I couldn’t wait for the day that I would stay home to raise my own little posse. I envisioned a rocking chair by the window where I would rock cuddly, sweet-smelling babes, singing to them and reading classic picture books. I was excited about dressing them up and taking pictures of them whenever I wanted. I looked forward to reliving my own childhood as I introduced them to Disney movies and family traditions. I pictured the holidays: lots of chubby hands forming an assembly line to dye eggs or decorate Christmas cookies. I dreamed of later years when they would play on the same sports teams and be in the youth group together, sharing experiences such as proms and eventually college.
I am now living my dream. Yet, somehow, in the midst of thinking about my stair-step babies, it never occurred to me that along with lots of beautiful times and wonderful experiences, the challenges would also be multiplied. I never thought about how helpless I would feel while nursing one baby, to look up to see another falling off of the kitchen counter. I never realized how hard it would be to get out of the house with so many little ones, and that days would pass with my only adult interaction being with the Sonic carhop or Chick-fil-a drive-thru worker. I wouldn’t have believed that my best conversation all day could be over the phone with a Customer Service rep (I’ll never forget you, Katy Albanese!), or that trash day might be the highlight of the week. I didn’t know that a simple trip to the store would be the equivalent of my own personal Gettysburg, ending in defeat as I limped out with my toe fractured from one of the cans that had been rocketed out of the shopping cart.
I never pictured myself hiding in my closet, wiping away tears and eating chocolate, steeling myself to jump back into the front lines of battle. I didn’t know until I experienced it that a crying baby invokes a “fight or flight” response, and that after an entire day of the babies taking turns crying, the muscles all over my body would ache from the tension.
I didn’t have any clue that the rocking chair in which I longed to sit with my babies would become a place of great lament as I would spend hour upon hour trying to compel a munchkin to sleep who was content to pat my face and blow raspberries.
And oh, the vomit. So much vomit. In carseats. On the carpet. Underneath the mattresses and reaching to the far corners of the earth.
I never envisioned that being showered in poop and spit up would be the norm, or that taking a real shower would become my greatest luxury. My aunts always looked so beautiful and well-put together at family gatherings; I never realized that the norm for me would be a zombie-like greaseball with dark circles under my eyes, sporting the same pair of pajamas for 48 hours in a row.
I now know that the same little dimpled hands that are so sweet learning to “pat the holy Bible” can empty the contents of a dresser faster than a viper strike, and then while you are cleaning that up, can empty an entire tube of Desitin and finger paint it all over the suede furniture.
I had no idea that the little halflings could be so unbelievably destructive. The mutilated remains of beautiful picture books and baby dolls are constantly scattered throughout the house. Large framed pictures have been knocked off of the walls and the resulting spears of glass wielded gleefully until it slices their little hands. Rolls of toilet paper unrolled and mixed into sinks of water until the pasty mush runs over onto the floor. They can topple the Christmas tree at exactly the right angle to smash every single breakable ornament, including the tree topper. And don't even ask me how a 2-year-old can manage to SHATTER the toilet bowl.
I never thought about what I would do if they took off in two (or more) different directions while on an outing. The panic of not being able to catch the baby until he is on the next street is not easily forgotten. I didn’t expect them to use their sibling teamwork in order to get around the baby proofing and escape out the front door. At night. During a thunderstorm.
I have arrived. This is my dream. But I am learning to seriously lower my expectations: expectations for myself as a mom and homemaker, expectations for outings, expectations for instating family traditions. In the end, I think Thomas Paine said it best (adapted for the stay at home mom):
THESE are the times that try moms' souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their families; but she that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of Babe and Husband. Toddlers, like hell, are not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value.