Cyclic

Lately I have been throwing myself into projects around here full-tilt. Just doing stuff, getting shit done. For a while I thought it was because I wanted to get the house looking closer to the “after” image in my head before guests descend for Olive’s birthday, but I realized tonight that it’s more than that.

Olive and I had an off day. She woke late and was grumpy and tetchy – I think she is getting a cold. She was a stage-five clinger all morning and then didn’t nap. Just…wouldn’t. Even though her being grumpy is a sure sign of being tired, and being sick is even more reason to get some rest. But we read our books and had a cuddle and peed on the potty and drank water and got tucked in eight times in eight different configurations and I rubbed her back and sang the Baby Blues song and then it all went downhill and I think I shouted in exasperation something like, “Go to SLEEP! Seriously, Olive. This is RIDICULOUS.”

Because shouting at toddlers is a sure-fire way to get them to sleep.

After an hour I gave up. Do you know how hard that is? To give up on a nap? I live and die by the nap. No nap means that not only does your hour or two of solo time, the time when you get shit done, disappear, but your already-grumpy toddler will only become ever more grumpy as bedtime approaches. Because she’s overtired now.

And although it probably would have been a good idea to get out of the house on our big walk we usually do in the afternoons, the thought of thirty minutes of dressing her and then having to take her to pee and then fighting to equip her with socks and shoes and a sweater and then having to take her to pee again and then wanting a sandwich (she has this thing about sandwiches lately. We don’t even really eat sandwiches but she is asking for them non-stop. I don’t know.)

I just couldn’t muster the energy, so we squandered a beautiful sunny fall day by grumping around inside. And I attempted to get some stuff done with her awake, painting baseboards and replying to emails and writing (ha!) but it was all in all a sort of off-putting and frousty day.

I am writing from a place of privilege. I know this. Right now I have everything I have ever wanted. Being able to stay at home with Olive is honestly a dream come true.

You are expecting a “but…”. There is no “but..”, but there is an “and”.

Being a stay-at-home mom to Olive is a dream come true, and it is challenging in ways I did not expect. And as I sat back after she had (finally, in a blaze of glory) gone to sleep tonight I realized that it’s because I often feel like I have nothing to show for my efforts.

At the end of the day, if I don’t take on a visible project like painting the baseboards, there is no tangible way to see how I spent my day. Dishes were washed and dried, but more dirty ones soon replaced them. Laundry was put away but there’s a fresh load hung to dry and the hampers are filling. Gus has molted all over the hallway I swept this morning. The fridge empties and is filled, the recycling gets taken out.

Things just cycle, endlessly.

I find beauty in these cycles because for me, the most routine-less of routine-less ladies, being able to keep to even the most bare-bones of schedules (wake up, eat breakfast, clean up, play, eat lunch, put Olive down for her nap, go on a big walk, make dinner, put Olive to bed) is a mammoth achievement. With a child you can’t simply not eat all day. You can’t sleep in till all hours, you can’t lose eight hours to a book you intended to read for just ten minutes. There is an external force governing your days, and how reassuring it is. How reassuring she is.

Here when I wake up, here when I go to bed.

Yet it’s all just…invisible.

“What did you do today?”

I mothered. I got her dressed and made her laugh and remembered where she left HeMan. I ran with her to the potty and washed her hands dozens of times. Fed her, cleaned her up, taught her table manners. Dressed her again after she undressed. Hugged her when she bonked her head. Played Cave Baby and Witch and Horse and sat at the front window watching for fire trucks. I stopped her from eating dog food again, soothed tantrums without bending boundaries, read eighteen books. Cleaned up after her, fed her, put her to sleep.

I did the same thing I do every day, sometimes in a different order.

Sometimes we walk in the morning.

Projects give me a way to make my mark, and how lucky I am that they are so small and so pleasing. A coat of white paint. A rescued shelf. A filing cabinet painted yellow.

I’m not sure where I am going with this. Just running the irony of it over and over again in my mouth. We, many of us, have children to make a mark on the world. To pass on knowledge and create kind, responsible, creative human beings to make up the next generation.

But the process of making a mark means several years of not really getting anything done, by your former standards at least.

No one can vouch for what I did today. I could have spent the whole thing sleeping with Olive glued to the TV and no one would know the difference. We’re banking these hours and weeks and years in the hopes that they will make a difference later, when we see them grown up, all of these kind and responsible and creative little souls. Grown into people who, through our efforts and the cumulative effect of these thousands of cyclic days, love big walks and take comfort in reading. People who go to the bathroom by themselves and wash their hands without being reminded. People who are empathetic, and perhaps don’t shout at almost-sick almost-two-year olds and tell them they are being “RIDICULOUS! SERIOUSLY!”

In the meantime, I am painting.

18 thoughts on “Cyclic

  1. I hear you loud and clear! I had a Day today. I’m sitting here “wasting time” commenting on blogs, while hubby baths the little monster, all the while hearing the call from the bottle of birthday bubbly leftover from yesterday. And, had we not gone to the Melbourne Show yesterday, my birthday would’ve been just like any other day… a never ending cycle with nothing but a sleeping toddler and a not-totally-demolished house. But I have plans my friend. Soon, I’ll be painting too. And gluing and sewing and anything I can get my hands on!

  2. Hi Madeleine, I love your posts. Have you come across Naomi Stadlen’s book, What Mothers Do (Especially when it looks like nothing)? I think it would strike a chord.

    I’m impressed with the amount of cyclic stuff you manage around Olive, to be honest. My hall is rarely swept. X

    • I have just ordered that in at our local library. I can’t wait to read it- thank you so much for the recommendation!
      I doth even know why I even bother sweeping anymore, to be honest!

      • I was going to recommend this book too. I read it when my second was a newborn and it was so helpful. Nothing you don’t already know, but nice to see it all laid out.

  3. Thank you for this. I feel as though I’ve accomplished nothing in the 5 months since my daughter, our second child, was born. And I see other parents getting things done, with kids, and wonder why I can’t. Thanks for the reminder that I’m not alone (although you seem to be getting lots done! Good for you!).

    • I struggle with that too. Thinking , “X does ABC while working full time! Why can’t I even get the motivation to shower??”
      The cycle of comparison, guilt, and sd-loathing. An old favourite!

  4. You’re singing the song of motherhood. And if you think you have nothing to show for it now, once there are two of them and you’re outnumbered, you’re often in deficit. Not only do I have little to show for my day, but piles of stuff keep accumulating, tasks just don’t get done… But it’s not forever… (She says hopefully!).

  5. OMG I hear you!! I am such a continuous project person. More like a constant state of improvement required and I feel so guilty that I try and carry on with painting, gardening, re-arranging, changing everything so I can “achieve” something for the day towards this utopia that I seem to think I’m building. I’m consciously trying to stop and spend more time living in the moment. With a 2 and a 4 year old I can feel the day creeping close now that my 4 year old will slip away from me with school and real friends and the 2 year old won’t be far behind. I know my utopia won’t yet (ok ever) be finished but will I be wishing I’d just stopped once in a while. My mindset is always that “things will be better when …… the verandah is painted, the kitchen is re-done, that garden bed is overhauled” etc. But there’s always something else to do and maybe in the end it doesn’t really matter.

    • I think you are so right. It is never done, and there’s always one more thing on the list! I was just thinking to myself today that I need to take a break on house stuff after I finish off my current projects. I mean how much of Olive’s childhood can I really squander on painting things (answer: a lot! So many things I want to paint! Ha!)

  6. I had the same exact day- including the almost-sick, yelling, “ridiculous, and seriously.” I felt so horrible later I couldn’t sleep for a week. So comforting to know even other awesome like-minded moms have these moments. Also, the file cabinet is stunning. I would like to do some patio chairs in that color.

    • It is a door! I really have to collect some photos of all of the little things that have been on the go here lately. None of them are properly finished yet, is the problem! Ha. But I will definitely share some more pictures – I mean I’m in love with a filing cabinet, I can’t very well not document that fact now can I? ;)

  7. Thank you for this post! My 14 month old has stopped napping this week (and I depend on those naps to get work done and recuperate!) and I have been feeling beyond guilty for my levels of exasperation with my sweet guy! We all need reminding that we can be extrodinarily grateful AND feel batshit crazy with frustration at the same time, because we are human!

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