Mother’s laws of nature
Phantasmagorical family phenomena
Saturday, April 19, 2008
Am I losing my mind or do the following Laws of Familial Physics occur universally in families around the globe? I’ve found—and hate to admit—that these laws are as true and immutable in my household as entropy, thermodynamics, enthalpy, melting and freezing points.
Mom’s in the bathroom. Everyone’s in the bathroom. You go to pee, the dog follows you into the loo. The kids suddenly get the urge to brush their teeth. There you are cornered in the smallest room in your house, sitting on a porcelain throne surround by munchkins with foaming mouths and a pawing pup while you ask yourself, "Why didn’t I lock the door?"
As soon as you get two scoops of Häagen-Dazs vanilla into your favorite bowl, douse it with a goodly measure of Kahlúa, sit down in your overstuffed chair and grab the remote, you hear, "Mooooooohhhhhm, you forgot to give me a huuuuhhhg and a kiss!" You shuffle through the aging archives of your mind. The entry titled Bedtime Rituals was filed a mere five minutes ago. You review it while your child continues to scream, waking your other kids. The file distinctly notes you hugging, smooching, tucking in, fluffing, extra-fluffy-fluffing pillows, smoothing hair, reading stories and praying with every living creature under your roof.
You put down your bowl. "I’m coming," you yell up the stairs. As each hardwood step meets your weary foot, you become victim to a mental mantra: my ice cream is melting, my ice cream is melting, my ice cream is melting. When you finally return to your perch on the sofa and grab the TV remote, you notice the dog has eaten your dessert.
It’s dinnertime. You’re starving because all you’ve had time to eat today is a skinny vanilla latte and a 100 calorie pack of pretzels. Two bites into your piping hot stir fry at least one of the flowing occurs: the baby’s colic flares, your third child’s teacher calls with details of an unfortunate lunchroom escapade, the baby’s colic flares, your oldest tells you the yellow sheet of paper you tossed beneath chicken fat and wet broccoli stalks is an assignment he didn’t complete in class and must turn in tomorrow morning, the baby’s colic flares, the neighbor shows up at the back door demanding that your child apologize for scratching her child during a neighborhood game of touch football, the baby’s colic flares.
When you finally get up the gumption to vacuum the house, your husband decides to load the dishwasher precisely as you get to the exact spot beneath the dishwasher’s open door. Grateful that someone (other than you) is doing the dishes, you bring the vacuum into the family room. There, for the first time in weeks, the kids have set up a reading fort replete with bean bags, blankets and quilts that completely obscure the floor. "Guess I’ll vacuum upstairs," you think. On your way, you pass the cleaning supply storage closet. "They’ll probably all decide to come upstairs if I lug this thing up there," you say as you put the sweeper away. (This law must cosmically be connected to Phenomena #1 somehow.)
You cook a healthy 30-minute meal. The kids push the food around and end up eating the equivalent of three grains of rice, a half-of-a-bite of chicken and a pea. One hour later, you’ve scrubbed the pots and pans and all the dishes are precariously stacked in the dishwasher like acrobats from Cirque du Soleil. At that precise moment the kids descend into the kitchen, guided missiles aiming at the pantry. "Can we have fruit snacks, Mom? A granola bar? Some pretzels? Candy?"
"Are you crazy? We just ate dinner! The kitchen’s closed." Then as you shoo the kids out of the kitchen with a dish towel, you feel as if you’ve morphed into your mother when you hear yourself saying, "What do I look like to you—a short-order cook?"
You don’t make a habit of using profanity. But it has been a tough week: the dog ran away, the car’s brakes started making that ubiquitous embarrassing whistling noise that means you’ll soon be out $300 and a note from the teacher came home pinned to your youngest progeny’s sweatshirt. Needless to say, a few choice words slip past your lips just like that chocolate bar you swore off on New Year’s.
Now you’re at the Jewel—in line between your neighbor and one of the elders at your church—when your 3-year-old randomly, and in her most forceful fortissimo, starts shouting a choice obscenity. You duck your head and smile without showing any teeth while muttering, "Where on earth did you learn that?"
In the moment these Laws of Familial Physics can be frustrating and fatiguing. But when we realize that there are millions of moms who share these fleeting, though flabbergasting, experiences, it helps. Somehow, knowing that we’re in the thick of it together can even make you laugh.
Sally Miller is co-author of Play with Me: Two Friends on a Spiritual Journey with Kids. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.