"Mama, can we have our ice cream now?"
This was how my day began, at 5:57 a.m.
I am, admittedly, an idiot for having bribed my children - in a moment of you-can't-look-like-Neanderthals lunacy - with first-thing-in-the-morning bites of ice cream if they let me cut their finger and toe nails last night before bed. "Sweet," I thought. "I'll get to be the fun mom. Maybe this will make it into the Happy Memories folder in their minds."
I know they've started filing systems. They're my children, after all.
"Yes, just let me finish peeing," I said as I finished scrolling through Facebook in the dark, cozy bathroom. I've learned to lock the door. I am no longer an amature.
The three of us herded ourselves into the pantry and gathered around the chest freezer. All of the spoons were dirty and so I had two forks in my hand. I scooped a bite out for Osi. "That's all?" he said. "Either eat that or don't have ice cream in the morning," I said. I scooped Isla's out, and was immediately met with, "Osi has mooooore than me." The fact that she sounded like she was doing a Caillou impression made me want to run away. "No he doesn't. Not everything can be exactly the same. Just...eat your ice cream," I said, quickly realizing that I wasn't caffeinated and was therefore unable to deal with problems of unfairness without contradicting myself.
She then promptly dropped her ice cream on the floor.
I went and got her another scoop. "That's not faaair," whined Osi, "I WANT MORE, TOO!"
"Yours didn't fall on the ground. You just ate your ice cream."
He screamed, threw his fork on the floor, and stormed out of the kitchen. He came back a few seconds later with his bright orange Dora the Explorer gardening gloves and threw them at me. I stood still and tried to make my face look like an angry bull's face might look. I don't think I succeeded, as he then picked up a dish towel and threw that at me, too.
"The ice cream's going in the trash," I said, noting, in real time, that I was quickly going down the tit-for-tat route with my four year old, aware that I was about to move from Conscious Parenting to the less effective and more this-is-way-more-about-your-shit-than-the-situation-you're-currently-dealing-with sort of parenting I'll call Childish Parenting - the kind of parenting that makes us more like peers to our children than safe, solid grown-ups.
"FINE. I DON'T CARE. THROW IT AWAY! YOU'RE THE WORST MAMA I COULD EVER ASK FOR!" he shouted. The "you're the worst mama I could ever ask for" isn't new, and is usually balanced nicely with "you're the best mama I could ever ask for", which is what I heard the night before when I told him he'd get a bite of ice cream in the morning.
"Yup. I'm the worst mama ever. I give you ice cream in the morning. I'm horrible."
We then moved on to papers that weren't supposed to be scribbled on being scribbled on, a meltdown because I suggested to Isla that more words could perhaps be fit on a page if the words were written smaller - "I DON'T KNOW HOW TO WRITE SMALLER!" she cried - and a standoff over a water bottle (the nasty one in the dishwasher was the only one he could possibly use. I am an idiot for not understanding this.)
As Osi sat on the floor screaming at me about the water bottle, I stepped outside to breathe in some fresh air. More accurately, I raced over to the kitchen door and escaped the admittedly-temporary hell I was living in. I covered my ears because closing the door had not made the screaming disappear and I needed three seconds of silence. "Please shut the fuck up," I whispered to myself. "Please, please, please." I uncovered my ears and heard my husband's deep voice. "Thank you, God," I thought.
I walked inside and we locked eyes and I breathed a deep breath in and he said, "You ready for a break, babe?" and I wanted to do bedroom things to him for knowing what my face was saying.
"Yes. We all are," I said with a slight smile, relieved to have back-up, grateful to have my back-up be this guy, with his voice and his red work suspenders and his general babe-ness and wise-ness.
Shoes were then tied and long, healing hugs were given. I kissed foreheads and checked backpacks and said goodbye. Tim brought them to school. That alone made the morning feel new; drop-off is almost always my job. As he kissed me goodbye he sensed my relief and gave me the "Oh, boy do I love you" smile that makes me feel like we'll never get old.
"I'm going to sit on the porch when you leave and..."
"Yeah?" he said, reading my mind. "Enjoy it."
I went to my studio and grabbed a cigarette from my secret stash. It'd been a long, long time since I'd sinned and smoked one. I went out to the porch and sat in a hot pink chair.
I felt guilty.
I felt good.
I felt guilty for feeling good.
I sat back and just let the quiet cover me up like a blanket. I looked across the road at the yellow and orange and red trees. I noticed that my rusty mailbox and the yellow "CAUTION: CHILDREN" sign matched my favorite season. I made a mental note to focus on those two things in the middle of the winter when I'm feeling desperate, to remember that there are reminders of the things we love everywhere if we remember to look for them.
I wondered if smoking a cigarette once in awhile made me a bad person, a stupid person, an un-spiritual person. "Am I still on the path if I want to do this sometimes?" And then I remembered this, from way down deep in my files on "TRUTH" and "UNENDING KNOWINGS":
You don't get knocked off the path by being human. You get knocked off the path when you stop believing there's a path.
And BA BAM, just like that, I was back in it. Back in the knowing that I am precisely where I need to be. That my flaws have to be there because I am a human and humans are innately flawed. That the Prozac's okay. That the cigarette is, too. That the morning was okay and the love that brought us back is the only thing that'll keep bringing us back, again and again.
I thought about how the most reliable way to feel the love I haven't always historically felt is to give it to myself, to love myself that way. I thought about how fucking hard that is sometimes even though giving that kind of love to my children feels as easy as breathing. I thought about breathing that love into me.
I smoked that whole cigarette. Then I went inside and put Meghan Trainor on my phone and turned it up as loud as it could go. I took a shower and sang along and danced under the hot, hot water. I got dressed and texted some people I love and told them I miss them. I made an egg sandwich; I folded the edges of the egg so it'd fit the English muffin just so. I opened the window in my studio.
I breathed the clean, damp air.
I believe that there's a path.
And I believe that I am on it.