My childhood has come back to haunt me in the form of a small daughter who wore a rainbow swimsuit with the face of a tiger on front to school today because she refuses to put on clothes. I did the same thing to my mom 28 years ago and so in every photo when I am four and five, I am wearing a worn, pastel swimsuit with an ice cream cone sewn to the front.
Thea has me at a loss for answers. I think my mom must have been lost too. She tells the story of the time I refused to wear clothes in a snowstorm and so she let me go out on the front porch in my swimsuit. The meter man came through the lawn and knocked on the door, wondering if my mom needed to be reported to child services, or if the child on the porch really was as pleased to be watching the snow in so few clothes as she seemed. I do remember the distinct feeling of smugness and snowflakes. My mom pacing the halls inside, or more likely, contemplating the undoing her children had sparked deep inside while eating lots of chocolate. I can only imagine this because it is me now, a bowl of peanut M&M’s by my side, a tiredness like work I’ve never done before, while my daughter sits in her preschool classroom smug in her own swimsuit.
At this point in my life, it almost feels an offense when someone extends an invitation to do something beyond the walls of my house. I wonder if they know how hard it is to dress three children, put out their various fires: the unicorn pants that have mud all over them and can’t be worn, which thing is devastating; my son’s tendency toward OCD behavior every time he goes to the bathroom, convincing him he can’t take another shower; the baby, hungry again and ready to breastfeed just before getting out the door. And then buckling the seat belts in our hot and miniature car—shoving my hand deep into the recesses between plastic, fumbling with the buckles, heaving the baby carrier between the two kids, trying to shove the stroller in the trunk and shut the door before it falls out, Thea crying again about the way her car seat is messy and she won’t sit in it. They must know it is hard and they must also know that is not the point, that we are usually happier with each other, even when it is hard to get to that point.
Something deep in me has undone this past year. I have been required to face myself entirely while also facing three small children who need me to be good, selfless and endlessly patient. I believe this unraveling has made me more wise, and more kind to the plight of others. At times, this undoing of myself feels frantic, like what I was before I was a mother to multiple children is too slippery to hold on to. I’ve come to terms with mourning that person a little. I do this without guilt.
Other times I step away and see who I am, that I am strong and gentle and better than I was before. I see my children with one hand still touching me and the other hand reaching out to their own vision of themselves. I see them wondering who they will be and stepping to the edges of my embrace to look out beyond that edge with earnestness and eagerness. I know there are seasons to who and what we are. This seasons undoing will be a later seasons blooming.
I guess this is what it must be like to be a kid too. You grow by knocking down most things you thought you were sure of and building up again. Together, with my children, with my husband, we are undoing, pulling out the seams of clothes that no longer fit.
At some point, I exchanged my ice cream swim suit for real clothes, and I imagine my daughter will too. The task now is to celebrate both of us properly in the meantime.