Today at work a coworker and i were saying our goodbyes and he asked if i had any fun plans for tonight. I replied half-way jokingly, “oh, you know, just getting on the treadmill that is my nightly routine.” He said “Oh you get on a treadmill every night?” He seemed impressed. He missed my metaphor. “No, my life is a treadmill at home, at night, during the week.”
I went on to explain that after my 45-minute commute through horrendous highway traffic, I walk in the door to three hungry faces who are all a little grumpy and tired from the day. But they are always happy to see me, and I, happy to see them. But before i even put my purse down, one of the three asks (in their own childish or adult-ish voice) “what’s for dinner?” “what are you making mom?” or my favorite, “WAAAAHHH-WAAAAHH.” So with too-tight workshoes still on, I come up with something and spend the next several minutes cooking dinner.
I will admit, some nights our dinners are convenient and faster than others and probably less nutritious. And sometimes, on a good day, they are preplanned and contain a nice palette of colors–attempts at replicating that food pyramid thingy and hoping at least one drop of green beans accidentally co-mingles onto the same fork as the tater tot and finds its way into my four-year-old’s mouth. But let’s be honest, usually dinner ends with an abundance of food on the floor from a one year old and some tears or fighting with the four year old. My husband is a good sport and will try to mediate and help both kids not go to bed hungry.
From there, it’s a toss up of “who-did-you-put-to-bed-last-night” and we make the long journey upstairs. The next hour continues with our bedtime routines. Teeth brushing, pajamas, praying we don’t read the same book as the last 80 nights (but we still do), trying to go to the bathroom multiple times and then with the other kid, trying to get a 12 month old to sit through a few books. It’s like clockwork, a treadmill that we find ourselves on every night. Going through the routine and the motions almost effortlessly.
After the kids are to bed, I told my coworker, whichever of us is done first comes down to clean up the kitchen. By 9 pm we’ve usually finished all semblances of chores and kids and there’s hope that we might get to chat with one another. Sometimes that hope is dashed though bc one of us will need to pay bills, or do a household project. And it’s now 10 pm and we’re tired and ready for bed.
I exhausted myself just relaying the thoughts in my head of what faced me when i got home. “What if the kids could just put themselves to bed,” my husband and I have said jokingly. “Should we cut down the routine from three books to one?” “what are we doing that takes up so much time at night?” We’ve asked ourselves before. All of this takes away from any precious moments we have together or to ourselves after a long day.
My coworker kind of half smiled and looked fondly back on the sound of those memories. “Yea, i’ve almost forgotten what that was like.’ his oldest son just went to college and his youngest daughter is full of activities every night of the week. He said they were lucky if they had dinner together three nights a week.
“When did you get off this treadmill feeling?” i asked. What was the magic age i wondered? I was hoping for 5 and 2, meaning next year for me. But his answer surprised me. “Well you never really do. You just get to a different speed.”
I paused for a second and thought about the answer. He was right. As parents, we probably never get off the treadmill that is parenting. Right now, I am running uphill about 7 mph (my average is like 4 so this is a sprint) and can only catch my breath when i jump off for a minute or two. But it never really stops and it’s always hard. “Yea, you start to kind of go downhill, or slower after a few years,” my friend replied.
I thought back to life with one kid. How hard that was and seemed. And we still decided to purposely add another. And i think about people with more than two. How much different that must be. What speed are they on?
On the long drive home I often have time to think of things. And tonight i thought about although my time with the kids is a good two hours (from cooking dinner to the final kiss goodnight) it’s time I have with them uninterrupted. There are no cell phones or Tvs or iPads during dinner or bedtime. We act goofy and sing songs and my oldest and I have come up with 13 different ways to give each other a bedtime kiss (they are bizarre re-enactments of animal actions). We play games like farm bingo and Five Little Monkeys (literally) jumping on the bed. We act out characters and scenes from books (his favorite is Ferdinand the Bull. I am Ferdinand smelling flowers, and he is the bee landing on me and I have to go ‘crazy.”) we do all of this before bedtime and while it’s happening, I am in heaven.
Even changing my youngest’s diaper, trying to wrestle him to stay on the changing table and not leap into his crib, I am so thankful. yes, we’re on a hard cycle, a never-ending treadmill, but in some ways I’m glad it’s an endless trip. I’m grateful that i don’t have to get off and God gave me the opportunity to put myself second, and sometimes third, so my little family can thrive. I can’t ever turn down one more “lion kiss” or “Brown Bear, Brown Bear” reading if it means making them feel happy, loved and secure. To me, anything else would be like cheating.