At 6am the toddler rises. Thank goodness he slept in, because you stayed up late last night, getting to the end of that book, which turned out not to be the end. There’s a second book. So now you still don’t know how it ends, and you need coffee.
People really ought to be more considerate of parents with small children, and write shorter books.
You pull on your blanket with sleeves, that cozy thick cotton knit in a very unflattering pale gray, but it’s lined in fleece, so who cares if it makes you look like you’re suffering from severe anemia? You trip-trap across the hall to one of the tiny dictators with whom you share your life.
He reaches up to you from the crib, grinning like you are the sun itself. He smells vaguely of old urine and stale drool. You think it might be time to wash the sheets, even though that never seems to help.
When you pick him up, he pats your back, then leans out from you so he can point downstairs. His grunt means, “Alright, Milk-Woman, it’s time to go make me some eggs.”
He is shocked when, instead of going directly to food preparation, you change his diaper. He screams, but at least he smells better. Thirty seconds later, he’s in the playroom, sending little cars down a wooden track, click-clack, click-clack, in an endless loop. Meanwhile, you crack some eggs into the non-stick skillet that your sister just told you is probably lined with life-sapping chemicals.
While the coffee brews, you scribble down a few sentences in the notebook you keep on the kitchen counter. You can see the next rise of the plot coming, you’re getting so close, soon that side character is going to confront your main character with some parcel of truth that will radically alter their perspective, and the direction of the story –
Quick, stir the eggs before they burn!
You trade pen for spatula. Nothing blackened, this time. You plop some curds of egg out on a plate, and present them to the toddler. He grins like you are a benevolent fairy, come to bring him life-sustaining nourishment. You scrub some of last night’s dinner off the table. Then you dash off to fill your coffee cup and scribble down a few more sentences, moving that plot forward by slow and painful degrees.
A moment later, the larger dictator shuffles down the stairs. Little Miss is not a morning person, and does not respond to your inquiries about what she would like for breakfast. Little Dude smashes some of his scrambled eggs into the table.
“Do you want eggs?”
“What about eggs-in-a-hole?”
“No, I didn’t make oatmeal, today. I made eggs.”
Little Miss bursts into tears. She dissolves into a puddle on the floor. She wails at the unjust absence of oatmeal.
Eventually, she concedes that an egg-in-a-hole will suffice. You juggle the bread, egg, and a towel for wiping up Little Dude’s breakfast. He is in the living room, now, pulling your entire collection of Terry Pratchett novels off the shelf. You use that distraction to scribble down a few more sentences.
Once Little Miss starts eating, she starts talking. About imaginary friends, real friends, what she wants to do today, what she’d rather not do today, how she plans to be a super-hero-princess-pediatrician when she grows up. She asks how you made the egg-in-a-hole, what Daddy does at work, and why she can’t go see Nana and Granddad today. You feel your brain bifurcate into two sections: one keeping up with the conversation about where the rain comes from, and the other churning out the next few sentences of the story.
In just two hours, you are able to get everyone fed and dressed for the day. The clean dishes are out of the dishwasher, the dirty breakfast plates are loaded in. There are five more precious sentences in your notebook. Things are going well.
Next, it’s time for a walk. This is your long-standing strategy to prevent morning meltdowns and unconquerable toy piles. The islands of Terry Pratchett in your living room suggest that you might be a little late with regards to that second goal, but you also know things could get much worse.
After a brief discussion with the preschooler about “why baby gets to ride in the stroller”, you set off on a little jaunt around the neighborhood. You point out birds. Little Dude gasps in wonder. The preschooler points out flowers. Little Dude gasps in wonder at those, too. Little Miss skips, challenges you to races, and sings songs about how blue the sky is, even though a solid cover of clouds hangs over your heads. You might envy her ability to see things that aren’t there, just a little bit.
Little Dude envies the fact that she’s free to walk, and tries to pull his seatbelt off.
Little Miss suddenly yelps. “I have to go potty!”
You are at least a quarter of a mile from the house. You sigh, then let her climb up in the stroller. Little Dude objects to this intrusion of his personal space by kicking her in the back. She retaliates by scootching even further into his personal space.
You trot back home, the stroller listing disconcertingly with every dip in the trail.
Somehow, you make it back. Little Dude cries about returning indoors, but you suggest that a storytime might make his entrapment bearable. He selects his favorite book, Little Blue Truck. You sit down, and after much negotiation and some throwing of elbows, manage to fit two children in your lap. You can’t exactly see the book, but you don’t need to. The words are engraved on your brain, like pictographs on a granite slab.
As usual, you read the first five pages, and then the pace of Little Dude’s page-turning picks up, and you read the first line, and the first line alone, of the last pages in the book. This process is repeated four times, when you finally declare that it’s time for a different book. Little Miss picks this time. Little Dude does not appreciate her tale, with its paper pages and its longer sentences.
This book, he says with his waving hands and kicking feet, has a criminal lack of rhymes.
Little Miss cries that this isn’t fair, she sat through Little Dude’s book. Four times. He can’t keep trying to shut her book!
You decide that everyone is suffering from a dip in blood sugar levels, and it’s time to make some lunch. This pronouncement, and the end of storytime, are not met with relief. Both Dude and Miss object.
You pull out a basket of toy food, and suggest that they make something while you work on the genuine article. You are dumbfounded when this strategy works. You will gladly pay the price of being asked to sample twenty different pieces of plastic fruit while stirring macaroni and cheese. Your offspring, after all, have patiently eaten macaroni and cheese four days straight. You ought to humor their request that you serve as the one and only customer at their imaginary cafe.
Mac & cheese lands on the table. Little Dude sprints to his chair, and Little Miss manages to get to her plate after a long and perilous interpretive dance, in which she risks life and limb by weaving around chairs and toy fire trucks.
You stand at the counter and stare at your notebook while savoring leftovers from dinner last night. What were you writing about, again? You’re pretty sure there aren’t any blue trucks involved. There seem to be a lot of swords on the page. What is wrong with your characters? Don’t they know there are impressionable children around? They should really consider talking out their problems, instead of stabbing each other. You wonder if it’s too late to inject some more cooperation into this story.
Little Dude and Little Miss both have second servings. You make sure they have blueberries, too, so at least some of their need for vitamins is met.
Abruptly, lunch is done and playtime started back up. Little Miss asks you to draw the outline of a cupcake. Little Dude rubs his eyes. You hastily move dishes from the table to the sink, draw something that looks vaguely like a baked good, then carry Little Dude upstairs for his nap.
As you rock him in his dim room, you ask yourself some deep, existential questions. Are you doing both your writing and your children a disservice by juggling their care and your stories? By splitting your concentration between them, are you merely doing both things badly?
Should you be making them bento boxes for lunch, with carrots cut in the shape of flowers and grains pressed into the shape of rabbits?
Or should you put them in front of the TV more so you can spend more time on your writing?
Is that rash on Little Dude’s face ever going to go away?
Is Little Miss going to know her letters in time for kindergarten?
Finally, Little Dude sleeps soundly enough that you can put him down. Little Miss goes outside to play in the back yard. The house is eerily quiet.
You sit in front of your notebook. Sweet, blissful writing time. You write, have some granola, write some more, make some coffee, write some more. You hear the creak of the swing going back and forth outside.
Half a page later, Little Dude cries again. He can’t be up, already! You look at the clock, and realize two hours have passed.
You run upstairs to pull him out of the crib. He has a serious case of post-nap crankiness, and spends the next thirty minutes firmly ensconced in your arms. You read Little Blue Truck a few times. Then Go, Dog. Go! Finally, he assents to having his shoes put on, and you take him outside.
For the next thirty minutes, he and Little Miss fight over whose turn it is on the swing while you weed the strawberry bed and gather leaves to put in the compost bin.
Next, it is on to cooking dinner. You chop, roast, stir, and serve. Little Dude pulls a bag of flour onto the floor and spreads it around like some kind of abstract painting. Little Miss continues her interpretive dance in the kitchen, eventually colliding with the edge of the stairs.
The rest of the evening passes in a quick-fire haze. You eat and chat with an adult human being who just arrived home from the outside world. You clean up dishes, bathe both children, read some more books. You wrestle the toddler into his pajamas. As you carry him off to bed, he waves at his father and sister as if they are the finest people one could ever hope to meet, and he shall look forward to seeing them again on the morrow.
You cannot understand how you are in charge of these tiny and very real human beings.
Once Little Dude slumbers, you do Yoga while your adult counterpart gets Little Miss her snack. You are in the most impossible of positions when she approaches for her good-night hug. You untwist your legs, and she wraps her arms around your neck in that awkward way unique to her, like she is trying to keep most of her body as far away as possible, while still achieving the most important parts of the hug.
Before she goes to bed, she talks about all the people she would like to rescue tomorrow. You agree that she should get lots of rest so that she will be ready for saving kittens from trees and fighting lots of bad guys.
You finish up your yoga, sticking it out to the final “Namaste”. When it’s done, you roll up your mat, stash it in the corner, then run with un-zen-like haste to your notebook. You squeak out some more words, enough to get to the bottom of the page and overflow onto the next.
You close the notebook. It might not be much, but every sentence is a step in the right direction. You celebrate your day, the cooking, the kisses, the fights, the books. All the conversations and songs and truck noises. Every word that you used to fill out the world you’ve built inside your head.
You are a writer and a mom. It means squeezing impossible minutes out of every day. It means constant doubt about how you spend your time. Your time is full to the brim, with moments of chaos and others that trickle by with agonizing slowness. Your skills are rusty, your writing broken up into fragments, when you think it should flow.
You have no idea where you are going to end up, but you are grateful for the journey.