I mop hardwood floors after the children go to bed and I think it will be irritating, but it isn’t. It’s inside my head time. I need more time with my own thoughts while my hands are busy. We all need more of that in our lives.
I think about the hour before dinner the other day. How tired the kids were. How little I had left. How I shooed their hungry hands from the table over and over. Not yet. Don’t climb on the chairs. NOT YET. Find something to do for a few minutes.
And I think about how I walked into the dining room a millisecond too late, as the tablecloth was in the actual act of sliding off the table, caught in Nate’s right hand, his knee in his booster seat, his face a little awed. The crash of four milk cups and a water glass on the floor. Silverware bouncing. Droplets scattered.
I think about how I yelled “NO! NO!” The words honed hard as diamonds beneath the weight of a million tired mothers and a thousand burned dinners. Pioneer women sweating over cook fires and mothers weaving through reeds on the banks of the Nile and maybe even cave mothers with animal-skin swaddled toddlers sounded that barbaric NO with me.
My mind replays the way he stuffed both fists into his mouth and howled his two-year-old grief. Has anyone else ever spoken to him so unkindly? I doubt it. Only a mother’s frustration can run so high. How he retreated to the stairs to cry where I could not help but hear him, asking with each heaving sob that I come and tell him we were okay. And I think about how I didn’t. I swore and stomped and sopped milk out of the carpet and flung dripping towels down the basement stairs and fixed plates to the sound of crying that rarely fails to bring me running to the rescue.
I think about Dr. Hoffman, an attachment-specialist whose catchphrases play on repeat in my head. Repair, he urges. That word is printed on a card on my nightstand. I think about his thirty-three percent rule and how realistic he is and how much I identify with that realism. Meet emotional needs whenever you can and repair when you can’t.
“Nate,” I slipped onto the stair beside him. “Nater skater. I’m sorry. It’s okay. Momma’s tired and the spilled milk made me sad, but I always love you.” We are okay. How he wrapped himself, octopus-like, around me and pressed his cheek to mine and whispered, “I help you.” We re-set the table together, the remnants of spilled milk seeping into our socks.
You may think this is crazy, but I think about how I feel good about the incident, here, on my knees with the silence of sleeping children allowing my own thoughts to flow. I feel at peace. I think Dr. Hoffman would give me the nod. Because I will never be perfect, not at any of my relationships and certainly not as a mother. But there is always, always, time to repair.