I had to take a breath when I saw it. Or a few. Perhaps my hands were also on my knees as I hunched over in the beginning stages of overwhelm.
When I was a grade 6 teacher in a former, more glamorous life, a student once told me that my tell for when I’m upset is that I get quiet for a while. Like really quiet.
This was one of those times. And my three little girls knew it.
The 15 eggs were irreparably smashed. Inside the fridge. Dripping down it. Through the drawer into the freezer. Onto the floor. Where the dog was frantically licking it up, enjoying every shell.
Raw egg does not clean easily.
However, it is arguably safer than the glass pot lid that shattered all over the floor – I kid you not – less than 10 minutes after I had cleaned up the egg. The girl who dropped the egg carton stepped on a shard of glass and her foot was bleeding, and the dog was frantically trying to eat the glass like it was more raw egg.
The girl who was the least involved in this sit-com-length fiasco was home from school, recovering from a concussion.
As a bonus, the kitchen had to be spotless because a photographer was coming within an hour to take pictures of our newly-finished custom-made table.
I was just trying to make lunch.
This is a normal day. This is life as a mom. Clinging to your sanity desperately while rapidly problem-solving astronaut-level disasters.
The ultimate nurse’s triage.
If it was somebody else’s life, it would be comical. But it’s mine. And I often find it overwhelming.
I bend towards feeling like a failure, like I’m wrecking my kids, that somebody else could raise them better.
That my house should be cleaner, my girls’ hair should be brushed more, and that I should be doing more Pinterest-derived activities with them. That our life should just be more ‘cute’.
You see, I am a millennial. I have a propensity for perfection, high achievement and self-sufficiency. I have too-high standards for myself. I am excellent at comparison. And being unrealistically hard on myself. Admittably.
I realize now in writing this that even Joanna Gaines gets childcare to be able to finish her projects without disaster.
Today’s buzz-word is ‘self-care’.
But let’s be real. In a life where you have three littles running around, unintentionally (but sometimes intentionally) literally making more work for you, it’s dangerous to even go to the bathroom with the door closed.
I tried that once. My girls figured out how to work the microwave and brought me a melted chocolate sandwich. I’m glad they didn’t start a fire. (But yes, it was delicious.)
What even is self-care for moms in the thick of it?
A bubble bath? Fifteen minutes of deep breathing? Pottery? Smelling nature?
If you have kids, you are already imagining all the disasters that could happen while engaging in these ‘self-care’ activities. If you can’t, you’ve clearly never tried to do yoga with the kids around.
These slots of independence, this idea of ‘self-care’ is not enough. If I got any time alone I would need more than 15 minutes to recover. Maybe a 15-day cruise.
I can’t change my girl’s energy. I can’t change their personalities or their ages. Nor would I wish to.
I don’t even wish to go back to my teaching career right now. I’m their mom and I get to give them my time. For now.
What I can change, however, are the expectations I have of myself. To release myself from perfection.
To intentionally change the algorithms of my Pinterest feed so searching for new recipes doesn’t also highlight my mom insufficiencies.
To rebel against self-sufficiency and invite people into my imperfect castle.
To change my definition of success.
To release the controlling grip on my environment and myself.
To me, the self-care of changing my expectations is so much better than a bubble bath.
To accept my imperfection. And to live life vulnerably with people.
So when family friends come over, I don’t mind the mess of Barbies, cars, markers, Magformers and Littlest Pet Shop that seven children can rapidly create together. I really don’t. I love it.
It means we have people in our life.
And when we accidently dump a half-cooked pizza upside down inside the hot, hot oven, we can laugh the whole time we clean stringy cheese out of EVERYWHERE and quickly make another one from scratch. We can giggle when the children ask (again) when supper will be ready.
It means accepting our imperfections compassionately.
Motherhood is the definition of imperfection. And it necessitates community.
So let’s change our focus from receiving self-care from limited time alone to giving ourselves grace.
Accepting our inability to control it all, to be it all. Being compassionate toward our mistakes and perceived failures because we are just moms, not genetically-engineered super-beings. Moms are human. Humans that bleed and cry and find things hard.
Self-care is the beauty of an imperfect life with others.
It’s the only way to enjoy late, mangled supper together at a table built for ten, that yes, the photographer did manage to get a good picture of.