I wake up with his face coming into focus. Big brown eyes blinking into mine. “Mommy-a?” he whispers loudly.
I’m not a morning person. I fumble around, bang on the nightstand for my glasses, and squint at the clock: 6:15 AM. “Lay back down,” I whisper at him with a forced smile. His head ducks back down, and he buries himself in the sleeping bag on the floor. Yes, he sleeps there. Yes, it’s unorthodox. Ask Karyn Purvis.
I close my eyes again. He has the uncanny ability to wake me up thirty minutes early, every single morning. Every once in a while his head pops back up; his eyes wide awake. There is not even the tiniest part of him that is sleepy. “Not yet,” I mouth and motion for him to lie back down, terrified that he’ll wake her up too. Yes, she’s on the other side. In fact, many nights find all five of us sleeping in one of our four bedrooms.
I catch a few more winks before my alarm sounds. Now it’s undeniably morning. I elbow Casey, who has slept through our morning charades, or at least pretended rather well. Before we know it, there are two more in our bed, squirming in, vying for the coveted spot in the middle, and pressing their cold toes against my legs. They’re overwhelmingly happy, for such an early hour. It’s sweet, in a bitter kind of way. What was it like to wake up alone, in a quiet room? I can’t remember.
We stumble out of bed, hopefully before I’ve been elbowed in the eye or jumped on from a great distance. Casey takes breakfast duty while I try to pull myself together. Again, mornings are hard for me.
Once I manage to brush my teeth and pull on some sweat pants, I wander into the kitchen where Casey is playing short order cook to three energetic and loud customers. “Mommy-a!” they yell as I enter the room. Again, it’s sweet, but loud. I squint, trying to cope with the sensory overload. They all want hugs, even the ones I hugged just five minutes ago. They must catch me up on what has happened while I was in the bathroom. I make my rounds, feeling like a celebrity in some very twisted universe, and try to offer a kind word or extra squeeze to each, before I bee-line it to the coffee pot.
Before long, Casey’s off to work across the hall, and I’m in charge. Things can escalate rather quickly, and what started out as a peaceful morning might end in spilled milk, violent screams, and slammed doors. I try to take it all in stride. I shuttle children to school. I load up lunch boxes, folders, coats, hats, backpacks, and snacks, not forgetting the show-and-tell item and making sure that the appropriate ones are wearing their orange shirt or green shirt or whatever the morning calls for. “Please sit down and buckle up,” I repeat; they each act as if it’s their first ride in a car.
“Mommy-a?” she asks, waiting for me to respond. “Yes,” I answer. “Can I ask you a question?” she asks again, followed by another pause. “Yes,” I reply. We repeat this a hundred times every day.
Another child has to pull my arm or touch my face each time he talks to me. I maneuver about the kitchen with him hanging on me. Someone is touching me constantly, joined by that nagging thought that follows me all day long . . . “I’m sure I’m not doing this right.”
Sometimes it feels like my day is one never-ending negotiation. Like I’m dealing with a maniac, and there are hostages involved: namely, me. “You liked peanut butter yesterday; why don’t you like it today? . . . Please share with your brother . . . You may not hit your sister, no matter what she does . . . I know this isn’t the kind of cereal you wanted, but we don’t have that kind anymore.”
I find myself consoling a child over a one-dollar toothbrush that no longer lights up, “But Mommy, why does hers still light up and mine doesn’t?” . . . or arguing over which banana he should eat. I express my concern at the concoction another child has crafted in a ziploc bag. “I need it, Mom,” he pleads.
And after yelling at his siblings for two hours, he announces decidedly at supper, “I think we need another brother or sister in our family.” His father and I look at him in disbelief.
And there are sweet, sweet moments. And there is lots of laughing. But I fall into bed each night, completely spent, with that load of laundry still in the dryer. “What did you do today?” someone might ask. I have no idea.
Some mothers are confused by my exhaustion. Maybe their children are easier, I don’t know; they shake their head at my need for peace and my desperation. Don’t I love my children?
Older women cluck at me and smile. “You’ll miss it one day,” they inform me, dismissing my struggles and my fear with a sweep of their hands. I wonder if they’re remembering right.
But at night, after they’re tucked into bed, I’m drawn back to them. It doesn’t make sense. I was so desperate for quiet, and now I miss their funny words and the way their necks smell. I’m like an addict who just can’t quit.
This is killing me, little by little, and I realize that in the end it just may be the death of me. But I also realize: that’s as it should be.
There’s a lot more to birthing a life than the initial delivery. And the labor pains swell and rise, and sometimes it does feel like death. But I’m starting to wonder if birth and death have more in common than I realized. And I push, and I cry . . . and sometimes there’s laughter, and sometimes there’s screaming. And I know at the end of this, I might lie lifeless on the table.
And yet, this life I have will be spent on someone. And who better than these three little faces who can’t get close enough to mine, these bright eyes that need to tell me everything?
A hand brushes my face, and I open my eyes. He’s there. “Mommy-a,” he whispers.
It’s morning again.