Updated: Jan 31
A friend once messaged me after we reconnected on Facebook, and after hearing how many children I had said, “You must have your hands full with your brood. Don’t know [how] you can manage that. Only having two seems to be [a] handful. I could not imagine having five.
It must be a ballet of coordination and planning to keep it all running smoothly.”
God how I laughed.
That couldn’t have been farther from the life I was living.
I did tell him that it was “more like a 3-ring circus!”
I didn’t tell him that I’m a “fly by the seat of my pants” type of person and organization or planning or any kind of coordination were not things I could easily manage. I would have burned out much sooner had I attempted to “ballet and coordinate.”
That was the summer of 2009. I had a two-month-old son, my daughter was about to turn two, my oldest son was about to turn four, my adopted daughter was twelve, and my stepchild was thirteen (we had them a good chunk of the summer). It was two years before I had my last child, my youngest son.
Back then, it would take me a week to complete one simple blog post, working on the desktop computer in our small office room right off the living room. I would pop in a Disney cartoon to try to keep the kids occupied while I got some words out. They would be in and out of the office room, which was crowded with books and stacks of CDs loaded with music and pictures. They loved running off with books. I think it was all about the chase.
I still laugh about that message. I imagine myself in a tutu and ballet shoes fluttering gracefully around the house, gathering up the children’s toys, or elegantly setting out dinner plates in front of them. Oh, the dance that would be.
My dance was more like Elaine’s dance from Seinfeld, knocking over books and CDs while chasing my children out of the office room in my robe and slippers. I got smart after a while and bought a child gate for the door so I could still see what they were up to, but they couldn’t get in.
I’ve thought about that message often over the past twelve years. It’s crazy which things stick with you.
Ballet is something a person trains for many years to become strong enough and good enough to perform.
While I spent most of my childhood looking after my younger siblings, and felt that I had what it took to be a fantastic mother, when I finally landed that gig, it was quickly apparent that I had no idea how all-encompassing motherhood would be.
I never imagined having to re-learn everything one-handed: cooking, cleaning, using the bathroom… Or asking the father to take the baby for a minute, only to have him say that he had to emergency poop, and trying to remember the last time you pooped without a baby in your lap.
A crucial aspect of ballet has to be balance. An excellent sense of proprioception, which is the awareness of your entire body through space.
Two months prior to that message, two days before the due date of my middle son, I managed to trip over a chainsaw while trying to navigate the back porch hallway with a toddler walking in front of me, and a toddler on my hip. I was able to somehow set the toddler down gently while falling and gashing my leg on the chainsaw. Of course, it was not running, and had been sitting on the ledge of the back porch hallway. I’m still not really sure how it all went down. But, I remember the children’s father outside rolling his eyes at me as I picked myself up to assess the damage.
I learned about proprioception after having my firstborn son diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder when he was seven. At that point, I knew that my daughter, who was five, also had a Sensory Processing Disorder. They both had very poor body awareness and were very clumsy. They both had issues with sounds as well. Ever been in the Walmart family bathroom with two toddlers and an infant, and had them scream bloody murder when the toilet flushed? I got used to the looks from the service counter when I came out with dripping wet hands and terrified toddlers (the hand driers were worse than the flushes).
I’m certain that the lives of ballet dancers are one of ultimate imbalance. You can’t be a successful ballet dancer without sacrificing many things to the hours of daily practice it takes.
My life as a mother has been nothing but imbalance from day one.
That doesn’t mean that I haven’t loved a large chunk of it. That chunk is 100% the children that made me a mother. I wouldn’t change any one thing about any of them. They are who they are meant to be and who they imagine themselves to be. There is something endearingly special about each and every one.
I could have done without the marriage imbalance.
The opposing ideas of parenthood and control that forced me to be much less of the parent I wanted to be (actually, nothing even close). The isolation that kept me from family and friends and the potential of any sort of village.
Here, twelve years after that message, I’ve been a single mother for almost four years (and still nothing resembling a village). Both older children are out on their own making their way. One, despite her childhood and upbringing, has become a wonderful, accomplished, and awarded Chef.
The other went to college and graduated with an art degree. They are an incredibly talented artist. Luckily, they spent most of their time with their supportive mother and only had to suffer in our household on holidays and summers.
Both children have become excellent adults. I can’t take any credit for this.
The dance I’ve created within my current household is one of flexibility, entropy, and live energy. Rhythm not required.
I’m not going to even entertain the idea that there is any kind of balance, as my world will likely always be one of imbalance.
When the kids are home, the pendulum swings to their side. We listen to music, sing, laugh, watch movies, play games, and live unobstructed. I miss work deadlines because my focus is on them and their needs. They require most of my time and attention.
It’s a challenge, and it’s all-consuming, even now, while they are all much older.
I still don’t get to poop without being intruded upon.
I feel like I will forever be trying to write in that up and down fashion, which isn’t always easy or productive. But I always try!
All four of them have diagnoses. The two oldest ASD, and the two younger ADHD. My daughter and youngest son both have multiple diagnoses as well. I feel like I’ve spent most of the last six years in IEP meetings and dealing with school issues with the children, as well as being in and out of different types of therapies.
We are yet best explained as a “traveling circus.”
That message wasn’t the last time I would have someone tell me they didn’t know how I did it.
Just before the pandemic hit and everything closed down, I ended up with all of them inside a local gas station to get a drink. Simple mission: everyone chooses their own drink. At one point they were each in four out of the five aisles. The cashier was laughing and looked at me and asked, “How do you do it?”
“Vodka. Lots of vodka,” and we laughed some more. I was so glad that she had patience, a sense of humor, and an empty store.
The truth is, I don’t know how I do it either.
Connect with Kristin on social media:
On Instagram @kristinwritesmuch
On Substack: https://kristinwritesmuch.substack.com/
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