I stand there, nerves raw already from past, adult, household-related arguments, crying over a sink of dirty dishes while the youngest sits on the floor and pours milk from her cup all over her lap. Because I’m exposed, tender and soft, where any harsh anything results in the loss of control, even if it comes from a 3 year old who is himself crying upstairs in his room. He’s breaking every toy he has in there because I wasn’t present enough to give him the attention he requires, and so to get it he dumped out the toys in the playroom and refused to clean them up.
And then I hear him opening the gate to the stairs, so I grab the milk-covered towel I’ve used to wipe up the mess the youngest just made, hastily dry my cheeks and nose, and put on a smile, grateful that he’s decided himself to clean up the toys, saddened that the situation escalated, angry that I can’t just run away and hide whenever I want to, except now, when I’ve locked myself in the bedroom for a moment to compose myself, to write this down, to take a breath.
But it doesn’t count because they’re right outside waiting for me to smile again, tell them what a good job they’re doing, and fix the peanut butter sandwich that the oldest has now decided he’s hungry for.
And even though the heaviness is still there, that’s what I’ve got to do. That’s what I always do.