It’s 5:45 p.m., and I’ve bathed Jane, who is, admittedly, still running around the house in her towel, but hey, at least she’s clean. Jack is in the tub, scrubbing himself. Ben is in his crib, asleep. Luke is in the Moby, alternately wailing and whimpering on my chest. Dinner is bubbling on the stove.
I stir the pasta sauce with a wooden spoon and pat Luke’s bum with my other hand. I think I might finally be getting the hang of this whole life-with-four-children thing.
It slowly dawns on me that Jane isn’t running around anymore. In fact, it’s suddenly quiet, except for Luke’s cries. Then, I hear giggles. Loud giggles. From the bathroom. Silence followed by laughter is always, always, a combination to be feared.
I head to the bathroom, my mad face already on. I don’t know what they’ve done, but I know I’m not going to like it.
Jane stands by the tub, her towel still wrapped around her. She leans over, lets the towel fall into the water, then jumps back, flinging water everywhere. She and Jack erupt into laughter. Fully a quarter of her towel is wet – no, soaked – and it’s making a small lake on the tile.
“What are you doing?” I bellow above Luke’s crying.
They both look up, the delight on their faces vanishing.
“I’m sorry, Mama,” Jane says, and tries to run from the room.
“NO!” I say and grab her before she can get to the door. “You’ll just make a water mess out there! Clean it up!” I jab my finger at the floor. She stares at me. “I said clean it up! Now!” I yell. “Get a towel and clean it up!”
Jane starts to cry. Luke wails in the Moby. Water puddles on the tile. My socks are wet.
I turn on my heel and march out of the bathroom. I hate wet socks. I stand in the dining room and scream. I scream so loud and so long that Luke stops screaming. He’s that shocked.
I’m shocked too. Did I really just do that? Really? Who’s supposed to be the adult around here anyway?
It’s just water. It’s not hard to clean up. The floor is covered with sealed tile. Why oh why do I get so bent out of shape over stupid things like a puddle of water on the bathroom floor? Who cares? I mean, who other than me? And why do I care anyway? Jack and Jane are fully capable of cleaning up a water mess. It’s really not my problem…or it wouldn’t be, except that I freak out and throw a temper tantrum and make a bigger mess, a mess in my children’s hearts, in their souls.
I peel off my wet socks and throw them in the laundry. Barefoot, I go back to the bathroom where both kids are trying to mop up the water on the floor. I sit on the toilet lid. I say, “I’m sorry.” I don’t have more words than that. I mean, what can you say when you’re 35 and behave like a three-year-old?
Jack says, “It’s my fault, Mama. I told her to do it. Don’t be mad at Jane.”
I shake my head. “I’m mad at me. I’m sorry I got so angry. I’m sorry I yelled at you guys. I’m sorry I screamed.”
Jane gives me a hug. “It’s okay, Mama. I love you.”
Tears prick at my eyes. Why couldn’t I be the one to say those words? To look at the puddle on the floor and say to my children, “It’s okay. I love you”?
Someday, please God, someday, I will. I will walk in on a mess and laugh. I will walk in on a mess and love the kids who made it. I will walk in on a mess and say, “It’s okay. I love you.”
Until then, I’m just going to try not to break any windows when I scream.