(Kveller via JTA) — It is one of those days. I wake up on the wrong side of the bed. To every question posed to me in the morning, I immediately answer, “NO! No I can’t help you!” Even when it makes no sense, even when my children aren’t asking for help. I’m steeped in irritation: “You want me to make you WHAT? NOW?” is how I respond to my children deigning to ask for toaster waffles. The gall! I am in a beastly mood, pure and simple.
Ugh! I hate days when I feel like I could cry on a dime or scream on a nickel, when I feel like hot tears are just waiting to push open the gates and come pouring out of my eyes at any given moment, when my irritability meter is so sensitive my dog even avoids looking at me. Everything bothers me: children’s voices, adult voices, questions, statements, stray observations, basically any part of speech gets on my nerves. Food smells different. My clothes don’t feel like they fit me right, my shoes feel tight; I’m uncomfortable in my skin.
These are the days when my apartment feels desperately messy. I start going through rooms seeing dust that has been accumulating for not only days but weeks. How have I not noticed this? I single out piles of papers and declare that we must do a massive cleaning, either now or the moment we get back later today. I look at my kids’ games and toys and Legos and playing cards and Pokemon and shout, “Guys, we have to do something about all this clutter!”
I immediately assign each of my kids a job to do, even though they have to leave for school in less than five minutes. I just feel like they need a job, regardless of whether they actually have time to perform it. We have lived in this mess for far too long and it simply cannot wait another day, not even another minute! It all feels so urgent.
On days like this, I have no filter. My mouth spews words faster than my mind can account for them. Every thought I have, whether good or bad, just falls out of my mouth. I yell at my kids. I pick a fight with my husband. I dress down a clerk who is being rude. It’s unnerving, given my natural tendency to guard my tongue with my life. But on these days, my strength to refrain is seriously compromised and I end up just speaking freely.
Invariably these are also the days when I really screw up something on our schedule. I forget a doctor’s appointment or miss a makeup class that took me weeks to plan. Our calendar is like an overstuffed suitcase, and on these days, one unfortunate item always gets left behind.
I loathe the follow-up calls. too: “Hi, we just wanted to call and check in. It’s not like you guys to miss. Is everything OK?” Well, yes, everything is OK, in a macro-sense. I have my physical and mental health, mostly; the kids, they’re fine. But in a micro-sense, I’m actually not OK. If you really want to know, I am ready to blow, but I can’t tell you that, so instead I’ll just say, far too sweetly, “Oh yeah, we are fiiiiiiiine. Totally fine. I’m so sorry I flubbed.” Clearly the receptionist will know that is patently untrue because my voice will be cracking the entire time.
Oy! On this particular day, I let my kids watch too many shows, and then I’m annoyed with them because they watched too many shows. I sneak into the kitchen to grab some chocolate and then scold my kids for asking for dessert. I fall asleep on the floor while I was supposed to be playing Mr. Potato Head. Then, when I am roused by fingers poking my arm fat, I get startled and angry, you know that crazy fury you feel when someone shocks you awake from a deep sleep.
I have no idea where I am, or why.
On days like this, I don’t feel like I have this parenting gig down. It all feels so hard and exhausting and depleting. This work is messy and the feelings that go with it are even messier. And today, I’m a mess. I know it isn’t realistic to strive for perfection as a parent (and clearly, I am far from it). But sometimes, I’d love to be just a little less imperfect.
Amid the chaos and confusion, I try to remember this: The world began in “tohu v’vohu,” in chaos and confusion. Before God initiated creation, the world was an unstructured, cosmic mess. As such chaos, and all of its conglomerate parts, is our inheritance, always there. The blueprint of our lives is often just crazy. It always has been and always will be. But within that confusion lies the raw material for all that is glorious, all that is majestic and all that is wonderful in this world. Somewhere, deep within that chaos, resides a true spark of the Divine.
So as night begins to fall, and my kids head off to bed, and I’ve almost forgotten how awful and annoying and irksome the day has been, I turn to each one and, no matter what, request a hug. As we huddle together in an embrace, I think it can only get better from here.
(Sara Sapadin is a rabbi and mother of four. Ordained by Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Sapadin most recently served Temple Israel of the City of New York, focusing on issues of social justice, Israel and revitalizing Jewish living for young families.)