I have been struggling with gratitude lately. I don’t really know why, except maybe that it was my birthday on Monday, and I still kind of act like a spoiled brat on my birthday. Also, Georgia has been sick with Hand, Foot and Mouth disease, and between her misery and my lack of sleep, I’ve just been in a mood.
I think it started when I read something a fellow mommy blogger had written about how her living room was a mess and her kids were screaming but how she wouldn’t want to be anywhere else in the world. I get that sentiment; I really do. I feel that way myself most of the time. But not that night. “Ugh,” I thought, looking at my own messy living room and listening to my own screaming kids. “I can think of 100 places I would rather be than right here right now: the beach, the bookstore, a quiet room, taking a solitary drive in the country – anywhere but here on my stained sofa with a teething, sick toddler and a feisty, sassy 6-year-old who doesn’t want to do her math homework, with ketchup smeared on my pajama pants and ranch dressing smeared on the ottoman and snot (not my own) smeared on my T-shirt and the TV blaring the same episode of ‘Yo Gabba Gabba’ I’ve seen 87 times this week alone.”
Then a friend of mine emailed me the day after my birthday, partially to wish me a happy birthday and partially to ask if I liked the timing of my birthday because she and her husband were contemplating starting a family and September was “the only month that would work” for them. That kind of mindset makes me a little bit angry and a little bit jealous and a little bit smug and a little bit sad and really a little bit of everything. My very first due date was actually my own birthday, but that pregnancy ended 14 weeks along, and I had Ruby four days before Christmas, something I never would’ve planned.
The idea that someone could be so … naïve? hopeful? delusional? … as to think that having a baby is really just as easy as picking the date that works best for you, counting back nine months and having sex – I don’t know. I think it was more my crummy mood than anything, but I didn’t feel gratitude for the two little miracles that I brought into the world with the help of almost 1,000 injections of blood thinner so much as I felt an urge to write back, “If you’re that much of a control freak, just don’t have kids.” I think I’ll write a kinder, gentler version of that soon – her question was meant in a good way and she’s a good person, but giving up any sense of control is really a crucial step in both pregnancy and parenting – but I was just cranky. Definitely cranky.
I knew I needed an attitude adjustment when Georgia woke burning up and crying hysterically at 3 a.m., and my first emotion was a stab of envy as I thought of the Catholic priest I was set to interview the following day. I am not all that religious, honestly, but when you’re struggling to administer a rapidly melting Tylenol suppository to a screaming, miserable infant in the middle of the night, a quiet child-free life of contemplation starts to seem at least a little bit appealing.
I tried, repeatedly, to tell myself I was being a jerk for not being more grateful for the wonderful things in my life: my beautiful, charming daughters; my sweet, funny stepson; my brilliant husband who cooks and cleans and rocks the baby to sleep and makes me laugh a lot; my dad who is 75 and robustly healthy and volunteers as a notary at the public library; my awesome mom who watches my kids all the time and fields my frantic phone calls and works with at-risk youth; my in-laws who are generous with their time and affection; my home in a safe neighborhood; a grocery budget that allows for fresh fruit and veggies and organic milk. I am extremely fortunate. I know this. Somehow, though, knowing you should be grateful doesn’t always translate into gratitude. When I was pregnant, for example, I knew how lucky I was and how much I wanted my babies. But gratitude was hard to come by when a Red Lobster commercial made me puke into my lap or bruises from the blood thinner made my entire stomach a gross purply-blue. The overall gratitude for what I had was there; it was just buried under the unpleasant but very real details.
In the midst of my bad attitude last night, though, Ruby mysteriously disappeared for about 10 minutes, and when she came back into the (messy) living room, the front of her shirt was soaking wet.
“I know you’re tired because the baby isn’t sleeping, Mom, so I did the dishes for you,” she said.
I went in to the kitchen to find the floor covered in soapsuds, the waterlogged sponge dripping off the counter and dried pasta still clinging to the bottom of the “clean” pot. But Ruby flung her damp self at me, so proud of her attempted good deed, and then feverish Georgia toddled over and held out her arms and said, “Up? Up, Mama? Hug?”
And suddenly, there was no place I would rather be.