I looked in the rearview mirror at my youngest child, on route to our Monday morning toddler time class. “I’m sorry, sweetie,” I said. “Mommy is just burned out.”
She smiled and said, “Hello.”
She doesn’t understand. Why should she? Not only is she not even two years old, but also, the simple fact is that there are NO people in my circle who know what it is like to go through Mommy & Me for the sixth time/child.
I am Burned Out.
I will save you time: please do not write a nasty comment on how fortunate I am to have six children and how I should be grateful (I am well aware, and thankful every day). Please do not write a comment on how fortunate I am to be able to go to Mommy & Me activities with my child instead of working at a five-billion-hour-a-week job (I am well aware, and thankful every day).
Despite my constant gratitude for these things, the fact remains that Mommy & Me classes, if we are being honest, can be excruciating. While routine can be reassuring to children, it can be mind-numbing to an adult. And, I would argue, this is especially true when you are doing these things for the sixth time.
I have been attending these classes for ages. Ages. I try to mix it up by going to different versions of gym classes, nature classes, art classes, music classes. Sometimes, the novelty works: I like a session and my daughter likes it too. But other times, I realize that it wasn’t an accident that I didn’t take the same class with an earlier child. It’s hit and miss. And at the root of it, there is only so much you can do with a toddler.
Lately, I’ve been finding it harder to muster the requisite perky enthusiasm for these activities. I don’t know if this is because I’m depressed about world events, or because I’m exhausted, or because I am perimenopausal, or because I am just seriously freaking DONE with Gymbo the Clown. All I know is that I’ve been doing this schtick a lot more than most parents or caregivers.
And, reader, I am so tired.
I have acquired the canyon-like wrinkles on my face that I swear in part are due to doing repeated rounds of “Open, Shut Them.” Indeed, some of the omnipresent toddler songs – whether about historical figures, or taxis, or taking public transport —haunt my dreams the way normal people are haunted by the “Hamilton” soundtrack.
I’ve seen it all at this point. Oh, Lord, the moms who pretend it wasn’t their kid who pooped their pants (please, take a diaper from me, just go change him!). The moms who act like they are back in 6th grade and shun the less-well-dressed among us. The moms who pretend they have all their shit together and have a curated Facebook/Instagram feed that borders on parody (WHY, GOD, WHY?). The moms with the holsters of Purell and their close relatives, the moms who say they can’t go to the supermarket because they forgot their cart cover to prevent Shopping Cart Disease (PLEASE).
I am beyond jaded. I see first-time grandmas who come to these classes and I think, “Wow, they look perky.” The wheels on the bus go round. And round. And round. And they NEVER FREAKING STOP.
Of course, the bus will eventually stop for me. This summer, I will be done with Mommy & Me until I hopefully live long enough to see the days of Grandma & Me. So I should be all preemptively nostalgic for these sweet days of watching little kids wearing pigtails go into orgasmic bliss over bubbles, or have fits of torrential sobbing when they have to leave the playground.
And I find I can’t do it. We got to my class this morning, and I was all the way inside the school and watching my daughter do dot painting when I realized I had forgotten my coffee in the car. My audible groan was so loud that the mothers and caregivers around me stepped away, with either disdain or fear.
After the “say your name” song in which my daughter never participates (convincing me yet again that I should lose more sleep at night worrying about her), we went to ‘gym.’ That’s where it happened — suddenly, I was no longer jaded but surprised.
When the instructor and parents flung the parachute up in the air and let it float down, my daughter lost her little mind. She threw her hands up in the air, stomped her feet and screamed with joy. The huge smile on her face, dead front tooth and all (don’t ask me how it happened, I have no idea, sixth kid), could light up a room.
And there it is, I thought. That’s why I do it. Because no matter how old it is to me, and no matter how old it makes me feel, this is all new to her.
And out of nowhere, as I followed the sweet arc of her eyes following the parachute, I thought of something the artist Henri Matisse once wrote: “The artist . . . has to look at everything as though he saw it or the first time; he has to look at life as he did when he was a child.”