Every weekday I wake up at 5:45 after a typically restless night. I smear foundation under my eyes in a futile attempt to cover the dark valleys that have formed overnight, and then pile cover-up on top of that when the foundation proves inevitably inadequate. I leave for work at 6:40 and spend the half hour commute convincing myself I’m going to be OK today. Sometimes it works. And sometimes I’m so tired that I forget one of the 4 turns and end up lost or disoriented on some back road.
Shortly after 7 I arrive at work, eat breakfast, and cram in some last minute planning and preparation before the kids start to arrive at 7:45. And when they arrive, I greet them with a smile. Because let’s face it, they’re adorable. And at 7:45 they have usually not yet done anything to incite my rage.
I feel, when I see them that early, the greatest love for them. They are such precious little people with their whole lives spilling out before them, still yet to happen. They are tiny bundles of potential. They have squishy little faces and chubby tummies and smiles contagious enough to brighten even my sleep deprived face in the morning.
But that’s at 7:45.
At 9:30 they are hitting, scratching, kicking, screaming, running around in circles roaring like a dinosaur. They are peeing, spitting, vomiting. They are yelling in Thai expecting me to understand, and I never do.
And in those moments, I have a really, really, really hard time feeling anything but frustration and resentment toward them. THERE IS NO REASON FOR YOU TO BE PEEING ON THE FLOOR WHEN THE TOILET IS LITERALLY 3 FEET AWAY. Whoever said “patience is a virtue” clearly had never spent any extended period of time with ten 2 year olds. “Not murdering anyone is a virtue” would be more like it.
In those moments, I often find myself wondering: how on earth do I care for ten 2 year olds? How do i summon enough love for them when most days i don’t even have enough for myself?
How, after a day like today leaves me in tears, do I continue to have and exhibit unending love and compassion for these tiny monsters? How, when milk is poured on me for the 13th time and I have rice stuck to the bottoms of my feet and 3 kids are simultaneously screaming, do I feel, or even pretend to feel, any semblance of love for them? And how, when I get through a very long day of DOING MY BEST and then get yelled at by parents for 40 minutes for not doing well enough; how do I find any love or patience or hope or confidence?
One thing that teaching (and nannying, and just being a person) has taught me is that we are nothing without love. And if we love conditionally, only when those we love are being nice to us, what is that love worth?
Shakespeare might have said it best in his now perhaps cliched Sonnet 116:
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O, no! it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.
Though this poem is taken to mean romantic love, I think it applies much better to love in general.
Love isn’t love if it changes when things get difficult. When a toddler throws a toy truck at your head, or a friend lies to you, or people let you down time and time again. Love doesn’t change based on the time or day or your mood or theirs. Love simply IS.
It helps immensely for me to remember that when I am exhausted and stressed and drained and feel I have nothing left in me to give, and am still expected to give more. When relationships break me, and toddlers drive me crazy, I remember this: I won’t ever run out of love. It’s not something you lose. It simply is. I love because it is humanly possible. Because I was born with a heart that is deeply capable of it. And I act on that love no matter how many times I am struck down by frustration, or grief, or exhaustion. Because I can.
When I die, I will not likely be known as someone who accomplished particularly great things. I will probably not be known for my intellect, or my wealth, or my cooking skills.
But what I hope more than anything is that I will be known for my love. I want to be remembered for my capacity for kindness and compassion above all else. Because in this messy, crazed, often depressing world, what greater gift can we offer each other than unending love?
So bring it on, toddlers. I will greet your shouting and peeing and vomiting with as much grace as I can muster. Because while you are tiny terrors 90% of the time, you are precious. And I love you.
Tomorrow is another day.