One morning last spring, after I dropped my three older sons off at school, I was walking the younger three back home when a woman pulled up beside us and rolled down the window of her truck.
I don’t know what my face looked like; it’s a little disconcerting when someone pulls up beside you in a vehicle while you’re walking, and, also, I have an overactive imagination. But in that moment, my mind went to a dark place. I braced myself to bolt, mentally running through a haphazard survival strategy whereby I would plant my twins on my lower legs for a “ride” and run for dear life with the baby strapped in the stroller. I opened my mouth to scream.
But the person parked beside me was just the mom of another kindergartener at school. And all she wanted to say was, “I see you every morning walking your sons to school, and you look so calm and collected. You just, I don’t know, seem like you have it all together.”
I almost laughed. Hysterically. But, thinking better of this situationally inappropriate response, I instead said, “Thank you. I guess I put on a good show.” Which must not have been the response she expected, because she gave a nervous laugh, waved, rolled up her window and sped away.
I swear I don’t try to put on a show. I try to be very transparent about how unarguably hard it is to mother six sons. But we never know what happens behind closed doors, and my doors are often closed (usually because boys are only half-dressed—or not dressed at all). So I want to make a public announcement: I don’t have it all together. Not even close. Not even a little bit close. Not even—well, you get the picture.
Just this morning, I yelled at my kids because one of them was picking a booger out of another’s nose and then using those booger hands to eat his oatmeal (gag), rather than the spoon I’d put beside his bowl. Last night, after I’d folded the laundry all nice and neat, someone took a running leap right into the middle of the pile while we were supposed to be having a family dance party, leading to an unexpected underwear explosion (at least it was the clean kind). Yesterday afternoon, my twins dismantled their ceiling fan during their “nap,” so when I went to “wake them up,” it was hanging by four wires.
During the school year, Husband and I are the Worst. Parents. Ever. I don’t sign any of the behaviour reports or permission slips; there are too many—and I’m speaking in terms of papers and children. I hardly even have time to look at all the completed worksheets and flyers they bring home; they usually sit in a leaning tower until I summon the energy at the end of the week to move them from the counter to the recycling bin, because it’s now too late to sign any of them (purposeful or accidental? I’ll never tell). My sons’ teachers have to track me down if they need a field trip permission slip or to send reminders about special projects and important dates. (I’m sorry, teachers. Truly. It’s hard to care about signing papers when your four-year-olds won’t stay out of the unflushed toilet while you’re trying to make tomorrow’s school lunches.)
Months ago, I initiated a lifestyle change for me and my husband (I’ve always been obsessive about feeding my kids the way I want to be eating—that is to say, healthy), cutting Friday night order-ins, grocery store impulse buys and bakery samples, but chocolate chips have a thing for hanging out in my pantry shelf and I don’t have the willpower to fight them.
The sheets in our house haven’t been washed in [redacted], because the thought of stripping the beds then making them up again is intimidating in a house with eight loads of weekly laundry and six beds (not counting mine). The toilets? Well, we’ll just say it’s about time to invest in some new ones, because boys and toilets are frenemies. The walls in my house are scuffed and chipped and coloured with crayons, because I live with six clowns, and they’re all the ringmaster of their own individual circus. (Yes. Clowns can be ringmasters, too.)
Most days I let my sons dress themselves because I’m too exhausted to care, and, also, I don’t relish fighting with a four-year-old who doesn’t know the definition of clean. Their knees flap through holes in their sweatpants, someone went through a chewing-the-collar stage and now his brothers look like they’re doing the same, and half of them have mismatched shoes—with no socks, likely. I don’t care. There’s always our yearly family pictures, where we can project the image that we have it all together and are not actually gently rowing down the stream a boat that has six merrily gaping holes in it. Life is but a dream.
(I should mention that if I could turn back time, I wouldn’t change a thing; my sons are creative and helpful and charming and sweet. Though they make life a circus, they also make it a marvellous adventure.)
I used paper plates for my sons’ lunch yesterday, which isn’t in itself bad. We don’t use them often, but when I went to grab a couple from the top of the washing machine, my hand knocked over a glass mason jar, which also wouldn’t have been all that bad except the entire morning had been one cleanup session after another. Someone dropped his bowl of cinnamon spice oatmeal, someone else tried to take a gallon of milk out of the refrigerator and didn’t know the lid wasn’t completely secured, someone else accidentally pushed over his mug of tea because he was horsing around with the only brother left at the table. I sat down and cried.
The only thing I did halfway right today was kiss my kids goodnight, even though I didn’t really want to after the wringer they’d put me through. All I really wanted to do was go to bed and close my eyes and start fresh tomorrow. Maybe tomorrow will be the day I get my act together. (We’re hard on ourselves, aren’t we?)
Maybe it seems like I have it all together because people can’t really imagine my reality—and my sons are pretty remarkable. But I assure you, I am just as flawed as every other parent out there and my children are just as flawed as every other kid out there. Trust me.
They’re all supposed to be sleeping right now, and I just pulled myself from bed to turn off the lights I could see they’d left blazing everywhere, muttering about how no one cares about a thing called global warming, and I caught one of them sneaking down the stairs for a bedtime snack. Nope. This is not an all-night diner. (Although, if it were, I’d order myself a giant margarita.) Instead, I reach for another handful of chocolate chips. Maybe this lifestyle change isn’t designed for someone with six kids.
Rachel Toalson is the author of several parenting humour books as well as a middle grade novel in verse and a forthcoming fantasy novel. She lives in San Antonio, Texas, with her husband and six sons.
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