By Darla Isackson
The “I’ve had it with these kids” tone in her voice was unmistakable. Every mother of a brood of little ones relates. I actually love it when my daughter-in-law calls me to relate my grandsons’ latest shenanigans and mess-making adventures; I am far enough removed from the situation to see the humor in it – and I don’t have to clean up the messes!
I know these years will not last forever, and I live close enough to rescue any little grandson whose behavior has made him particularly unwelcome at home.
Here’s what I wrote down about one of her calls when she had only two children: “She was cleaning up a mess Malachi had made pouring Cream of Wheat on the floor in the pantry when she noticed that Nathan was scattering and eating dirt from plants in the living room. While she went to get him out of the plants, Malachi played with the toilet brush in the toilet and got water all over the bathroom floor. She put Malachi in his crib and went back to clean up the dirt and Nathan crawled in the water in the bathroom and got himself soppy wet. Malachi started screaming and when Heidi asked him what was wrong he said, “I poked a pretzel up my nose and I can’t get it out.” Fortunately Heidi could! Later she caught Malachi throwing spoons from the silverware drawer into the garbage and suddenly knew why her spoons had been disappearing.
Today, I sit in my empty, quiet home contemplating the load my remarkable daughter-in-law handles with such grace, (five children now – Malachi, the oldest, not seven till July). I admit that I’m glad I’m the grandma this time around ? the one who can sleep through the night, enjoy the children and find utter delight in their cuteness, but take them home when I run out of steam.
My contemplation is more poignant today because I’ve just been reading my spotty journal from 1975-77. When I read it, I wonder how I managed to write anything at all. I tell of delivering my fourth son just 12 months after the third, and my fifth son 2 years later. But my entries were mostly upbeat and sometimes downright hilarious – they are to me now, at least!
For instance, I listed ways I could tell I had a houseful of babies and little boys: dead grasshoppers in with the paper clips; a perpetual variety of colors and flavors of slobbers on the left shoulder of all my clothes; toys, rocks, crackers and pennies in my bed; clay, gum, jam and peanut butter on carpets and in kids’ hair; tiny teeth marks in the cheese, poke holes, grooves, and fingerprints in the butter, toothbrush stuck in the honey.
One entry in 1976 caught my eye. “This afternoon David filled Benji’s ears with green eye-shadow and Benji smeared gooey chocolate on the velvet-flocked wallpaper. I found the vacuum extenders in the toilet (they told me they had been ‘fishing’ but gave up when they didn’t catch any). I found the oven-racks in the bedroom, and the dishcloths and hot pads laid out in a creative pattern on the piano bench.” I concluded the entry with “The way things go around here I can’t help think what a boring existence childless families must have and how little opportunity to learn patience. (Sometimes I’d like fewer opportunities!)”
The thing that floors me is that those entries feel like things that happened yesterday, not almost thirty years ago! The phrase, “Sunrise, sunset, swiftly fly the years,” is my reality. When my sons were little and underfoot every minute, I thought those years would never end. Yet before I could even blink, they were gone and so were the kids! My oldest son Mark now has five children of his own!
Why Don’t You Grow Up?
When I still had a houseful of little ones, I found this column by Erma Bombeck and cut it out. Little did I know how quickly I’d be on the other side of it all:
One of these days you’ll shout, “Why don’t you kids grow up and act your age!” And they will. You’ll straighten up the boy’s bedroom, neat and tidy … bumper stickers discarded. . spread tucked and smooth … the toys displayed on the shelves … hangers in the closet … animals caged. And you’ll say out loud, “Now I want it to stay this way.” And it will.
You’ll prepare a perfect dinner with a salad that hasn’t been picked to death and a cake with no finger traces in the icing and you’ll say, “Now, here’s a meal fit for company.” And you’ll eat it alone.
You’ll say, “I want complete privacy on the phone. No dancing around. No pantomimes. Silence. Do you hear me?” And you’ll have it.
No more plastic tablecloths stained with spaghetti … no more bedspreads to protect the sofa from damp bottoms … no more gates to stumble over at the top of the stairs … no more playpens to arrange a room around.
No more anxious nights under a vaporizer tent. No more sand on the sheets or Popeye comics in the bathroom. No more iron-on patches . wet knotted shoestrings, tight boots . finding rubber bands for pony tails.
No PTA meetings. No car pools. No blaring radios. No one washing her hair at 11 o’clock at night. Having your own roll of Scotch tape ? [that stays there!]
Think about it. No more Christmas presents out of toothpicks and paste. No more sloppy oatmeal kisses. No more tooth fairy. No giggles in the dark. No knees to kiss, no responsibility.
Only a voice crying, “Why don’t you grow up?” And the silence echoing, “We did!”
The Time to Let Go
In the booklet To Be a Mother: the Agonies and the Ecstasies, which I co-authored with Emma Lou Thayne, Emma Lou expresses the same idea eloquently in her essay, “The Letting Go.”
One day they simply are gone! The house they filled is part of their history, the homes they establish then the making of history, as are their departures. And even as their departures were everything we could have hoped for, each time it was hard.
Emma Lou wrote the following poem as her daughter Rinda was preparing to depart:
Only one more Sunday and she’ll be gone.But now, she plays her violin, old songsThat drew her from the squawking bow to tremblingSweetness that singes these last frayed, jumbled
Days with aching for suspension. Not return.
No not even to the pulling, blurting
Years of simple acquiescence to demand ?
The changing, feeding, cleaning, running strands
Laid upon each other, patterning
This closeness into womanhood, flattening
Our prints into this time of hard good-bye.
Unbreathed. Just holding. To suffocate the sigh
That will wisp her off to some strange place for
Drawing music from new, harsh strings and score.
She concludes, “The lesson I must learn is to have faith, deal in my own strength, and let go. A loving Creator will take care of us all. And send us the peace that passes understanding.”
And so I determine to have faith, find my strength in the assurance of the Lord’s loving care, and let go. For every loss a gain, for every stage of mothering there are challenges and joys, agonies and ecstasies. And for every sunset there is a sunrise.
To order the booklet To Be a Mother: the Agonies and the Ecstasies go to