It was 5 PM and I was trying to feed my kids dinner. All three of them were sick with the lingering cold we’ve been passing one to the other for weeks. The baby, B.A., was rejecting everything I offered him with an offended and incredulous glare. A.N. had opened a bag of slivered almonds all over the kitchen floor. Y.B. was howling, “I don’t want tuna, I want tuna fish!”
What does that even mean?
I ducked into the kitchen nook for a second to collect myself. On my fridge was a little pink scrap of paper where I had jotted the following reminder:
“Be calm. Seek calm. Create calm.”
And I thought: what am I doing here?
If you had called me just then---
Wait, first of all, if you had called me just then, I would have been so happy to hear an adult voice and would have tried to have a conversation with you. But B.A. would have started sobbing “phone, phone” and tried to wrestle the phone away with cottage cheese-coated paws, and A.N. would have taken the opportunity to covertly dig her nails into her sister’s forearm until Y.B. started screaming.
But if you had called me and asked me, “what are you doing right now?” I would have said, “trying to feed my kids dinner without much success.”
When I saw that pink reminder on my fridge I thought: what am I really doing here? What am I really trying to accomplish? Right now I am stuck in the details of feeding my family. I am trying to seduce three toddlers into swallowing a bite of carbohydrate, protein and something that once grew in the ground, and when I achieve that, I will be a success. And if I can’t make them eat, I will be frustrated. Angry, even.
But how small. This meal will pass. It will pass into bedtime and they will go to bed and I will be relieved and I will do quiet adult things alone and with my husband and I will go to sleep too late and I will wake up and drink coffee and say Thank You God for This Morning and I will wake them up and hug them because I missed them so much and I will get them off to gan and babysitting and I will go about my day and they will come home to play and nap and . . .
It will be dinnertime again.
And pulsing underneath it all is the larger question, the question whose answer is different for each person but for me is contained in those words I keep on my fridge. I am here to be calm and serene, to seek out that serenity and work to bring it into the world at large and to my tiny world. Whatever I am doing in my day, I can be so easily derailed my little agendas: I WILL get this baby to wear a hat; I MUST be on time to that class. And then sometimes I am able to step back and remember that harmony is always within my reach, that I can find it within myself and make it real in the world.
When I remembered that in the midst of the dinnertime chaos, it transformed the moment. It transformed me. I was no longer a mother trying to force a little timely nutrition, but a force for calm and peace in my home.
And then it was morning. Abba was away on a tiyul up north. The carefully-selected-the-night-before preschool outfits in their name-labeled ziplock bags had disappeared somewhere in the apartment. All breakfast possibilities were met with disapproval: the wrong-colored spoon, the almonds mixing with the bran flakes in an icky way. B.A., a new walker, kept slipping on the toy-strewn floor and hurting himself. The girls were both reverting into "Imma, do everything for me" mode. Despite what I would like to think are my best efforts, we were now attempting to leave the house AN HOUR LATE.
I hate being late.
But there was no rushing, hollering, pleading and threatening Imma that morning. I remembered that my job was not to get them to school and babysitting, not to make it to my own class on time, not to match their clothes in a way that doesn't convey neglect. My job is to be calm, to seek calm, to create calm. I can do that no matter what I'm faced with. It's what I'm doing here.