I love the short story, “Hanukah Money,” by Sholom Aleichem, primarily because of its portrayal of the protagonists’ Aunt Yenta, with her house full of children:
“…half-naked, dirty, unkempt, unwashed, always bruised, usually scratched, often bloodied and with black eyes. One of the children may be laughing, another crying; one signing, another shrieking, one humming, another whistling; this one has put on his father’s coat with the sleeves rolled up, and that one is riding a broomstick; this one is drinking milk from a pitcher…and still another is sucking on a stick of candy while from his nose two runnels flow down toward his mouth…”
Aunt Yenta, sitting at the table with an infant at her breast and an older child on her knee, is saying, “Look at you eat, you pig! May the worms eat you! Esther, Rochel, Haska, where the devil are you? Quick, wipe his nose!...Mendel, don’t make so much noise!...What, murderers, you want more food? All you do all day is eat, eat, eat! Why don’t you choke?”
I thought of Aunt Yenta during “Ski week” last month. We didn’t have extra money to hit the slopes and frankly aren’t that athletic anyway. Oh, yes, and I’d just had thyroid surgery. Jack was working. I had basically one play-date planned. (Moms get punished all the time for lack of planning.) The rest of the week was a nightmare.
It’s a continual mystery to me how I can be so fulfilled, and so tortured, all at once, by my children. One minute I’m lost in contemplation of a perfect eyebrow, another I feel my heart seizing up as I find a bathroom sink smeared with poo or hear screaming from the other room, “Mommmmmmmm! He hit me in the EYYYYYEEEE!”
One of the best pieces of research I encountered while reporting The Mommy Brain found that mothers of two- to three-year-olds voice a command or express disapproval on average every ninety seconds, and conflicts between parents and young children have been reported at an average rate of 1.5 to 3.5 times an hour. (Our family weights those averages!) Before becoming a mom, it’s all but impossible to imagine how much work it can be, and how much of that work involves modulating your own emotions. My optimistic slant on this is that the effort serves you in the end.