Betty Duffy


Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Law of Diminishing Returns

Weather is cool and damp, everything green, kids stuck in the house due to rain. First week with kids home from school has been a raging…something. Maybe just raging.

My husband has remained on the same schedule under which we operate during the school year, up at 6:30, fumbling around the room in the dark, until it seems the thought of me still sleeping is just too much to bear, so he turns on the light and starts asking me questions, like “Where’s my wallet?” And I never know the answer to questions when I’m sleeping, so I have to tell him, “I don’t know. I’m sleeping.”

My Dad used to be the same way when we were growing up, couldn’t stand to be up alone in the morning. He raised homing pigeons, and would wake up and sing in an operatic tenor, “Good Morning Pigeons!” which really meant, “Wake up, everyone, because I am a morning person!”

Well, I have never been a morning person. Found myself yesterday sweeping the porches and cleaning up the yard around seven p.m. Just the time of day I wake up and become productive. Kitchen cleaning at night, living room pick-up at night, toilet scrubbing at night. Anything to put the house in order before bed, in order to make re-entry to life in the morning a bit gentler.

I live for nighttime, and as much as I want to make a slow shift into a later evening during the summer, hopefully combined with a later morning, there is really no chance of it working out. Someone always wakes up early when there are this many people in one house. If it’s not my husband, it’s the kids; if not kids, the dog. And there’s really no common wisdom that says, “Stay up late; maybe your kids will sleep in tomorrow.”

The camping trip this weekend is one that has occurred annually for a number of years—back when everyone had one or two kids, young kids. We are all Catholic, and hence, not one family has less than four kids now, with the majority having five or six. Five families: twenty-five kids, extensive meal preparation, and kids who are now old enough that they want to stay up late haranguing each other around the campfire, just like the grown-ups do.

And the grown-ups, whose energy has decreased in equal proportion to their children’s increase in energy, live for that one little hour after all the little people are asleep in their tents and before we all doze off. How much we endure for one hour of adult companionship.

My own kids were impossible. After s’mores, and campfire songs, after a somnolent Rosary in our own tent, after the baby quit running laps around his siblings in their sleeping bags and fell over into his own delirious stupor, after my husband and I quietly unzipped the tent and snuck back out to the campfire, my older children did just the same.

We had just uncapped a beer and relaxed into our folding camp chairs when six brown eyes lit up in the darkness just beyond the halo of light around the fire. “We have to go to the bathroom.” Of course, since they always have to go to the bathroom immediately following the command that it’s bedtime and lights out and they should not show their faces again on this date.

There is a law of diminishing returns for camping trips such as these, and for parenting in general, it seems, as reasonable expectations for my labors with the kids are open to infinite variables. The more you invest, the more you need to invest, and the less certain are the returns as these children grow and their own wills usurp your own.

I found, in my oldest son’s bed yesterday, an empty six-hour energy shot, i.e. caffeine in a bottle of the kind truckers purchase at VP for overnight hauls. Some might call it legal speed. In any case, it was left over from, say eleven years ago, before kids, when my husband and I, and my husband’s younger brother, fresh out of a failed attempt at Seminary, drove to Texas in the middle of the night to see their sister.

Having driven his shift, my husband had been asleep in the back seat while younger brother drove, and I twitched in the passenger seat expecting his raw driving skills (he’d been in Seminary with the Legion for seven years) to send us careening off the edge of the interstate. That very nearly happened when he was following an exit ramp we weren’t meant to follow and crossed, at the last second before the cement pylon, through two lanes of traffic to get back on route. At that point, I had him pull over, and I purchased the energy drinks so that I could drive the rest of the way through the night.

Unfinished drinks followed us without thought or explanation through two moves, sat in the medicine cabinet in our sink for a number of years, not registering in my brain (this is speed, it should be out of my children’s reach) because it seemed its potency had expired along with the number of years I’d absently observed it hibernating in the cabinet. But its potency was quite intact, I learned when my oldest son impinged on my evening solace for an unusually long time. “I’ve got too much energy!” he’d said. Well, I guess he did.

What next? What totally unexpected thing are they going to do next? This morning I have coaxed a small particle resembling an air-soft BB from my four-year-old’s nose. I have repeated ad infinitum: “Get the skateboard off the trampoline. Get the Bikes off the trampoline. Get off the trampoline.” The older boys have coerced the younger, only recently freed from nasal BB, to test the dog’s new shock collar in exchange for a silly band.

There is a reason this way of life, or openness to life as it’s also known, has so few takers. It doesn’t just chip away at the ego and one’s free time, but it bores into subcutaneous material of a parent’s body and soul. It hurts, by golly.

Want to have life in abundance, Thrill Seekers? Want to know what it is to be expunged of everything you thought was yourself? Have babies. Have more babies, and keep having them until the only recourse you have to rearing them, after food and education, is the “Lord have mercy” that seeps out of your soul at every exhale.


Hope said...

My husband has does that thing, too. I usually growl at him that I am trying to sleep, don't talk to me. Sometimes he comes and tells me the most mundane things while I am in a deep sleep. He doesn't do it very often anymore because I've come close to throwing things at him.

I will never be a morning person. I'm not a night owl either but I do like doing housework at 4 in the afternoon.

My youngest, who was about 15 at the time, once was showing me this cool 22 rifle and was assuring me that he had counted bullets in and bullets out and that the gun was empty. He could hardly wait to show me the cool lever action it had. And he promptly shot a hole right through the wall, inches above the portable dishwasher that we were all standing in front of. The bullet only stopped on a zipper of a coat right before it would have gone through another wall.
I cried a long time after that happened. It was just too scary.

wifemotherexpletive said...

the "Lord have Mercy" that seeps ...
honestly, brilliant, and unfortunately or fortunately, very very familiar.
and i only have two. but - i think, boys carry more weight... :)

mrsdarwin said...

I wish I'd written this. It's just plain good.

Lizzie said...

That last paragraph had me catch my breath and choke back the tears.It's all pure gift but at the same time we're brought to our knees- the whole point of life?

Emily G. said...

Great post! (But yours always are). I so identified with the baby running laps over the other kids...from my own childhood, and from motherhood now. That sounds like the husband and I every morning. We don't need an alarm clock; we gave birth to one.

My husband, though he claims to be a a morning person, is terrible in mornings. If his head was not stuck on he'd not be able to find it. I am REALLY not a morning person. When he worked dayshift, I'd get up and stand in a stupor in the dining room while he drilled me. "Where's my wallet? Where's my glasses? Where's my raincoat? Did you make me a lunch? Is it ready to go?" I sent him off with relief that now I could just fall back into bed and stop having to talk, which is a huge effort for me if it's before 8am or so.

eaucoin said...

The morning thing, my husband used to do it too (now we are older and both unable to sleep past 6:30 a.m.--it will happen to you too). The other thing my husband did that sent out "mixed messages" was, whenever he would lose something, he would frantically tear apart the house looking for it (often looking in places where said item couldn't possibly be). The upshot was that I could keep track of his things and jump to find what he was looking for or my whole house would be undone in slightly under fifteen minutes. He has lots of good qualities, but when he loses things it still feels like an imminent terrorist threat. So I suppose I'm housebroken. Your last post was so poetic, and it left me thinking about how many different ways we get broken (St. Catherine of Sienna told Our Lord--when, in response to her troubles, He told her that He treats all His friends like this-- that "it's no wonder You have so few of them.")

eaucoin said...

P.S. My dad never took us camping and always identified it as a form of torture. His theory was that the only reason people ever go camping is that "it feels so good when you stop."

Sally Thomas said...

I am immediately in love with any sentence which ends, ". . . in exchange for a silly band." That is the story of life in my house right now.