Before I get into that yellow dog and all he involves, let’s start with a prayer.
Thank you for our military service men and women, past, present and future. Engulf them all in your healing, protecting light. We ask you to shine your love upon all members of the military for all time, and on those they protect or have protected as well as those they battle or have battled. Bless our soldiers that their mission may serve your highest vision for this earth, bless the world’s leaders that they may find pathways to peace and bless us all that we may know the joy of being used by you. Thank you, God.
“One little dog going in,” I read. It’s nearly 7 p.m. and I want to get these kids to bed, stat. “Three big dogs going out.”
“Wait, wait, Mommy! Don’t turn the page. I wanna see if I can find my way through the maze,” Charlie asks urgently. I watch as he traces his finger across the page. “Wait, you can’t cut through the bushes, right, Mommy?” With each snail-like lurch of his finger, I race toward the end of my patience.
“Wait, now I fink I’m gonna twy to twace da maze, too,” Kip pipes in as Charlie celebrates the end of his maze.
“Ok, bud, but let’s do it quickly,” I sigh, turning the page as soon as he finishes.
“Areddogonabluetree, abluedogonaredtree, agreendogonayellowtree…” I read as quickly as the words can flow. “Twobigdogsgoingup, onelittledoggoingdown.”
“Ahhh, Mommy,” Charlie interrupts, his voice glazed in nostalgia. “Remember how much fun we used to have when you read this book to us?”
Tears rush as I hear echoes of my own voice singing, “Wheeee!” at this place in the book. “Yeah, buddy, I do remember how much fun we have reading this. I’m so sorry. I guess I forgot tonight. You know, I’m just tired. I love you guys so much, but it’s hard work being a mommy sometimes. And it’s been a tough evening, so I’m extra tired and I need a little break, I think. I promise we’ll have fun reading this again.”
Both boys somehow get even closer to me, the three of us snuggled in a twin bed, and they both nestle their heads into my torso. “We love you, Mommy,” Charlie says. “You’re the best mommy.” I begin sniffling.
“Aw, I know, Mommy,” says, Kip, who, moments earlier, was stomping and screaming like a banshee because he didn’t want his hair washed, didn’t like the pajamas I picked out, didn’t want Daddy to help, didn’t want anyone else to pick out his pjs, didn’t want help opening his drawer, didn’t want to read Charlie’s book first…. He’s patting my arm. “It’s hawrd being a mommy, Mommy. But you awr da best mommy in da hoe pwanet.”
I turn a few more pages in Go Dog. Go! and come to a drawing of a dog in a hammock. “A yellow dog under a tree—“ and suddenly I’m crying, full force.
“Mommy? Are you crying?” Charlie asks, consumed with concern. And then Kip follows up: “What’s wong, Mommy?”
“Excuse me, sweeties,” I say, peeling kids and comforters from my legs. “Mommy will be right back. I just need to take a quick break.”
I rush into my room and crumple into child’s pose on my bed, sobbing. Brian’s face appears, parallel to mine. He’s in some modified rescue-worker version of child’s pose beside me, with his head floating in space thisclose and asking, “What happened, Honey?”
“Oh, Babe, I was reading to them and Charlie says ‘remember how much fun we used to have when you read this book to us?’ and I felt horrible because I’m so tired and I wasn’t having fun reading it, and then I saw this dog lying in a hammock and I can’t believe that three days have gone by and I haven’t even once sat in a hammock or sat down to relax at all. I’ve just been rushing around like a crazy woman organizing stuff and cleaning and just trying to keep up with all the things I need to do just so I don’t wake up tomorrow even further behind and, when I saw that dog just lying there, like, chilling, I…” I look at Brian and shrug my shoulders. “I guess I just lost it. I guess I want to chill in a hammock and I’m mad at myself I didn’t do that this weekend. And now I’m just tired.”
“I’ll go read the book to them,” he says in a way you might call heroic. “It’s all ok. You just rest here for a while.”
I stay on the bed for about a minute, staring at the blankets beneath me, and I think about how today is Memorial Day and how my friend, David, can’t snuggle his kids tonight because he’s in Afghanistan. And I imagine how much he wishes he could hold all of them. And then I think about all the other soldiers who are away from their families working their tails off in a way I can’t even comprehend. And, admittedly, I feel ever so slightly petty about my outburst.
And, also, thankful for a whole lot. For my kids, for my husband, for my life, for the soldiers whose mission it is to protect us and to help others, and for lots more. I say a prayer of thanks, protection and peace for my friend in Afghanistan, for my father-in-law who fought in World War II and Korea, for their brothers and sisters in the military and for everyone’s children, past, present and future.
With new perspective, I unfold, bolt into the bathroom, fling off my clothes and turn on the shower. It’s a magical thing, a little self-care. Soap suds, clean smells, hot water in my hair and over every arc of the body I’ve been working all weekend like an uncompassionate Depression-era farmer might work his mule. I think I hear screaming in the next room. And I don’t even care. This feels so good.
I emerge in a totally different emotional space. I’m all clean, for one, and that’s worth at least a Depression-era Benjamin. I’m in my jammies, and I’ve decided I won’t visit the first floor again this night because I willfully choose to ignore the to-do list that may never, ever, ever get checked off. If I go downstairs, visual triggers like pillows on the floor or yet-unnoticed bacon fat splattered on the countertop threaten to hijack my self-care mission and, decidedly, it’s healthier for all involved if I forget the housework and take care of me between now and sleep.
I return to the boys’ room, settle into my usual spot and pick up the second book to read. Thanks to the husband, the short break and the shower, I hold my sons close and don’t even think about losing my cool at the vision of Ma Pig sunning on the beach of Busytown. (Aside: You know that pork works her ass off. Let’s be honest: Pa Pig is a helpless man-child and Penny and Pickles are spoiled the eff rotten, so goodness knows Ma deserves herself a beach day.)
“Thanks for giving me a little break earlier, guys,” I tell Charlie and Kip as I stroke their hair and kiss their crowns after finishing the book. “I love you guys so much and I promise we’ll read Go, Dog. Go! and have some fun with it again soon.”
In the mean time, I’m going to try to hold onto some of that Memorial Day perspective and make for darn sure I catch more hammock breaks.