The phone rings as I'm preparing dinner, and within seconds after answering, pandemonium breaks loose in the family room. Cradling the phone between my ear and my shoulder, I round the corner to see Reese jumping from the back of the couch onto a pile of cushions. Brooke appears to be wrestling Kerrington to the ground. Each of them is screaming, or crying, or making other indistinguishable, unsettling loud utterances.
It already had been a long day. I motion for the girls to be quiet, unheeded, and finally tell my caller abruptly that I'd call her back once everything was under control.
"Girls," I spat as I hung up the receiver. "Do you realize that I was on the phone? You cannot yell and carry on when I'm in the middle of a phone conversation."
Like Jekyll and Hyde, the patient and fun mommy from the morning -- the one who took the girls to the library, who walked and explored a local arboretum with them, the one who prepared a healthy lunch at home -- had vanished, and the highly irrational, irritated one had taken her place.
I had spent the greater portion of the afternoon easily frustrated, attempting to work on the computer for an hour -- just one hour of focused, uninterrupted time -- while the two oldest demonstrated an uncanny inability to coexist peaceably or entertain themselves before the barrage of mom, mom, mommy, mommy, mom let loose and requests (Can I have a drink? Will you make a fort for me? Can I have a popsicle? Can I paint? Why won't you make a fort? What about paining?) peppered the air, all while I prayed between clenched teeth, Give me patience today, Lord.
I can't always be their source, I reminded myself. They need to learn to entertain themselves sometimes. Then I remembered last week when I had set up a painting station at the kitchen table so they could entertain themselves while I worked on my semester preparations. I remembered how quiet they had been. And, then, I remembered the aftermath.
All of this flashed through my mind. I heated up. Words came faster.
"Seriously, now." I tapped the phone into the back of my hand. "What do you think that person thought when they heard your screaming in the background?"
Reese tilted her head to the side, paused, and then without a trace of malice replied, "That you're being a really bad mother?"
Had I not been so flustered, I might have laughed. Might have.
For the record, the girls spent the next half hour in their bedroom while I finished preparing dinner in the kitchen. My rationale: if the crying or chaos continued, at least the sound would be dampened by the distance. I had left my cell phone at the library, but attempted to call my friend back from our home phone (which doesn't have long distance) by using an old calling card. Obviously, I dialed incorrectly since I connected not with my friend, but rather some adult-only, heavy-breathing hotline.
I'm banking on tomorrow being a better day.