Being a mom and a full-time employee and a freelancer and a volunteer and an actual human being once in a while feels kind of like being a carnival act -- you know, that weird juggler who has a couple rings, a bowling ball, a cat and a kitchen sink in the air. Interesting to watch, but not exactly an elegant display.
Mostly it means running around like a lunatic trying to keep things from hitting the ground, or from accidentally poisoning people. Like my children.
Yeah. I’ve reached a new low in the Mother of the Year polls, but I am crushing the competition for Mommy Dearest after an unfortunate episode at my fire pit last night.
I was feeling proud of myself for putting my laptop away and trying to spend a little time with my 14-year-old and her friends, and it was a really beautiful night for a fire.
Well, kind of beautiful, except for the swarm of mosquitoes draining my daughter and her friends of all their blood while they watched me coax flames out of the sticks and wads of paper.
We have bug spray. I bought it myself - a big, fat green can of it that should always be sitting on the shelf inside the back door.
But if you have kids you know that nothing is ever where it is supposed to be, carried off by absent-minded children for reasons you will never fully understand and left in places you will never discover until you’ve replaced it at least twice.
The other side of this coin is that whatever I tell my children to look for, even when it is where it is supposed to be, becomes immediately and permanently invisible to them, something that makes me feel like I’m going insane most of the time.
So it didn’t surprise me when I told my daughter to look on the shelf for the bug spray and she said it wasn’t there. I am blinded by smoke at this point and up to my elbows in a flailing fire, so I send her back in for another look, which produces the exact same result.
I admit it -- I was a little exasperated, but the fire was choking and my daughter and her friends were wailing from mosquito attacks and this whole little fire pit bonding thing wasn’t going very well. And the truth is, I had work to get done, so we had to get this firepit-show on the road.
I ran in the house long enough to grab the green can sitting on the back shelf exactly where I said it would be, tossing it to the kids on my way back to my fire project.
They take turns coating each other with spray behind me, and as the smell drifts past me I think something seems odd, but I apparently don’t have enough brain cells to think about that AND the fire.
Then I hear one of them say something that took a minute to register, something that kind of floated past me like the odd smell until the two things snapped together, to my horror, in my mind.
“This can says ‘Raid’ on it,” one said.
“Yeah, but she said to use it,” someone replied.
Spray spray spray.
“NOOOOOOOOOOOOO,” I screech, at a dead run towards them. Wrong can. I have just had my daughter and her friends coat themselves with poison. Awesome.
On the bright side, the mosquitos really stopped biting them just about instantly.
On the downside, well, they were covered in poison.
And I told them to do it.
And they did.
I felt bad that I had been in such a hurry that I’d done something so dumb. It gave me an epiphany, or maybe it was a hallucination from smelling so much Raid, but I realized that I really need to slow down sometimes and stop trying to cram so much in that I can’t be in the present for the things that matter the most.
And I had a new appreciation for the blind trust children extend to us as grown-ups sometimes, trust I certainly didn’t deserve in that moment. We have more influence than we think, parents, and we would do well to use it wisely.
And mostly I felt bad that my daughter probably has to find new friends, because I doubt they will be coming back over any time soon. But if they do, they’ll probably bring their own bug spray.