It was the fall of 2008 when Lucy was four and Peter was two that I was frantically trying to make use of the two-hour afternoon nap time. That was the only time of the day where my kids were both otherwise occupied when I could scour the final surfaces of my home before I had company over that night. The night before, I had already scrubbed four bathrooms, vacuumed the upstairs, main level and basement, swept and mopped the kitchen floors, ran the dishes, cleaned the refrigerator, wiped down the oven and microwave, Windexed the glass backdoor and dusted all the wood furniture in the house. That afternoon, I just had to Comet the kitchen sink and countertops and I would feel adequately ready to have friends in my house. My two-hour window was closing and I just knew that Lucy would likely be ready to get out of bed before Peter. As I desperately wrung my Comet covered sponge under the kitchen faucet willing it to get rinsed quicker I began my Hail Mary. In those moments, a mother hopes, prays, promises, says the rosary, barters, pleads, bribes, and otherwise commends her spirit into the hands of the Universe to just make her kids stay asleep a little longer so she can finish her tasks uninterrupted. That’s when I heard a voice in the distance. Only it wasn’t the Universe. She hadn’t heard my plea. It was my daughter, “Mommy? Can I get up now?”
I ripped off my rubber gloves and threw them on the counter in an attempt to punish the Universe for not accepting my righteous petition and huffed upstairs to let Lucy come out of her room. I told her I would put a show on for her to watch while I finished cleaning in the kitchen and would get her a snack in just a little bit. I sat her down on the couch and turned on Curious George for her to watch. At four years old, she had surpassed an interest in Sesame Street which meant Peter practically missed Big Bird and Elmo entirely.
I rushed back to the kitchen and skipped trying to wriggle wet rubber gloves back on my hands and instead proceeded to douse the countertops in Comet. [I for one, am a Comet kind of girl. When I was young and cleaning the bathrooms was my chore, I picketed if my parents ever bought the grocery store version of the same cleaning solution. It was Comet, or they could clean the bathrooms themselves. Paying the extra $.59 per canister was apparently worth it, as that remained my chore until I moved out of the house at age 22]. Bending over, I proceeded to apply the elbow grease my mother and grandmother swore got the job done and scrubbed the cracks and crevices of the Formica countertops. Mid-scrub I heard Lucy call from the living room. I stood up straight, with both hands on the countertops and my head tilted back chanting to myself “Why me? Why me?” and finally answered her as calmly as I could muster “Yes, Lucy?”
“Mommy? I think I need some love.”
I looked down at my hands clutched a little too tightly to the blue sponge and thought, “Love. Love. Love. Ok. I can do that. Love. Ok.” So, I rinsed my hands and went to sit next to her on the couch. She was still watching the onery monkey and I ran my hands softly on her back…side to side up and down in circles back and forth. When I thought she had either forgotten her request or I had fooled myself into believing she had gotten enough love, I slowly removed my hand from her back and snuck back into the kitchen to pick up where I left off. My time was most definitely limited now. I knew I only had moments before Peter would wake up and between the two of them I would not have a minute to finish. I started scrubbing again when I heard, “Mommy?” I responded more quickly this time, “Yes, Lucy?”
“Mommy? I think I need some more love.”
I sat the sponge down and rinsed my hands again. Then, I proceeded to sit next to her on the couch and rub her back a second time the same way I had done the first. And when I thought she had either forgotten her request or I had fooled myself into believing she had gotten enough love, I snuck away to the kitchen and was able to finish rinsing the sink and countertops before Peter woke up.
I was able to reach my goal. I succeeded in getting my house clean by the time both kids woke up. Friends came over that night and enjoyed a very clean and hospitable environment and left with plenty of food and fun.
It is difficult for me to find these next words. I am trying to be kind to myself – to look back on the young mother that I was and extend to her grace and mercy, because she didn’t know any better. But, really, in my shame I want to grab her by the arms, drag her from the kitchen to the couch, sit her down and say, “This is what matters! Not a clean countertop, not a clean sink! Love on this little girl right here, right now, so much that she doesn’t have to ask you twice. Scoop her up and rock her in your arms for all the times you couldn’t…for all the times you didn’t!”
Tears of regret stream down my face as I remember that moment. What I wouldn’t give to have a do-over. And…in the same breath, I also believe in redemption. I know that because of that moment, I have been more aware of my daughter’s need for love. I have listened more closely, been more attentive, picked up on the nuances of her needs more acutely than if I had not failed in that moment so terribly. She has never made a direct request like that since. And for that, I am deeply grieved. But, because of my mistake, I have grown a strong attunement to her heart’s needs, and I believe she still asks me in many ways to give her more love. Every time I pause to scratch her back or give her a squeeze, or snuggle with her in the morning to wake her up, or sit extra close to her on the couch when we watch movies, or insist on having my arm around her when we sit in a booth at a restaurant, or hold her hand anytime we are out walking, I get my do-over.
What actions or goals or values get in the way of you being able to give others more love? Is it your to do list, or your image, your busyness, or external pressures? Is it all the ‘shoulds’? We’d love to hear specifics from you in the comments below.