I perch at the large wooden table in the family room, encouraging my kindergartener with her schoolwork. She kneels on the chair across from me, pink pen in her left hand, long brown hair brushing the math page pressed under her arm. “You’re in Backwards Land,” I say, grinning at her and leaning in with wide eyes. She responds with a toothless smile. I concocted this land the first time she wrote her letters facing the opposite way. I wanted a way to correct her without making her feel ashamed, to let her know I see her trying.
“Can you write your five another way?” I ask. She furrows her brow and thinks, then grips the pen and scribbles dark pink lines over the backwards five.
“Mommy, I can’t go to the bathroom!” My four-year old’s hysterical screams interrupt us. What now? I wonder. It’s not that hard to go to the bathroom. His voice projects over the piles of laundry by the washing machine, past the half-eaten Eggo waffles sticky with syrup on the kitchen table, and around the corner into the family room.
I don’t want to get up from the table. I don’t want to be interrupted when I’m focused on something else. I turn my head in his direction and yell back. “Why can’t you go to the bathroom?”
“There’s a ‘pider in the bathroom! A big one!” he screams at me.
I sigh and shove my chair back. “Keep going,” I urge my daughter. She’s already rewritten her five the correct way. “Make sure your numbers aren’t running off to Backwards Land.”
My skin crawls as I walk past the dirty dishes on the table, imagining the leftover food coagulating into a rotten mess. I make a mental note to put them in the dishwasher next chance I get. The laundry on the floor looms before me, a tower about to topple and suffocate me. The dust on the fireplace mantle mocks me as I pass, shimmering in the morning sunlight. I wish I were in Backwards Land right now, where household chores would be done without a thought, where I am capable of tackling the mundane, everyday tasks with a joyful attitude instead of trying to ignore them.
I turn and peer through the bathroom door. My son stands paralyzed with fear in the corner, eyes wide, hands clutched under his chin.
“Where’s the spider?” I ask, looking closely at the speckled tile on the ground. He points behind the pedestal sink. It’s not hard to spot the spider once I crane my neck–a giant Daddy Longlegs levitating on a web, its brown body a menacing ball between the sink and wall.
My daughter runs into the bathroom, having heard our spider conversation. In her hand, she holds an orange plastic bowl from IKEA and a piece of printer paper. “Mommy! Don’t kill it! You can take it outside with this.” She demonstrates putting the bowl upside down on the paper.
I kick at the spider, but it only scoots back out of reach. I wad up a piece of toilet paper and stretch my arm around the base of the sink, but the spider is faster. I’m not scared of spiders and usually kill them without a thought, but this is one more thing that eludes me.
“It won’t hurt you,” I squat down to tell my son. “That’s a nice one. It can stay there and catch all the bugs for us.” The spider remains frozen, just out of range. I imagine it smiles at my benevolence.
“Oh, okay,” my son says, trusting my response. He does his business and skips out of the bathroom, back to the mess he’s created of Hot Wheel cars and Magnatiles. I close the bathroom door after him, hoping the spider will disappear.
Thinking of the pile of clothes I’m about to trip over, the dishes, the toys, the dust, the spider in the back of my mind, I can feel my blood pressure rise. Everywhere I look, I see my inadequacy, as the pile of my thankless tasks I need grows larger and crowds me in. My vision tunnels, and I close my eyes to make my way back to my daughter.
The next day, I open the bathroom door. There’s my old pal, Daddy Longlegs. And look, he has a friend. Wait, make that two friends. Now there are three spiders levitating in the downstairs bathroom between sink and toilet, ridiculing my inability to deal with basic household maintenance.
Anger bubbles up, and this time I am quicker. A few smacks from my shoe and the party’s over, leaving a sticky mess behind. In the kitchen, I wash my hands off and notice the plastic bowl my daughter had taken out yesterday. There’s no need for it now.
It would have been nice to rehome the spiders. I envision myself in Backwards Land, carrying spiders outside and introducing them to a new habitat. What a zen moment that would be: See how nicely I treat nature. I am calm and responsible, neat, and clean, the very picture of maternal warmth.
I do try to be calm and responsible in front of my children, but I still yell and become frustrated more often than not. I wish I could whisk the dishes away after every meal. Or have a laundry system that doesn’t involve clothes sitting in front of the washing machine for everyone to trip on. Or that spiders would know better than to take up residence in my bathroom because I keep it so fresh and clean. But the shortcomings of my current capabilities glare at me. I keep my sight on the things I can’t seem to do, tasks I want to do to prove my ability as a mom.
Today, I help my daughter with her handwriting. “Mommy, can I make something today?” she glances at me with serious blue eyes.
“What do you want to make?” I ask irritably. She doesn’t care for writing, and I want to keep her on task without an argument.
“I’m making a book for you,” she says. “But it’s a surprise, and you can’t look,” she tells me, folding up pieces of paper before I can answer.
“Okay, go for it,” I say, wondering what she will come up with and hoping this isn’t going to make yet another mess for me to clean.
“Don’t look, Mommy!” she says. I’m sitting less than four feet across from her. “I’m not looking,” I ostentatiously pick up my phone and stare at it with a quick pang of guilt for whipping it out so quickly in front of her. A few seconds later, her clear voice catches my attention.
“How do you spell, ‘Mommy is the sweetest’?” she asks.
I spell it for her, and before long, she’s written a book about me. About how much she loves me and how sweet I am and how our favorite colors are the same. She’s drawn a picture of just the two of us, holding hands on a hill and wearing purple shirts because purple is our favorite color. My desire to live somewhere else fades as I hold her beautiful creation.
Sometimes I view life from my own narrow lens, tallying my failures and noting everything I haven’t figured out. I let the mundane daily chores of life taunt me, and the thoughts of inadequacy cloud my vision. What I don’t realize is these little people look at me from a different angle. They don’t care how organized I am, or how many spiders I kill (or save). They don’t care if the laundry piles and the dishes rot or the dust collects. They are here with me, watching and trusting me to be simply who God called me to be; their mom. I’ll most likely get it backwards more often than not, but right now, in this moment, I choose to be present and enjoy the view from here.
Beth Robinson resides in Northern California with her husband and three children. A former schoolteacher, she spends her days homeschooling, reading, writing, or gardening. Her children will tell you her favorite things are Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, naps, and her family, most likely in that order. You can connect with Beth on Instagram.