Sometimes a writer just gets it right. Tolkein’s “butter, scraped over too much bread” is a masterclass in understated imagery.
I get you, Bilbo. I’m feeling thin, too. Stretched.
I said so to my wife tonight. I tapped the fingertips of each hand together and pulled them apart, slowly. The gesture illustrated stretched clearly, but it wasn’t right. It was intentional, gentle, taffy-making. This stretched is more haphazard, not linear; a wearing, tearing friction, the result of too much too frequently without realizing how thin things had already gotten. There’s no candy at the end.
Before I continue: I’m okay, despite the flowery ruminations here. This isn’t a common place for me to be. It’s impermanent. It’s transient, it’ll pass, almost too quickly to even be worth committing thoughts to paper about. But I think that often, as parents, we do what I did to open the paragraph. We say “I’m okay,” we underplay the impact in the moment of these thin times. We remember, when we feel pulled this way and that over too much surface area and it’s hard to imagine ever settling back into shape afterwards, that we may not be okay but we will be okay. And so we stiff-upper-lip our way through until the thin time ends, and we, the poor too-scraped butter, can pull back from the edges of the bread a bit.
It’s amazing, though, how utterly in conflict we can be about this stretching. Our brains say self-care, our brains say make space, relax. But our hearts find reasons to stay fully engaged, to stretch just a little further.
On the way home from getting our latest COVID booster, all three kids sang Frozen songs at the top of their lungs – teens and toddler, siblings belting so loud and so freely that the car vibrated with the sheer joy of it. We were close to home when Let It Go came on, so I turned off early and took a long way home so we had a few extra blocks to finish it. I would have driven for the rest of the afternoon with them singing and talking and laughing. And also, I would love to not hear anything from any of them for the next 48 to 72 hours. That would be great.
Two nights in a row now, I’ve made meals that the entire family ate – the same thing, at the same time. They were simple fare, but we were together, we chatted and joked and laughed, we had the kind of family dinners that the teens had when they were younger but are rarer with everyone developing their own tastes and schedules and with the toddler needing a stricter schedule. It was wonderful – two nights in a row is rare. Not unheard of, but rare. And if “food” is a love language, it’s mine. I would love for the last two nights to be our experience every single night. And also, I would like about a week off of making dinner but also to not just prepare a meal, but cook. I want to spend two days prepping a spectacular meal for me and my wife and just not have to worry about any of the kids.
We’ve been affectionate recently. The toddler has started cradling my face with her hands while we cuddle before bed. She has taken to asking to be held, and snuggles up cheek-to-cheek in the cold air while we wait for the door to buzz open during drop-off at daycare. Our middle child has needed some hugs this week too, sitting close on the couch while we watch this or that YouTube video and chitchat. The eldest has felt gross and, somewhat out of character for her, has sought out hugs in passing. I want to never let any of them go ever, to hold them tight, to breathe them in, to fix these beautiful and fleeting moments in my mind for posterity… and also for them to all get out of my house and not touch me for about four days.
I think on the whole parents want to be good parents. We want so hard to be everything we can be to our kids, and our hearts reinforce that instinct. At some point, we need to consciously rebalance our identities and reinvest in the things that make us people outside of parenting. We need to recognize when we get tired, when our loads shift or become suddenly heavier, when the strain starts to threaten a load-bearing muscle that we’ve been knowingly overworking in order to push through.
It feels healthy to recognize these feelings of wanting space and distance but also loving every moment. Healthy to recognize the dichotomy, to acknowledge stress and celebrate the beauty in it.
I think it’s time to stop scraping by for a little bit, though.
This has been good. I’m feeling a little less thin already.
As always, folks, paddle your own canoe.