My alarm goes off at five a.m. I force myself to get up. I need to pray before the sun rises, but the one-year old sleeping next to me threatens to wake up. He’s squirming and moaning just as I try to crawl out of our shared bed. I lay back down and gently pat his back hoping he goes back to sleep. Five minutes, ten minutes, fifteen minutes go by. I want to do some yoga too. Twenty minutes. He’s finally still. I sneak out of the bedroom with bated breath. It’s still dark outside. I pray the morning prayer, read some Qu’ran, do a quick yoga routine.
I take a shower. I panic slightly when I hear a small yelp then realize its the shrill mewing of a cat probably fighting with a squirrel outside. I finish and make myself breakfast, happy to be alone for this brief moment. I hope that nobody wakes up while I eat my toast with herbed goat cheese and black tea and read articles on Medium.
It’s almost seven o’clock and I hear the quick slap of small footfalls. The brief illusion that I’m alone is broken. I mentally prepare myself for the day ahead and cheerfully greet my three-year old son even though I wish he would go back to sleep. I finish the rest of my tea while listening to him talk about nothing and everything.
Shortly thereafter, my one-year old son crawls into the living room followed by his two older sisters. Their mussed hair and puffy eyes make remind me of mahogany-colored cherubs. They make themselves comfortable next to me on the couch, the younger ones fighting over who gets to sit next to me. As I’m flanked by little bodies, I look for something educational and entertaining for them to watch on Netflix or put on Super Simple Songs while I figure out what to feed them. I like to alternate between pancakes (made from scratch, of course) and toast and grits, although I would honestly make pancakes for them everyday if I didn’t think it was unhealthy only because it’s easy and they always eat it without complaint.
After I make them breakfast I attempt to write or read about writing. I tell them mommy is going to be busy for a while and that they need to play and watch cartoons while I work in the bedroom. Without fail, I get interrupted every five to ten minutes. Someone wants yogurt. Two of them are screaming at each other over a toy. I need to change the show on Netflix. My youngest wants me and I pick him up and I realize he needs to be changed. Immediately.
By ten o’clock, I tidy up and get the kids ready to go outside, usually to the playground or to run errands. I tell my older son to pick up the mess of toys he’s dumped in the middle of the living room floor for no other reason than to have toys on the floor. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Threaten to leave him in the house with abuela and abuelo when his siblings and I go out. Repeat. Repeat. Try another tactic and turn it into a game. Tell him I’m going to close my eyes and when I open them, the floor will be clean. Leave the room and hear him put the toys in the basket. Remind myself to do this first the next time.
When we go to the playground, I’ll fool myself into thinking I could read a book while they play, but instead, have to shadow my infant/toddler who can barely walk and refuses to be sequestered in the stroller, or push the older three on the swings after failing to convince them that it makes mommy’s arms hurt. I’ll watch them play, mostly in the grass and dirt instead of on the actual play structures themselves which makes me smile. But this is New York City where omnipresent waste forces me into sustained vigilance. I fantasize about having a backyard one day.
If we happen to stay inside, we’ll read some books or, to be more accurate, attempt to read aloud while my three-year-old son asks a question every five seconds sometimes repeating the same question several times until I feel like my brain is going to explode. I’ll organize some art or craft activity then get frustrated when it turns into an absolute mess that I failed to anticipate(did I forget I have four kids??). Complain about the mess while cleaning up. Enforce “independent play” until it’s time to eat.
I usually dread lunchtime because I have a hard time figuring out what to make. If we’re coming back from outside I’m so exhausted that all I want to do is take a nap. I want to make something healthy and filling but since they’re kids and they’re pathologically picky I usually just end up making grilled cheese sandwiches most of the time. One kid will eat the whole sandwich, one will eat only the bread and one will eat only the cheese. I try not to lose my temper over wasted food and the absurdity of it all. I wash the dishes while they harass me for snacks even though they JUST finished eating.
For the rest of the afternoon, I make another attempt at productivity — reading, writing, sewing — while trying not to fall asleep. I’ll put on a movie hoping the kids will leave me alone for a few hours, which of course they don’t. There’s the breaking up of arguments, the changing of diapers, the doling out of never-ending snacks because, despite feeding them meals, or attempting to feed them meals, they’re always hungry. Every hour. Fantasize about having a nanny.
I went on a cooking strike several months ago and decided to leave it up to my mother-in-law to take care of dinner. It’s a huge blessing, and I’m grateful to have the option of not cooking. Every. Single. Day. I grew up in a household where my mother would often make enough of one meal to last several days, what people currently refer to as “meal prep” or “batch cooking”. My mom couldn’t be bothered to cook every evening after coming home from work. Who would be? My Salvadoran mother-in-law however, finds this horrifying.
In exchange for my absence in the kitchen, I take on the dishes. Afterwards, I’ll watch some YouTube videos while my kids bug out. I’m always amazed at how much energy they have at the end of the day. I watch them play games that make no sense, chase each other up and down the hallway, turn off the lights in the bedroom and use the flashlight on my phone to make shadows, and tie old swaddle blankets around their necks and pretend they’re superheros or princesses.
I look forward to the end of the day. I’m ready for the noise to come to an end, even if temporarily. I get them ready for bed at thirty minutes to nine and put on some Islamic nursery rhymes or short cartoons from YouTube so they can wind down. It doesn’t always work, but at least they get the idea that it’s almost time for bed. When it’s over, we all lay down together since their bedtime is also my bedtime. I scroll through Instagram for another half hour looking at mostly minimalist home decor as they fall asleep. I hope I can wake up early the next morning and try and squeeze in some writing. I hope I can get through motherhood. I hope I can move out of here soon. I hope I can keep it together.