“You’re not coming for another hour?” I asked the contractor, failing to keep the frustration out of my voice. I brushed the hair out of my eyes, smudging paint on my forehead as I tried to keep my cool. My one-year-old began to cry in the background and the four-year-old whined, “Mommy, are we almost done here?” She sat next to the tool crate that had spewed its contents on to the kitchen floor. A glance at my watch told me I had twenty minutes until it was time to pick up my five-year-old from school.
Things were not going my way that day – or all week for that matter! I am a stay-at-home mom with a part-time job managing our home business. We have a few investment properties, and those weeks when I needed to prepare a unit for new tenants were always tense – even before we had children. I fielded contractor excuses like: “We’re running 3 hours late” or “I’m sorry, we ripped out the wrong cabinets,” with frustration and annoyance. But this week was very different. The woman that watched my children during business appointments had a family emergency and was not available all week. That meant I had my two older daughters, adopted out of foster care and extremely sensitive to my stress levels, and my one-year-old baby along for the working-girl journey. I had one week to patch the interior paint, install new locks, and replace a screen door, as well as find someone to help me install new blinds, repair a ceiling fan, and fix a drain… all with the kids “helping me” or whining and fighting the whole time. The hardest part, though, was that I wanted to do it in a way that honored God. I didn’t want to get so absorbed in the tasks and stress that I became the opposite of the respectful, resourceful person I encourage in the kids to be when they are frustrated. This was much easier said than done!
Each morning of that week I awoke feeling more tired, anxious and resentful. Each item on the work list took so long! Some days I had to go back and forth to our rental four times in between preschool and other activities. The kids complained over and over, “I’m bored! …I’m tired! …I’m hungry! …The baby pooped again! …She took my toy!” I strained muscles in places I didn’t know existed as I wielded Home Depot carts full of kids, mini blinds, a screen door and other odds and ends. I had to keep the girls busy every moment or their “help” would make another hour of work for me. Like when their little hands got in the fresh paint while I was stuck with a disemboweled light fixture on top of an eight foot ladder. Or when the baby lost her toy in the toilet and went potty-surfing for it while I was wedged under a sink, repairing a drain. My noticeably agitated tone while dealing with contractors or my own home-improvement foibles was NOT the example I wanted my kids to follow! Halfway through the week, I realized something had to give.
That something was me. I needed to give the kids a break. I needed to give myself a break too–every day, no matter how much work I had on the agenda. On the fourth day, I woke up determined to do it differently. I decided to do my work in one-hour chunks. I made a deal with the girls that I was going to work for an hour, and when my timer beeped, we’d go to the neighborhood park for thirty minutes. Then I’d work another hour, and afterward we’d go to McDonalds to eat and play. I also asked them to pray for me if they noticed I was getting tense on the phone. I let the kids play and they let me work (mostly). The next three days we spent nearly ten hours a day out of the house, but it felt more like a vacation than a chore. My four-year-old even commented to me as I hung up with one contractor, “Good job, Mommy – you didn’t sound mad this time!”
Looking back on that week, the projects and inconveniences are a blur. But in my mind I still clearly see my kids’ smiles and hear their laughter as we chased each other around the park or raced down the McDonald’s slide. I’m sure there will be many more instances where I must do the harried one week condo turn-around for a new tenant. Now as I plan for those weeks, I will consider what I learned from this one: enjoy each day with my children because those moments are more precious than my work is urgent. I will never again watch the baby take her first turn sliding down a slide. When my five-year-old enters kindergarten in the fall, I won’t be able to play with her at a park in the middle of a weekday morning. Even now, a few short months later, they are all a little older and working on totally new skills. And so am I! Not only have I learned how to replace a screen and fix a drain, I’m learning how to be a better mom. I’m learning how to listen to what my children need during stressful times and be honest about my weaknesses. In responding to their needs that week, I discovered some ways to relax and play despite the chores. I’m so glad I got to spend that week working with my daughters. Instead of just sprucing-up the condo, I got a little remodeling done on my heart as well!