You know this phase. The one where your counter is constantly covered in a not-found-in-nature shade of orange powder. The one where you can’t step in your car without hearing the crunch of crushed crackers dropped from snack traps or thrown during a tantrum. The one where the chicken nuggets have to be shaped like dinosaurs. The phase when all they eat is mac and cheese, chicken nuggets and goldfish crackers (you know, the FDA-Recommended, All Organic, Pediatrician-Approved Orange Food Group). This was true of my almost-10-year-old and my 5-year-old, and it’s true of my 2-year-old twins. We are just in this Phase. And we have been, for eight long years.
The mac and cheese, chicken nugget, Goldfish Cracker phase of life is also the chasing a naked toddler down the hall before they pee on the carpet phase. The hide the scissors, hide the glue, hide the markers, hide the golf clubs and the baseball bat and golf balls and tennis racquets (anything that can be used as a weapon) phase. It’s the #fiveo’clockrocks phase. The OMG if they don’t stop screaming I’m going to start yelling (and you do) phase. The phase of life when even the dog has macaroni and cheese matted in his fur; all of the kids cry immediately when you mention the sky is blue (and sometimes even the dog cries); the laundry is mountainous and matching socks a Sisyphean task that you don’t even bother attempting; the coffee maker is broken; and the sippy cups full of milk have now baked into a solid substance after rolling under the seats of your car for a few weeks.
It’s the years that any drink mysteriously has to be in the blue cup because the blue is BETTER THAN THE RED ONE (pours milk), NO MOMMY I WANT THE RED ONE. The months when orange highlighter keeps showing up on the white carpet, the bookshelf, the TV stand, and you can’t find the &*$%! highlighter anywhere. The one when a wet spot on the couch could be a crushed juice box or a missed potty break. The one where an exploding diaper has covered your rug (already stained red by a melted popsicle) with a billion tiny little plastic mushy beads soaked in pee. The phase when you cut the sandwich in squares, as requested, only to then face an hour-long tantrum because triangles TASTE BETTER MOMMY. The phase you wish to high heaven was over already so you maybe could go for a run, talk on the phone, finish a show, go to the bathroom, read a book, speak a complete sentence without interrupting your own self to say “GET OFF YOUR BROTHER NOW!” for the millionth time.
This is the phase when you and your husband slog yourselves to the couch, turn on Netflix, and fall asleep before you finish a dinner of cereal and peanut butter. And you feel bad for not making any effort, but you’re wearing a T-shirt covered in stinky formula spit-up, black workout leggings that have never been outside the house, and a three-day-old ponytail that’s left a permanent kink in your hair. And you also feel bad because sexy these days is a husband who walks the floor with a crying baby at 3 a.m. but you’re too tired to even thank him, let alone enjoy time with him, and what’s the point anyway because someone will walk in/start crying right when things get interesting, guaranteed.
This is the stage everyone tells you that you are going to miss, but when you’re in the trenches, all you want to do is run away, run far away to anywhere adults in tailored clothes congregate and talk about things like the stock market and investment portfolios. Anything other than Puppy Paws. The season of life when 4 a.m. is a reasonable wake-up time, when you’re so tired you fall asleep on the floor while Barney plays on repeat, when coffee is an IV of ambrosia and the sighting of a firetruck with its lights and siren on is as thrilling as Christmas morning. When the clock moves backward between 4 p.m. and bedtime. When you clean poop out of the tub and puke out of your bed and can’t remember the last time you had your nails done. This is the phase all the parenting blogs blog about and the books that you filled your Amazon cart with would come in handy, if you ever had time to read them. These are the mac and cheese years of life.
I know that one day, the memories of this period of motherhood will cause me to buy a blue box of fluorescent orange deliciousness (even though I swore I’d never buy it again when they finally started to eat things that weren’t orange). And I know I’ll eat it with a lump in my throat, sad that phase is all over. But for now, I’m going to go preheat the oven, sweep up the crushed orange cracker crumbs, shake the powder packet so I can rip it open instead of hunting down the pair of scissors I hid after my daughter cut her own hair, and put a pot of water on the stove to boil.
And, hopefully, they’ll share some with their mama.