By Laura Simon

Last Friday was a doozy of a day. My oldest two kids, who are home schooled, were uncharacteristically resistant to anything that resembled learning. Things they usually enjoy weren’t holding their attention, and the only activities they wanted to do were too messy, noisy, or complicated to fit into an already full day. My two-year-old daughter was working on molars, and she expected to be glued to me all day long, breaking into wails every time I put her down. I had a deadline looming for work, and I needed a solid hour or two to get it done. And I was freezing…I just wanted to curl up with a book and a blanket and get warm.

Finally, bedtime rolled around. All three kids dropped off quickly, and I ran myself a lavender bath in hopes of relaxing and getting warm before settling in to work. As the water began to thaw my toes, I exhaled deeply. Finally, after a long day, I could have some “me” time.

And then the door opened.

“Um, Mommy?” And there was my wide-awake five-year-old next to the tub. Why is he up? I wondered. Then I took a good look at him. Where are his pants?  Wait, where is his underwear? That’s when I saw the brown smear on his sleeve. And two more brown smears on his leg. And another on his face. No. No. Please, no. “I pooped and I couldn’t wipe it right,” he confessed.

I knew two things. One, my bath was over. And two, if he looked like that, the bathroom was worse. “Don’t move. Don’t touch anything,” I ordered. Then I grabbed my robe and raced down the hall to see the damage for myself.

It was worse than I imagined. The longer I looked, the more poop I discovered. It was apparent that he had tried to wipe the evidence off with his still poopy hands, which only made things worse. Excrement decorated most of the bathroom counter. It was smeared on the Kleenex box, the soap dispenser, and the faucet. The lower cabinet featured a new brown tread mark, both doorknobs were coated, and several brown hand prints on the side of the tub told me that he had braced himself there while he slid off the toilet. The formerly white toilet seat was mostly brown, the toilet paper roll was so thoroughly covered that I just tossed the whole thing, and the wall and door frame next to the toilet paper dispenser boasted enough brown fingerprints to qualify as a crime scene. And let me tell you, the flat paint my builder used does not wipe down the way I wish it would. I made a mental note to paint that bathroom sooner rather than later.

Meanwhile, the culprit was covered with enough evidence to merit a bath in the poop-covered tub. But at that exhausted moment in time, I decided to wipe him down with a towel and worry about bathing him (and washing the sheets) in the morning.

At some point, while he stepped into the new pajamas I held out, he murmured, “Sorry.” And while I tucked him back into bed with a stern lecture about asking for help while he was still on the potty, he wrapped his (probably still stinky) arms around me and gave me a big old puppy kiss. It is hard to stay mad at that for long.

Still, by the time the bathroom was sanitized and the pooper was safely (really) asleep, the bathwater was cold, the lavender aroma had faded, and almost an hour had disappeared. I put on my own pajamas and went downstairs to binge-eat chocolate chips and get an hour or so of editing done. I was grumpy, to say the least.

I’ve worked and prayed and waited for years for this chance to stay home with my kids, home school them, and work from home as a writer and editor. Getting to this place involved selling a house in a desirable community, quitting a tenured teaching job, and leaving family and friends behind to move seven hours away. It also meant starting a brand new career, one I still can’t quite believe I get to have. It was both exhilarating and terrifying. I am so stinking grateful for the life I’m living, but that doesn’t mean I enjoy every minute of it, especially the parts that involve poop. And it doesn’t mean that I don’t sometimes need to vent and hear a pep talk.

One of my friends recently had a baby after losing her first infant to anencephaly. Her sweet rainbow babe is teething, and let’s just say sleep has become a figment of her imagination. In that desperate, sleep-deprived state, she wondered aloud on Facebook, “Will I ever sleep again?” I think every new mom has posted some variation of that, but the moment that babe gave her a few hours to rest and regain her clarity, she regretted her words. “When I was mourning my first son, I promised myself that I would never complain about sleep loss if I had another baby. How I longed to have a baby to get up with!” To her, that frustration felt like not being grateful, and she didn’t want anyone to doubt for even a minute how grateful she was.

I suspect all mamas feel the same way. We know how important gratitude is. We are grateful. But motherhood is HARD. And I think it’s OK to admit that. If you have been up for four nights with a croupy babe, I want you to feel safe saying, “I love him dearly, but I also think I’m losing my mind.” And if you’re one of the lucky ones with a colicky infant (I was), it should be OK to say, “I’d throw myself in front of a bus to save him, but I’m really worried that I’ve ruined my life.” And if your strong-willed child has managed to give you the terrible twos, the terrible threes, the terrible fours, and frankly, the fives aren’t looking any less terrible, it is OK to say, “I love him so dearly, but right now we aren’t having any fun. In fact, I’m worried that both of us will need therapy before we get through this.”

It is possible to be simultaneously grateful and frustrated, and I want to give you permission to express both. Reaching out for encouragement isn’t ungrateful…it is wise. It allows your friends and family to walk this sometimes harrowing road with you, and that makes all the difference.

What about you? Where do you go for encouragement? What are your outlets for venting when parenting gets hard?