We were standing in the kitchen with the girls running laps and shrieking at the top of their lungs, the dog in hot pursuit, when I realized that if dinner wasn’t done in 30 minutes, the catastrophic domino effect would begin—bedtime would be so late that it would box out story time, which would squelch the chance of making lunches ahead of time unless I pushed my own bedtime later. Then just as I burned my hand on the edge of the burner another request came in. I couldn’t understand it so much as I felt it pelting against me as she repeated it. It was with a strident note in my voice that I spat that I had to make dinner.

Murphy’s Law Parental edition states that it is in this moment, that someone gets thirsty, someone gets hurt, someone has to pee and “THERE’S NO TOILET PAPER!” and the dog grabs a precious something or other and trots past the bathroom smugly as a dripping heiny fidgets indignantly. Nothing you can do about it.

I tried to bite back the tears until after bedtime.

Sean said to Avery, “Honey, go grab your tap shoes.”

She looked at him quizzically, “Tap shoes?”

He smiled, “Yes, tap shoes, so you can tap on mommy’s last nerve.” I didn’t think I was wearing it quite so plainly, I felt immediately and entirely naked.

Did what he said to Avery hurt her? Did she think I was mad? How would I fix it? I looked toward her with physical pain.

She was laughing. She literally skipped off giggling, “Tap shoes,” snort, “Daddy!” I shook my head and dropped the panic and overwhelming sense of failure. Of course, any parent worth their salt knows that on a night like this, with dinner yet to be made and kids already fussing, the cloak comes back like a face-diving black fly. After dinner, Sean headed back into work and I began bath time. It was complicated, Finley wanted alone time in the bath, Avery wanted a shower and Briar wanted to not be alone. We worked it out, but it involved 7 or 8 trips up and down the stairs, a complete soaking of my pants and resigning myself to the fact that no one would be in bed before 9pm. Resentment and failure swirled, I tried to keep it out of my voice.

I tucked each girl in, performing the distinct ministrations required by each to sleep, and immediately upon reaching the foot of the stairs, fielded the first of many requests for “just one more thing.” Eventually they tired and drifted off to sleep. I tidied up the kitchen, contemplated dealing with the lunches or folding the laundry or finishing the writing projects I had. I did none of them. I sat for a long while just listening to the wind.

I replayed moments in the day and tallied the things I accomplished and the things that I hadn’t. I waited for the sediment of the day to stop feeling like a massive rock in my gut, I leaned back into the couch. I heard a cry. I waited, when another came I dashed upstairs. Finley was the foot of her bed, crouched and confused, her tear stained face locked on my own. “Are you ok, honey? What happened?” I climbed into her bed and took her in my arms.

She was inconsolable and completely disoriented. I shushed and murmured with my lips pressed against the skin beside her ear. Her body started to relax and we burrowed into the covers and each other. My eyes were scratchy and my body was completely ready for the day to end. She stirred and I pressed my cheek against the crown of her head. Her hair was a soft tangle of still-damp, lavender scented ringlets. I cuddled up against my last baby, the vestiges of a bath done exactly as she’d hoped and a nightmare removed, and the quiet of her sisters sleeping. It might have been with whisper thin margins, but there in the soft glow of the nightlight, I held a shimmering wisp of that elusive finish line.