A little over five years ago I was writing about reckoning heartbreak, as a moment in time refused to be ignored and I had to reevaluate what I was doing as a parent. The decisions I was making in the interest of having it all were taking a toll on all of us in ways that just weren’t worth the effort. Here I am, smack dab in the middle of another school vacation week trying to manage the things that were scheduled before vacation was on my radar, coping with the always crippling guilt of not feeling a desperate pull to take time off of work, and another intersection has appeared, virtually out of thin air.

It’s funny because I’ve try to teach the girls that they cannot control or predict every situation, yet as so much of what happens in parenting is; what is easy to instruct is much harder to practice. When we encountered a bully it wasn’t easy because there was so much grey. Our approach was to stress that our girls are equipped with instinct, intelligence, and that they can always ask for help. I should be able to apply the same wisdom for my own situation, shouldn’t I? Instead I am frozen with the confusion, hurt, and anger at the things that are out of my control and the others that, had I planned better, would have been well within in my control.

Over the past year or so I’ve made a more concerted effort to be aware of how my reactions impact the girls. Muttering that I hate all my clothes or an off handed, “I’m so stupid” are the kinds of reckless things that I assiduously avoid. The part that has been a little harder to clearly delineate is stress. Am I supposed to conceal the fact that life can be hard? Do I not let them see that there are days when I come home feeling as if I have been chewed up, spit out and then shat upon? Is there some magic formula that allows you to show them a little worry, but then wrap the worry in a special bow that suggests everything will be fine? What’s honest and what’s damaging? More importantly what is selfish and won’t serve them at all as they grow up?

I don’t have the answers, what I do know is the clock is completely unsympathetic to my stress. It won’t slow itself while I figure out how to put the pieces of something back together. Book reports are still due, piano lessons still need to be prepared for, eye contact needs to be held, and sweet murmurs need to flutter upon still tiny earlobes.

I was trying to reset between home and work when I caught Briar working through something herself. We were in the car and she was wedged in between her sisters. To her left Avery was fidgeting and making sounds intended to irritate, to her right Finley was holding a broken bobby pin squawking, “What should I sew? What should I sew?” Each unanswered request for a sewing suggestion sent Finley swooping the bobby pin before Briar’s eyes. When Briar tried to duck, Avery would then careen into her and say, “Stay on your side.” Briar look incredibly annoyed. I was ready to interrupt and snap at them all to just stop when Briar sat up, ramrod straight so that she wasn’t touching Avery all the while saying to Finley, “A shoe, I want to see you sew a shoe.”

Avery was watching Finley as she began moving her little fingers in a sewing motion with the pin. Briar leaned back with a beatific look on her ever-changing face. I would completely have understood if she had elbowed Avery back and told Finley to leave her alone. Her battle has been right at the surface lately as her desire for alone time grows right along with her impatience with her sisters’ indifference to it. There have been plenty of days when she has lost her cool and made a huge production of sticking it to her sisters. Everyone has been fraying a bit as tends to happen during vacation.

She caught me watching her in the rearview mirror. She tilted her head and waggled her eyebrows at me. I shook my head and said, “I am so proud of you. You are a great big sister and just a really cool person.” She raised her eyebrows at me again and nodded. “What should I sew next?” squealed Fin. “Striped pants,” came the quick reply from Briar. “Briar, that is so cool, because you know what? I am wearing striped pants right now!” Briar beamed and Avery called out, “Do a red shirt next.” I smiled at her and she winked, having caught on to Briar’s methodology.

The rest of the drive was peppered with other sewing ideas and silly games. It occurred to me that Briar, in the infinite wisdom of 8, has a pretty good handle on when to panic, when to roll with it, and when to let people know what you need. It isn’t always the same and it isn’t always predictable, but sometimes if you loosen your shoulders and do some quick thinking, you can actually make things a lot better.