Shortly after dinner, but just a bit too early to start the whole bedtime routine for our nine children, a bizarre phenomenon occurs in our house, sometimes two, sometimes three, days of the week. From what I have gathered, I am not the only mother who has experienced it. Maybe you can relate.
There is something that could ruin that perfectly paradisiacal day and make a turn for the worse without warning. It is the one thing that keeps me on my toes with anticipatory apprehension when a day appears to be progressing with an unusual amount of normalcy.
When you are dealing with nine children, the phenomenon tends to evolve and accelerate at a much faster pace than it would with less kids. Let me describe what takes place.
Somehow, simultaneously, all of the children need something from me. Or they just need something. Often, they don’t even know what they need. Bored? Who knows.
The baby starts acting like she drank an entire case of Red Bull, climbing and zipping around with an energetic force we could only wish to bottle up for our weakest moments. Or she starts behaving like she is fussy and whiny out of the blue. Nothing consoles her.
Then, the toddlers and younger school-aged children will start coming to me with urgent papers to sign or an incident or a story from their day that they want to share.
Or a reminder for lunch money. Or help with homework (I thought homework was already done?). Or just anything.
All at the same time.
All at the same time.
Regardless of whatever else I am dealing with at the moment, they cannot wait one more second to tell me.
Or, they start running around, playing hide and seek or whatever they play, darting and scampering down the hall, in and out of closets, leaving cookie crumbs – or whatever else they have found to munch on – in their wake.
Or they begin to bicker and argue. Or two or three are running around and the other two or three are fighting and bickering.
Of course, the teenagers have piles of homework that did not exist merely a few hours ago. (“I thought you said your homework was done?” “I still have some studying to do.”) Either way, they find an ingress to ditching their chores, letting the house rumble to shambles as the six other tornados create destruction throughout the house.
Or they tell me, “I was going to get to that...” to shut me up. And then disappear. Or they take to talking back, which, for me, is like scratching nails down a chalkboard.
Or, better yet, they begin to bicker amongst each other with what they think is a higher level intelligence than the littles and the middles. (Little do they know, their arguments sound just as puerile.)
What seems like an organized and somewhat “normal” day – for a house with nine kids anyway – turns into high-speed chaos with a side order of screaming, high-pitched squealing, tattle-taling, bickering, and “Mom” - ing around the 6 or 7 p.m. time slot.
The Witching Hours.
Once it starts, it lasts until they all collapse. Unfortunately, in my house, it can last up to four or five headache and hair- loss causing hours. If the day has not already done me in, the Witching Hours just might.
Keep in mind, by this time in the evening, I have pulled at least a 12 hour day, if not longer, and am still facing another 4 to 5 hours of “work” before I can even think of getting some zzz’s. Maybe they sense the turmoil inside of my body from a long, stressful day, despite how hard I try to hide it.
But, I doubt it. I will tell you why.
The Witching Hours is an unpredictable phenomenon, which is probably the worst thing about it.
There have been plenty of wonderful days that I have woken up, feeling refreshed after a night of unusually decent slumber, gotten the six older kids onto their busses and off to school without a snag, and enjoyed a couple of cups of coffee and some quiet reading or writing time before the littles arose.
(Unlike some moms I know, I do not have the sheer luxury of going back to sleep after the kids get on the bus. I never have, as a matter of fact, except on very rare, blue moon occasions. I still have a 4 year old, 2 year old and 10 month old asking for breakfast, a movie, and some “Read a book!” bright and early in the morning.)
The littles would play nicely all day, rarely to never calling me for intervention. The baby would play along with the toddlers, leaving my hands free to do what I pleased (which usually ends up being work or chores).
Then, all three of them would nap around noontime, falling asleep within a half hour of each other. This not only gives me a break, but also ensures they get the sleep they truly need at nap time, rather than them being awoken by children bustling off the school bus and into the house after school, at about 3 p.m., which is what usually happens.
The children would get home from school, chores and homework would be completed without a quandary whatsoever. We would eat dinner, and then bath and shower time would be accomplished. Everyone will have their school clothes ready for the next day, and the entire house will be calmly watching a movie or doing something else equally tranquil, until they all fell asleep, one by one.
I have been lucky many, many days like that. It actually does happen. Once a week or so, we all get it all right and perfect. We can do “normal.”
Then, it happens.
Just like when a tropical storm escalates into a category five hurricane faster than the technology clad weather experts can predict it, the unusually normal day can convert into the Witching Hours before I even realize it is happening. By the time the conversion has occurred, it is too late to stop it.
There is no choice but to hunker down and wait out the storm. Or wade through it. Or pray through it. Whatever it takes.
It never fails, no matter how bad that Witching Hours episode tends to be, though, something very memorable happens. I tiptoe through the house when the storm has passed, careful not to step on the Legos and other foot-piercing bits and pieces of toys that were left in the wake, kissing cheeks and tucking blankets around precious little sleeping bodies.
Every single one of them, from the 10 month old to the nearly 16 year old, has a peaceful, sweet angel face when they are sleeping. And, inside those bodies that I swaddled blankets around are warm, giving, loving spirits and thoughtful, intelligent, ever-evolving minds.
I thank God for those nine faces and bodies every night before my own weary head hits the pillow, no matter how rough it gets. Even in the worst of the worst chaotic and stressful moments of the Witching Hours, I am blessed in nine big ways.