I lost my keys this morning. Emily and Alex had finally just been buckled in after the usual fifteen minutes of frantic cajoling. I never truly understood the idiom of herding cats until I became a mother, specifically Alex's mother, and just getting him into the car in the morning is a task in and of itself. When I tell him to go upstairs and brush his teeth, he without fail wanders off towards his bed and simply climbs back into it, burrowing into the pile of blankets and animals he affectionately, and irritatingly, refers to as Comfy Town. While I tackle Emily to put on her socks, he forgets what we're doing and heads off to check if his various dragon eggs have hatched yet on his iPad game. When I tell him to put his shoes on, I hear him clear on the opposite side of the house singing Elton John's "I'm Still Standing," or at least that one line of it, over and over, ad nauseum, until I tell him it's time to go NOW and he blankly asks me, "Oh. Are we going somewhere?"
In the driver's seat of the car, I could feel myself teetering on the verge of a panic attack. Have I ever actually had a panic attack? I think in order to answer that question, I have to refer you to when I gave birth to Emily. I went in for my scheduled induction, feeling perfectly normal- or at least no less normal than usual- and when they hooked me up to all of the machines, they gave me a puzzled look and said, "You're having contractions less than five minutes apart. You're in active labor already." My body is constantly in a state of frenzy that I am fully used to just pushing through my day even if I can't breathe because my keys are lost, we're late to preschool, I have my morning plans, I have to drive two other kids home later, there are two baseball games to get to in the evening, and seriously, who has time to replace ALL of those keys? Or, you know, I have a seven pound baby peeking out of me. Same difference. So, no I have never had an official panic attack. My life itself is just one living, breathing, mostly functioning panic attack.
I rifle through the belongings of my purse, smearing a tube of uncapped red lipstick across the upholstery. There's so much useless stuff in my purse, it's ridiculous, and the next time Emily goes in there and pulls out an unwrapped tampon caked in gum bits, that's probably going to be the final straw on the farm of mortification. I pushed aside bags of food, old coupons, diapers, wipes, loose change, thinking my keys have to be in my purse, they have to be, I'm just not seeing them, they must be there, shit, they are totally, absolutely, NOT.
Oh, but to retrace my steps that morning! I know I had my keys when I unlocked Chris' car to get the extra car seat out. Then I hauled two overflowing bags of landscape waste to my neighbor's house because they pay for landscape waste pick up and, you know, we don't. Then I took our garbage cans out, both of them. Then I put the extra car seat in my car. I went back in the house and literally went into every room, making breakfasts and lunch, getting children dressed, wiping asses, turning the TV volume down, chasing a toddler, putting on make-up, putting together Andy's backpack, going out into the backyard to get a bag of dirt, bringing it up front to the garage, then, while I was out there, watering all the dead spots, sod spots, seeded spots, dirt spots. Then I walked Andy down to the bus stop, stood around a bit fielding questions about large numbers multiplied by other large numbers, then headed home and yelled after Alex for twenty minutes. So, somewhere on this map of crazy- from the garbage cans to the landscape bags, to the interior of my home, to the exterior of my home, from here four houses down to the corner and back- SOMEWHERE had to be my goddamn keys.
I sucked in my breath, got out of the car, and started looking.
I felt like I looked everything and still couldn't find them. The clock was ticking ahead, and the morning was going to go on without us if I couldn't get the car started. Somewhere in all of this searching and overturning and running around, I found my inner monologue running on high. It was telling me I had to stop. I had to calm down. I had to stop trying to do so much, so fast. I had to give some things up before I had a full on heart attack. I had to just breathe.
I got out my phone and called Chris, thinking that maybe I'd dropped the keys in his backseat while I was getting out the car seat. On the highway, en route to his job that supports five people, I had him craning his neck to look behind him. I imagined his red car swerving wildly across three lanes while he humored me and felt around back there. "I'll get off the highway to check," he said. "Did you retrace your steps?"
"Of course, I retraced my steps, you moron!" I replied. And then, aloud, I retraced my steps again. The garbage. The house. The backyard. The car seats. Oh, there had been Andy's baseball snack back there from Saturday, right before we'd received notification that the game was cancelled due to rain. A big bag of oatmeal cream pies and juice pouches. What did I do with those when I brought them in? I stuck them in the pantry. In the pantry. But first I put my keys in there because my hands were full.
"Okay, I'm pulling off the highway now," Chris said, just as I reached into the oatmeal cream pie snack bag, pulled out my keys, and hollered, "I found them! Thanks. Gotta go, running late."
I am not a perfect mother. I am not a great wife, I'm an insecure friend. I'm a terrible daughter, and I don't call my sister nearly enough. Sometimes I feel like I'm floundering as an adult, like everybody else has it together, and I'm running around like a chicken with her head cut off, poorly doing five things at once, and expecting way more out of a four year old than he is actually capable of. Also out of a six year old. Not so much out of my almost two year old. I expect very little from her except her unwavering cuteness. I'm failing. I'm falling apart. My body is in labor and I don't even know it.
But then I find my keys. I pull them triumphantly out of the oatmeal cream pie bag, hang up on my husband, and I think, "YES! AHA! Eureka!" And everything is instantly wonderful again. I got this. I got ALL this.
I just need to find a minute to stop and appreciate it. And to remember the oatmeal cream pies.