Important Things

Some things are more important than others. I know this to be a fact, in the objective part of my brain. But I am more than an objective brain. I am a human being who has ADHD, and one of the things that means is that prioritizing is hard, hard, hard. I start emptying the dishwasher and note the absence of a sippy-cup lid; search through drawers for the missing lid and discover a set of bag clips I thought I’d lost; take the clips to the pantry to secure poorly folded-over snack bags and notice the broom leaning against the wall; start sweeping the floor, only to arrive back in the kitchen and see the half-unloaded dishwasher. In the moment, all these things seem of exactly equal importance. Prioritizing. I so rarely get it right.

Tuesday was a good day from my perspective. I got at least four “real” things done, “real” being achievements other than changing diapers, getting snacks, nursing baby, fixing small meals, feeding puppy, wiping tears, pouring milk, trimming tiny fingernails, rocking to sleep. You know. Mommy things. Tuesday, I accomplished items on my List of Things to Do, which is an important list that rarely sees check marks. So it was a good day.

It was good until bedtime, when almost-four-year-old Niko, overtired and beginning a cold, decided he would do nothing he was asked. We had started a bath before 8; it was after 9 by the time I closed his bedroom door with a tight “Goodnight, I love you,” and no story. I was exasperated, my neck muscles were tightening more and more until the pain turned to tingling numbness up and down my spine and arms, my head was throbbing like the insides of bongos, and I needed – oh, so badly – time alone. I put Sofia to bed much later than I had hoped and wandered toward the kitchen to can the tomato soup I had started that day. Halfway there, I paused in the living room to lie down on the floor, breathe in the silence, and stretch my tense muscles as I tried to let go of my irritation at my recalcitrant child.

A tiny click. A breath of a sound. A small nose, two bright blue eyes, hesitating at the corner of the hallway. “Niko. What. Are. You. Doing.” I bit off every word, exerting every bit of control not to yell them and some others, too, as I saw my alone time careening off into the distance.

“I just…I just wanted…” he wavered, head drooping. “I wanted…”

“What?” I asked wearily. “Wanted what?” I felt I’d already been wanted nearly to death. I wasn’t sure I could deal with another demand. Water? A book? A stuffed animal? An open door? “What do you want?”

“I just wanted you, Mommy. I wanted to cuddle with you,” he whispered, already backing down the hallway, nose and blue eyes disappearing.

Something about that defeated whisper, the downcast head, the acceptance that he was surely not deserving of a cuddle, cut me to my heart. Forget the “real” things I’d accomplished, the ones still waiting for me. Right then, Niko needed his mom to do her mommy thing. I opened my arms. He ran to me, put his arms around my neck as I lay back down on the floor. I could feel his sharp little ribcage dig into mine, his head nestled under my chin, his small warm hand on my cheek. His fluttering heartbeat slowed, his tense body relaxed. We cuddled for a few minutes on the floor, whispering about darkness and fear and safety and love, before I stood with his lanky body in my arms, his legs dangling to my knees, hands draped around my neck, to carry him to his bed. I tucked him in, lay down beside him, stroked his head and neck to help him relax into sleep.

Some time later, I opened my eyes, remembering my abandoned soup. I gingerly extracted myself from the cramped little bed, tiptoed to the kitchen, checked the clock. 11:15. The time for canning soup had long passed. I put it into the fridge with a small sigh, surprised as I did that, despite an hour or more on a too-small bed next to a body made primarily of elbows and knees, the pain that had been sending tendrils of numbness through my body had receded on the back of my earlier irritation, nudged aside by cuddles with a  small warm boy. As I turned off the lights and checked the locks, tucking the house in for the night, I realized that this was one time I’d made the right choice; gotten my priorities in their correct order. Not all things have equal importance. For once, that night, I got it right.

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