Parents do countless things on a daily basis that can only be explained by “because I am a parent.” We accept a constant barrage of stress, illness, sleep deprivation, fear, guilt, and running our lives around what is best for our children. That is a short and bleak picture, and nowhere near comprehensive. There is, of course, all of the reasons we wouldn’t change it for anything in the world because we love those little buggers with a power indescribable. But this post isn’t about all of that. This post is about what happens to me when that parenting self-sacrifice, that maternal instinct, straight up breaks down.
Thankfully, it doesn’t happen often, and when it does, I can usually look back and see the progression, understand the unlucky combination of events that leads to this point. But hindsight is only helpful for understanding; I have not yet mastered the ability to realize I am in it while it is happening. So here I sit in a coffee shop, with a husband at home who has (mostly) lovingly kicked me out of the house to recover, to gather myself, to find the sh*t that I lost. It is cold and icky midwest spring weather outside, so I won’t hit the trails. I hate shopping. I am in no place to talk to any of my friends who would love to listen. So this is my default. Sitting with the quiet buzz of grown-ups around me as I drink hot drinks without fear of little hands. I am calm, but it isn’t the watching a sunrise kind of calm, it’s the dumbfounded what just happened? calm when you can’t even gather the energy to shake it off and move on.
Our lives are hectic even on most good days. The last few weeks of my job have been intense. All three of my kids have been sick in an alternating and overlapping fashion for three to four weeks. Hubby and I have not been sleeping enough because when kids are sick there is always overnight assistance needed, on top of late evenings and early mornings. For the last three days, I had been home with sick kids, trying to work, and hanging on tightly to the tiny sliver of candle I have been torching at both ends for too long. Yesterday, the candle just disappeared altogether.
You’ve been there, right? This isn’t just me? Absolutely no gas left in the tank but no choice but to move forward. I got Bean to the bus on time. I fed my daughters. We played, we cuddled, we did all of the things we normally do. But I was on autopilot. I was letting two toddlers run the show, and thankfully they had no idea. I desperately looked forward to their nap time so I could just catch a few minutes of rest. But then they didn’t nap. They jumped and squealed and had a grand old time, and I laid on the couch with a blanket over my head, wanting to drown out the noise but knowing that I had to keep listening for the sounds of danger. By the time I gave in and got them up, all patience, all creativity, all selfless powers of motherhood were gone. I was physically there but that was it. I muddled through until hubby got home. I ensured safety but gave no more. I only talked when necessary. I was a broken mess. Once the kids were in bed I stared at the tv in silence while hubby avoided me. At some point I gave up and mercifully ended the day, passing out within seconds once I went to bed.
So right now I am out of the house and recovering because I have a very understanding partner who is living through the same events and has kept it together. We seem to balance our breakdowns, a yin and yang of crazy if you will. Today it is my turn, and another time it will be his. Perfect parents with stars on their report cards aren’t the only ones who earn perks like a few hours to think in solitude. We all need a break, and the helpers who can and do provide that break are extraordinary heroes. Every day with kids is a new adventure. After a few hours to myself, I’ll be better prepared to jump back in and not only tackle, but enjoy, the next round.