At 6:24 am my four-year-old son came upstairs to my bedroom and quietly whispered, “Daddy, I went downstairs and went potty and I saw a big spider on the floor in the kitchen. It’s like really, really big.”
At the mention of the word “spider” I was so awake. Spiders terrify me, to no surprise to my husband. In our ten years together, he’s probably only seen me kill a handful of them by myself. I use a long-handled Swiffer to smoosh them, or sometimes I just throw shoes at them until they run away. My point is that my husband has a clearly defined role as the spider smoosher in our house.
He rolled onto his side away from our son and said, “Yeah okay, go to bed.”
And my son toddled off to his room saying once more, “It was really big.”
Exhaustion took back over my panicked, adrenal response and I passed out hard alongside my husband, but not without intense anger that he hadn’t gotten up to handle the threat. The anger lasted through our morning routine of getting the kids ready to school. I swore that if that spider popped out at me while I was home alone my husband would pay dearly for his arrogance.
Anecdotally we’re talking about an actual spider, not a figurative one. But the situation piles atop a few other situations where I have felt alone in handling three kids and a home.
On Monday we had no school and I took all three kids to parent-teacher conferences alone. My husband didn’t come talk to the teachers or offer to help me with the kids. The result was that the kids sat in the room with me, fighting and talking over any important conversations I could have had. I left feeling like I gleaned nothing and my head was just pounding after trying to balance that mess. I had wasted over an hour of my time packing them up while they punched each other, listening to them fight in the car, and then loading them into the building. I always seek the positive, but in this situation, there really wasn’t one. I brushed dust off my pants and forged on with the day. Mom’s do that. We put up with the appointments and the fights and then we brush it off or bury down so we can cook something for dinner.
On Tuesday my two preschoolers stayed home and mostly just annoyed me until I gave in and handed over the iPad they were begging for. I had set up baking projects and a cute lesson on primary colors which they fully ignored.
They ran around and played ball outdoors for a little while and then we had to head to my son’s school for a sing-a-long performance that the young grades do monthly. I promptly forgot a 3pm doctor appointment so I packed the kids up in the minivan as fast as I could even though my daughter constantly slows us down by trying to buckle her baby dolls in with her. Upon our arrival I was informed at reception that our appointment wasn’t until Wednesday. They did sneak us in anyway, so at least I don’t have to haul them all in and out of the minivan and navigate a busy parking lot again tomorrow.
The downside is that my oldest son has yet another prescription that I must fill at the pharmacy and keep track of.
Last night my husband came home after a nine-hour day and I had to run out and buy Easter basket materials and plan an egg hunt for my family I invited over for Sunday.
I picked up a pizza and ran back home to feed the kids.
I woke up to the spider bullshit this morning with a lot of noise buzzing in my head about having to be this fall-back person. The grunt worker. Often left alone to toil and fuss over the kids and their appointments, barely able to keep my hair brushed or their hair brushed.
I packed the lunches up for the kids, heating up leftover pizza and wrapping it in foil. My husband looked over my shoulder and said, “You know I just have to put those in the fridge at school anyway.”
I didn’t bother looking back over my shoulder at him while I forcefully stated, “You don’t have to do it, you just do it anyways. Just pretend you don’t have to and ignore the rules about the fridge for a day.”
I could feel my tightly coiled resilience starting to ping open like a spring losing tension. That feeling is not good for me or my marriage. That boiled over sensation is the beginning of my melt-downs. I fight with my husband, I snap at my kids, and I start acting like a martyr when that feeling takes over. If I lose control of my emotions, I lose control of everything.
I always regret the way I feel and the things I say when my coils start to unravel.
Today, there are two performances at school. My son was supposed to be in the first-grade play but his anxiety has kept him backstage doing percussion. I made a choice that I would not be able to attend the morning show, but I would invite everyone I know to school for that second evening show. I’m fighting off being swallowed whole by guilt about missing the first show. I’m not even sure if I’ll tell my husband that I missed it because then I feel like I should justify my choice or defend myself. I’m so busy and tense that I don’t think I can do that without minor explosion.
I didn’t go to that morning play because I had TRX class, and it always runs late. It ends at 10am, and my gym is fifteen minutes away from school if I drive fast and don’t get pulled over. I knew I wasn’t going to make it beforehand so I didn’t make any promises that I couldn’t keep. I went to TRX and worked out, because I have to do that. It’s hard sometimes to explain how you can be so busy and still make time to work out.
Exercise has so many benefits that are well-studied and documented. I don’t have to go that far in my explanation, but those benefits are crucial to my brain chemistry. I’ve struggled in and out of depression and mania since I was a teenager. The 45 minute classes I give myself aren’t an excuse to avoid my family, although it does conveniently work out like that. The reality is I can’t be neurologically normal without them.
This same son (age 7) lost a tooth five days ago. We put it in a bag and forgot about it under his pillow for way too long. He forgot about it too, thankfully. Last night I had remembered to write a note and stuff a few dollars in an envelope. I sprinkled glitter on the note and added in a pack of Trident gum because I felt so bad for forgetting Tooth Fairy duty for nearly a week.
My husband chided me for not getting the work done that has been piling up on the dining room table, spreading across to the sideboard. “If you are so busy and stressed out that you can’t finish your work then why don’t you cut out your gym time? That’s what most people have to do Chrissy. You could go work from 6pm-10pm if you were really that stressed out.”
I’m proud to report that I didn’t murder him in cold blood. I just haughtily wiped down the counter top and vacuumed the rugs with extra vigor.
I didn’t then and I don’t now feel like I owe him any explanation besides, “You are not the mother.”
And he’s not. He’s the dad. We know the trope that dads have it easier, but there’s a reason that exists. My kids have never once cried when he walked out the door to go to work. They have never begged him to go to their school sing every single week. He’s never even been to one. When the kids ask me to go he says, “You really should try. It’s only fair to go to all of their things evenly.”
There are three of them, and one of me. His innocent ignorance isn’t cute or funny. I can’t skew it that way no matter how hard I try. He has put together a few sentences this week that stick in my craw and completely conflict with his message.
- I should quit the gym to focus on work because I’m stressed out. Yet he also said that the gym is the best way to keep myself even and clean. He went so far as to tell his own sister that he’s never seen me happier.
- I should attend the kids school activities evenly. He’s never done a single one. Every week the kids have two school sings and an after-school art class which I supervise. It leaves me with little to no time to do anything except for live my life in-between two schools and three childhoods.
- I should hire help. He says this as though it’s a viable solution to our woes. Hiring help is a process, and it’s one I have tried twice. It cost our family hundreds of dollars a week to have help. He only skipped a few beats before he started complaining about the water bill.
It goes on from there, just endlessly. I am busy, we are busy. Life is busy. Some people handle stress with ease, sliding through one hill to the next. My life is not manageable under severe stress. I get shingles and end up bed-ridden for two weeks or I go crying back to my therapist who ups my dose of antidepressants. Stress in my body manifests in some horrific ways.
A month ago, I had to fully function even though I had pneumonia. I know so many people probably have. And I wonder why do we have to do this? Every time I read an article about stress, the suggestions are self-care. But there’s a lack of honesty in what self-care is, and it probably varies from person to person. Going to the gym might be self-care or it might just be maintenance to prevent an emotional undoing.
Honest self-care is hiding in one little word. “No.”
“No, I can’t do that.” Doesn’t have to be an admission of failure. Saying no should be more of a power than a weakness.
I’m still learning how to say no to doing the mountains of laundry by myself. Saying no to the school play or letting the PTO duty slip doesn’t come without guilt. Saying no to guilt is also self-care. Absorb the guilt, see it for what it is, because it’s probably you bullying yourself for not being perfect. Then say “I’m not perfect. I’m not going to try to be.” And vanquish that soul-suffocating bullshit from your body.
Because you don’t want to be me stumbling around with shingles and pneumonia worrying about getting your recalcitrant children to karate. If they don’t want karate, and you can’t wrangle them into it, then fuck it. Keep the miles off the minivan and rest your stressed-out face.