Surving Being a Burned Out Human But Also A Mother

Monday, December 23, 2019

 What can you do, as a mother, when you are having a day where you're particularly beaten down by anxiety, or depression, or PMS hormones, or just plain life burnout? 

There are a million words of beautiful advice out there for days like this:

"Keep taking time for yourself until you're you again." -Lalah Delia

"Always be kinder than you feel." -anon.

"Plug into only people that inspire and energize you. Those that have nothing but unconditional love and judgment-free understanding for you." -Carlie Maree

But not enough words for the mothers who have to still show up, all day that day, for the children. What can you you when you have to keep going that day, in spite of the heavy weight of despair or apathy or constant irritation? You can't just..... take the day off. Take care of yourself and let things go. You can't just "unplug" from the challenging humans in your house. Your children, even in their uninspiring and unenergizing tantrums and whines and conflicts, need you there that day. Perhaps you have a baby who truly does rely on you for food all day long. Perhaps you have more than one child. Perhaps your children are all a very young age. Or perhaps, like in my case, you have some independent older children, but there are 4 of them, and it is a school break, so you have all four of them relying on you for a full day of parenting.... even if it's just the regulating of sibling conflict, the making sure there are meals, the keeping them out of danger. Again, loving words of advice might say, "Ask for help.... Find someone to babysit even for an hour or two." But what if that particular day of emotional derailment came out of the blue (as it is wont to do), and there isn't really time to make alternate arrangements? What if it's the holidays, and everyone else in the world is a bit tapped out themselves, so it feels like an additional burden to your heart to try to find someone to carry YOUR load for a minute?

What can you do? 

You can stay, slog through, go through the motions of daily mom'ing.... and worry your children are suffering because they only have a snappish, tired, impatient mom all day long.

You can put on cartoons and check out a little (a nap? A hot shower and a long cry? A different room with a book?).... and worry your children are suffering because they are being parented by a screen all day. 

You can turn to your spouse. Maybe they can take a half day? But then you worry they are going to worry about(judge?) your ability to parent. And maybe they are also tapped out, but at work, and asking this of them increases their burden. Or maybe you don't have a spouse to ask in the first place. 

What can a mother do?

Wouldn't it be so wonderful if this was one of those tidy little articles that tackles a tough problem, and then lists a few really helpful, insightful solutions? Ways to shift your mindset, or fix the issue, or prevent it in the future... I really love those articles. They are often a lifeline for me. 

I'm sorry to say, this isn't one of those. 

This is just me having a beaten down day-- for me today, triggered by my period and by post-busy-season burnout and by holiday chaos and by winter break-- feeling so sad and mad that I am snappish and sarcastic and irritable to my four beloved-but-kind-of-annoying children. This is just me wondering..... IS there anything a mom can do when it gets like this, really? When it's the perfect storm of Mom Mood, Kid Behavior, Holiday Madness, and School Break and really, there AREN'T any other solutions but to push through, albeit snappishly? I think there isn't. There isn't a thing to do here.... Except maybe frantically type out some stuff while the kids are outside for a minute (ignoring the shouts of arguments and the wailing of one 6-year-old being yelled at by his younger sister).... And maybe find a little catharsis in the writing. 

Gotta say, though.... even after all the typing.... I still need a good cry. Probably gonna go put on another cartoon for the yahoos and get through the rest of the day. 

For next time, though--- anyone have a genius suggestion that is also realistic? 

Photo from fall 2016, by my beloved best friend Kate Benson

Loveys and Loss

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

It's been a heck of a summer here in our family. We were able to take a two-week road trip from MO to CO to UT to CA and then back to UT and back to CO before getting home to MO. Really epic. Disneyland and the ocean and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and family gatherings and sting rays and good friends and mountains and LOTS of driving.... 

And then many weeks of chill summer-ness... swim lessons and pool time, cartoons and late nights. Water balloons, a tree house, movies, friends... Grandparent Camp and Noah getting to go to Florida with his other grandparents. Lucy's baptism. 

Truly, it's been a summer to remember. So so many good moments. So many good memories. 

But also? 

It's weirdly been the summer for losing loveys. You know, those extra-special and beloved blankies/toys that a child attaches to? The ones that always take first place in their heart? Since my first kiddo, I've made specific efforts to bring a lovey into each of my children's lives. And every single one of them has taken the bait. We have some verrry special toys in our home. Larkin has her Foxy. Quinn went rogue and ditched the cute raccoon I got him and chose a polka dot taggie blanket he got from the hospital at his birth. Lucy has her Bunny Bunny. And Noah has Old Mai. 

Each of these characters have become dear members of our family, and each are so precious-- not only to their children, but to this mama and to their dad. We have so many stories... so many photos with these loveys. We have seen our kids experience so many moments-- big and small- with their lovey in hand. 

Seeing how much Noah attached to his lovey, we took great care in assuring that we would always have contingencies for each of our kids' loveys. No matter what, we would make sure our kids would have their friend. For Noah, I found an overpriced duplicate for Mai on eBay and kept it tucked away in case of emergencies. His REAL Mai got more worn and loved, but this nearly-new "second" Mai stayed nearly new. And one day, Noah did indeed lose his Mai. And we pulled out the replacement and it.... just wasn't the same. Didn't look or feel quite right. So we called it "New Mai" and that worked for Noah, and he accepted New Mai, still missing his real one. And of course, I now needed a backup for the backup, so I found another overpriced Mai on eBay, again, and purchased him. And then, months later, WE FOUND MAI. The original. Now named Old Mai, since Noah had his New Mai. (New NEW Mai hadn't been revealed yet.... but would eventually become part of the team.) With Old Mai back, he took his rightful place as the top fave again, and all was well.

(here, he plays with both Old and New Mai)

Learning from this, when I was pregnant with Lucy, I chose a sweet pink and white bunny for her AND BOUGHT TWO right then. When we introduced this lovey to her, we introduced each of the two in turn, and would have the bunnies take turns in the wash, so they both wore down and got "loved" at the same pace. This worked beautifully, and really, I have no complaints about this story, since Lucy has always kept things closer to home and has not been at much risk for losing a Bunny. Well- I actually do have ONE complaint: her beautiful bunnies, made from organic cotton, have worn down to see-though, ripping thinness, and they are so very delicate now.  Fixing them would change their face, and Lucy cannot bear for that to happen, so we just hold our breath and keep loving both bunnies, carefully. 

On to Quinn. As I mentioned earlier, I found a darling raccoon lovey to match his bedroom colors/decor, and bought two. We introduced Raccoon to him when he was 3ish months old. But we also had this orange polka dot taggie he'd gotten as a gift from the hospital, so I'd tuck the taggie in one arm and the raccoon in his other arm, and when he'd cry in the car (all the time) his little infant fists would pull together and he'd accidentally pull both soft blankies to his cheeks. They soothed him. For a long time, he seemed to love them both, but as he grew older, the polka dot taggie pulled into the lead and firmly stayed there. Seeing this, I miraculously found a near-identical one at Target (the only difference was that the original had the embroidered words "Mercy Hospital" stitched onto it) to be his duplicate, and like Bunny Bunny, I kept both raccoons and both taggies in rotation.

And then Larkin-- I was an old pro by now, so when I found the perfect pink fox for her, I bought two, again. Rotated them evenly, again. She fell in love, as expected. Easy peasy. 

A family of loveys. The Hobbes to each of my Calvins. Sweet, soft "best friends" for each of my kids, from the time they were infants until now, and beyond. Which brings me to this summer. To a string of events that puts my stomach in knots of anxiety if I let myself think too long about it. Indeed, for the last month and a half, I've shut it down whenever the worry rises up in me. I haven't been able to let myself process the worst-case scenario.

See, back in June, while in California, Quinn misplaced his Mercy taggie. The one he loved best of the two.  It happened sometime right before or right after Disneyland, probably in the hotel. Despite Joe's and my very best efforts, in all the places we stayed, to gather alllll the things from alllll the family members and repack again and again..... somehow this beloved taggie fell under the radar. It's probably gone forever. I'm sick about it. Luckily, Quinn's taggie-twin is nearly the same, and after a hard first few days/weeks, Quinn hasn't seemed to fret terribly about this situation. He's not mentioned it in a while now. 

He's going to be okay. And being only six, he's gonna forget that he had one with "Mercy Hospital" stitched on it eventually. Probably. 

So then there's Larkin and her pink Foxy and her other pink Foxy. Somehow, we have lost track of one of them. For SURE this happened back at home in July, likely IN the home. Larkin is fond of putting things in bags and baskets, so right now, I still hold out hope that her second Foxy is just tucked somewhere random, waiting to be found.  I'm mostly not worried. 

Except--- two things. One, I've been  purging the HECK out of this house since we got back from our trip. Bags and bags and BAGS and bags of stuff leaving the home forever. What if she tucked Foxy into one of THOSE bags? What if? 


Noah decided a while back it would be funny to encourage Larkin to throw something of his away in the kitchen trash can. Some Lego thing, I think. I think he didn't think she'd really do it, but she did, and he exclaimed, "What? NO, Larkin!" and laughed and retrieved it.  I was there. No harm, no foul.... except... what if she liked that reaction, and tried it again... maybe with something more important this time? 

Probably ridiculous to get too anxious about..... EXCEPT.... today she asked me where one of her favorite stuffed animals was at.  She said, "Where's Scrappy, Mom?"and I said, "I don't know... where IS Scrappy?" and she casually answered, without prompting, "Scrappy's in the trash."


I asked her again a bit later, and she gave the exact same answer. 

Enter that anxiety again. That she would have tossed something precious into the trash can? Suddenly a more real possibility. Now listen--- I actually totally found Scrappy five minutes later, and that swung my anxiety pendulum back to the HOPE side, so there's that. 

But I've cleaned the HECK out of this house these last few weeks. Wouldn't I have found her Foxy by now? 

Okay, okay....worst-case scenario, she has only one, but she still has one. I can try to hunt one down on eBay for a backup. She won't care. It's going to be okay.

So why am I still avoiding this whole thing? Tamping down any thoughts of lost loveys and the terrible knots of worry that rise up? Because here's the worst part of this whole story: 

Also this summer, Noah has lost Old Mai. The best and oldest of this family of loveys. Secretly, my very favorite one. Old Mai has not been found for over a month now. And again-- I've turned this house upside down with cleaning anyway, and then again, searching SO HARD for this little lamb. Noah has looked everywhere, too. He is 99% certain Mai wasn't lost til we got home, which should mean HOPE, but Noah is also the one who confessed his deepest fear was that Larkin might have done something with it. Noah, in fact, was the one to originally introduce the worry that she might have thrown Old Mai in the trash. Please see above for all the reasons that this "trash theory" has very real possibility. I am sick about this. Never mind Foxy. I am sick about the trash idea for Old Mai's sake. 

My stomach is in knots about this. About our sweet lamby. Until I lock it down and thrust away the idea that he's really gone. I haven't been able to go there. 

Here's the thing: Quinn is going to be just fine with his one blankie. Larkin is going to be just fine with her one Foxy. Even Lucy, with her fragile and disintegrating old Bunnies.... she's going to be just fine. At least she still HAS them. 
Old Mai is the oldest. Has been loved the longest. Has been more present in Noah's heart and hands than any other lovey in any of my other children's arms. You may call me crazy, but he's a member of the family. Noah will remember him. And will remember losing him. Noah will have to learn about loss in a very real way.  

And I need to be honest here: while 60% of my terrible fear and sadness here is for my sweet Noah and his loss, 40% is my very own grief. I wasn't ready to say goodbye to Mai. I can't face the very real possibility that he's gone. I'm devastated that he might be buried in a landfill or in a dusty corner of some thrift store storeroom-- too old and beaten up to be put on a shelf... destined for the dumpster eventually. (I fantasize that some insightful worker there might find him and say, "Now THIS looks like a toy that is loved. I'll just set him aside. Maybe someone will come asking after him.") 

For nearly 5 weeks now, I've not let myself believe the worst. I've, in fact, just not let myself think about it.

But I think that even with my avoidance, the icky worry is still there, and it's eating at me. So finally, today, when Larkin's "Where's Scrappy?/In the trash!" bit brought it all back to the surface, I reluctantly admitted that it's time to confront my fear and let myself begin to be sad. It's time to begin to process what this all means. And it's time to make a space for Noah to begin processing, too. Talking about it, considering the worst, deciding whether or not to keep a small flame of hope burning, or to let go and to mourn. 

Guys, I know it's just a toy, but this HURTS. I haven't had a lot of loss in my life... so maybe this OBJECT is a small lesson in loss for me. A practice run. Watching myself avoid and then worry and then ignore and then feel overcome by a wave of grief.... the go back to ignoring again... Maybe there are lessons here on how to move through a loss. Maybe, in some small way, this will be a worthwhile journey for my son, too. 

I don't know AT ALL. Tonight, finally letting myself consider that this might be goodbye, I've been letting myself just feel stuff. And I've been digging for old photos as part of the process. What initially meant to be a search for maybe 5-6 images of sweet Mai and Noah to illustrate a sad post about losing loveys became an epic treasure hunt-- and I ended up grabbing dozens and dozens of Old Mai Moments from spring 2008 til summer 2019. Maybe no one but myself (and maybe Joe and maybe my mom) needs to see so many photos of a boy and his toy. 

But this post is mostly for me. Like I said, Old Mai is family. And this catalog of moments below tells a thousand stories of my son, of my family, and of me. I laugh at myself for taking so SO so many photos all the time, but when it comes to curating a collection of moments, I am profoundly grateful I have so many to choose from. What a treasure. 

I hope with all my heart that this, then, is not goodbye.... But it might be. And if it is, then here's to you, Old Mai. You have been a gift to our whole family, and especially to my boy. Thank you. 











 (by Lucy, age 5)



 (this one and the next were from his own camera when he went to the Smoky Mountains on a field trip)

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