January 4, 2017
Today is the “Bomb Cyclone”. What a totally sensationalist name for weather. I feel like “Three-to-six inches of snow with high winds” would have sufficed, and would have been much less likely to screw up everyone’s work and travel plans for the day. I’m a little bitter because I work part-time for a private school in NYC, which is still in recess for winter break, and I had been counting on today, this one day, to have as my own because my sitter would have been here but, alas, the Bomb Cyclone came instead. I’ve been stuck at home with my kids for most of the last two weeks and, really, for the last year. My house is the damn Bomb Cyclone and I’m tired and I need a break from it, so today I have decided to continually let the kids watch TV and eat whatever snacks they want in place of meals.
I gift myself these simple pleasures from time to time because I just don’t have the damn energy to be a great mom everyday but, I realize, this is really similar to the way I felt before Calum got Leukemia. Little kids, even ones who are enrolled in school programs, are just home a lot. They are too incompetent to get jobs and school usually ends by noon at the latest, so it just doesn’t leave much of a break for any stay-at-home mom of young kids.
Though, personally, our lack of any scheduled activities is on another level, I struggled with the at-home chaos even when we could go places. I’ve done some other writing over the years, and just came across the following piece I wrote in September of 2016, just a few months before Calum’s diagnosis.
“September 16, 2016
My theme song for this week is “Patience” by Guns n’ Roses. It always helps to sing a song when you’re feeling like you’re about to lose your shit, so this song seemed fitting. I like to do the whistle at the beginning of the song too because it makes me laugh rather than wanting to throw myself out the second story window. The lyrics are great:
When I was little and my mom would lose her patience, right before turning into the Hulk, she would put her fist up to her mouth and bite her forefinger. She would tense her muscles and shake a little, and it looked ridiculous. It always made me and my brother anxiously chuckle, and then we’d run for our lives. I used to ask her why she would bite her own fist and she would tell me it was to keep herself from hitting us. Thanks, Mom.
Several times a day lately, I feel like I am going to scream and I either lose my patience or am on the brink of a total freak-out. I feel out of control, frustrated, and like an idiot. If anyone saw my pre freak-out face, I’d be so embarrassed. Now I understand exactly how my mom was feeling when while biting her own hand.
I have had a couple conversations with family and friends lately asking for some advice and perspective. Like any advice, you take some and you leave some. For instance, I decided to disregard the tidy little expression, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” Well, shit! I didn’t know I could plan on a 25-minute meltdown from my two-year-old when he woke up from his nap for no reason whatsoever, followed by my nine-month old throwing up her entire bottle all over me, and then my two-year old calming down just in time to tell me he needs to poop, while I’m shirtless bathing the baby who just threw up on me.
Some of the advice that has been most helpful is centered on the idea of “expecting the unexpected”. This advice is a little annoying, too, but true. There is so much of what happens in a day of parenting that will never go according to plan. As moms, we need to adjust our own expectations. It’s near impossible to get through a day that runs smoothly without any hiccups. We have to stop hoping for things to go according to plan and stop blaming ourselves when they don’t. Usually I can predict the kind of things that will set off my two-year old. I know with certain words, inflection and actions, I will generally yield a positive result from him. If I make one false move, however, he can become totally unhinged. For instance, in reference to his post-nap meltdown earlier, I set him off when I removed the books that were littering his crib when he woke up from his nap. I was pissed off because he spent the first hour of “nap” rattling the rungs of his crib as he ran the books across them. He’d made enough noise to wear himself down so he could sleep while simultaneously waking up his baby sister and, therein, abruptly ending my coveted one-hour of down time.
I spent rest of the day stressing about how I might avoid future meltdowns or amend the nap schedule, but the truth is, these situations are immune to a perfect execution, and I need to accept it. If the day doesn’t go perfectly, it should really just be lumped in as a normal day. There are real issues in the world for parents to deal with and making sure no one gets upset and everyone takes a three-hour nap is not one of them.
When I only had one child things were pretty easy and an unplanned hiccup didn’t throw me off in the same way. If I need to comfort my son, but also make sure my daughter doesn’t die by sticking her finger in an electrical outlet at the same time, it adds an element of urgency and pressure to the situation. I need to work on being comfortable with chaos and not viewing a chaotic situation as a reflection on the strength of my parenting ability. Everyone is loved, clothed and fed. Chaos is a guarantee regardless.
Another piece of advice I was given was “don’t wish this time away”. The day to day struggle with young children is real and it’s OK to wish for a “fast-forward-to-bedtime” button some days, but the day is a lot more bearable and enjoyable when I don’t allow little things to anger or frustrate me unnecessarily. The time before babies become toddlers, and toddlers become little kids, and everyone’s off to school is a blip in the grand scheme (so I’m told). Let’s face it, babies and toddlers don’t really know what the hell is going on. Even though it may seem like it, they are not plotting to make you lose your sanity. A person that eats things covered in syrup with their hands is not sophisticated enough to have the mental edge on you.”
Reading this older piece I wrote made me feel less sorry for myself about not being able to get out as much now because, so it seems, I had already been going crazy before this all happened. This past September I started going back into work regularly and I feel really lucky to at least have one scheduled place to be outside the house now; a place where I only have to get lunch for myself and where I can go to the bathroom all alone.
I still need to remind myself there is no such thing as a perfect day when parenting little kids. Unexpected things keep happening: meltdowns, bomb cyclones, childhood cancer, etc. Resistance will only make it harder to get over it. You can’t fight fire with fire so, if all else fails, replace meals with sodium-packed snacks until you can calm down.