I sat on the bed, tears streaming down my face. Fingers rapidly texting profanity-laden messages. ‘I don’t want to be this person.’ ‘How does anyone do this?’ ‘I hate that I have to say everything five times before anyone listens.’ ‘I’m so uptight all the time.’ ‘I hate that I care so much about all the mess and that when I clean it all up it just comes straight back again’.
The day had begun badly.
Eli struggled to get out of bed and Hudson and Ivy took what felt like an hour to eat one Weetbix. I spent the time saying the same phrases over and over, willing people into clothes and pleading with them to move faster. Harvey had already needed three nappy changes due to a nasty bug that has affected his tummy and I wasn’t in a good headspace. Ivy’s latest practice of screeching instead of talking was grating on my nerves like fingernails on a chalkboard, and the incessant, loud barking from the dog over the fence was pushing me further and further towards the edge. Hudson’s lips were tinged with blue again and my mind went in circles imagining the worst possible diagnosis, wondering whether to make yet another appointment but hardly having time to pick up the phone.
It didn’t really improve from there.
There was the smoothie that ended up spilling dramatically all over the kitchen bench, dripping down into drawers and all over the floor. Harvey went on a sleep strike and I foolishly decided to cram all the day’s tasks into the morning. Bake cookies. Put on curry in the slow cooker. Send Ivy to her room for the fifteenth time for screeching instead of using her words. Yell at Hudson again for getting too close to Harvey and sharing his germs. Rinse and repeat.
When I was in my early twenties, I spent a summer working at Valley Girl, a discount ladies clothing store at Southland. In the long days of serving customers I began noticing groups and stereotypes. One category stood out particularly for its abrasiveness, arrogance and aggressiveness – the Middle Aged Mother. If they had something to return it would be brought up to the counter with fists clenched around the offending item, acting as if the whole interaction with you was a personal affront to their day. They complained, sneered – expecting Gold Class service at an op shop price.
I think I understand how these unfortunate beings are created now.
Venting to a close friend last week, we both found out that the previous day had held very similar experiences for us. Children who struggled to listen, were quick to whinge, suddenly contracted amnesia when you asked them to do something and hell-bent on fighting with each other. The bitter cocktail leading to mother who perpetually speaks in frustrated, on-edge tone, entreats all who are in earshot to resentful lectures and handballs all children to husband when he gets home. ‘Who wants to be this type of person?’ we sighed with helpless exasperation. And yet sometimes, it feels as if the whole design of being a mother can bring out the absolute worst in us as we work so freaking hard to keep everyone else alive and thriving that we often forget to tread water ourselves. The hours of the day can so quickly become eaten up by the basic tasks of maintaining existence and all we have energy for in those final hours is to collapse in front of a show and roll into bed.
Yesterday I was a mess. Frustrated, uptight, losing it at silly things, expecting perfect behaviour, rigid, dogmatic, quick to anger, simmering with resentment (and that’s the abridged version). Dave, Naomi and Monica got the unedited barrage as I needed someone to give me some much needed perspective…. help to get out of the swampy, murky headspace that was my mental home. In that moment it truly felt as if I had never had a good day and never would again. Slowly, tentatively the empathy and understanding began to soak in and I took tiny steps forward. I turned my head to studiously ignore the craft ‘war’ that led to textas and scraps of paper littering the floor. I spent some time doing yoga to release the pent up tension in my neck and shoulders from gritting my teeth and pointing towards time-out. I set out lots of boxes of toys in the afternoon so that I could read a novel, dug around for my gratitude journal that has been gathering dust lately.
It wasn’t exactly a magical turnaround. When Dave surprised me by coming home a littler earlier than normal and asking if I wanted him to pick up a couple of the kids to go pick up some milk I jumped at the chance, fervently uttering the name of the child who was going whether he wanted to or not.
This week I learned that not everyone has a voice inside their heads that berates them all the time for getting things wrong. I thought that it was universal, but apparently not. It turns out that Type 1’s have this relentless commentary that underlies everything – sneering at mistakes, chastising tasks not done, pointing out how others are doing it better. I don’t know about you, but living with that constant stream of negativity drives me a little crazy sometimes. That voice amps up considerably on bad days, suggesting that my failures are screwing up my kids, that every choice I’m making is somehow hurting me and my family.
Yesterday was definitely a bad day. I’m not proud of a number of moments and it certainly wasn’t representative of the type of person that I want to be and become. But these days, and the voice that loudly accompanies them, do not have to be my story. In response to my barrage of words about how I was feeling, Monica sagely pointed out that ‘the stress doesn’t define us’. Failure is feedback – of values being thwarted, of a standard that we hope for… it doesn’t have to be our fate or the final chapter.
So, if you are having a bad day today, know that you have all my empathy. Be kind to yourself, try and find something fun to do for you, and remember that you are in the company of millions who have gone before and who are doing life alongside you. The more I go along in this journey, the more I realise that the only way forward is by doing it together – each being brave enough to be the glorious mess that we are.