You know that nightmare where you desperately need to use the bathroom but all the toilet doors are missing? Well, that kind of happened to me this week.
We were at the airport to welcome our dear friends Alex and Monica (and their three amazing boys) back to Australia. Last year we had tearfully fare-welled them, thinking it would be unlikely that we would even get to see them again for at least five years, but in a bittersweet twist (for them) the location of realistic job prospects took them too far away from family to justify the move half a world away. Ever since they informed us that they had booked tickets to come home I had imagined going in to meet them. Eli had particularly struggled with the loss of his best friend, Chase, and has had a difficult year with friends and connecting with people since that time. In anticipation of their return, he has been busily collecting toys and presents to give to Chase, even writing a handful of notes to each person in the family, stuffing them into an empty wine bottle and asking if we could throw it into the ocean to send it to them.
We kept our plan a surprise and woke the kids up early to join the Monash parking lot, picking up a special takeaway breakfast on the way. We made it to the airport by 9:00am and the kids were remarkably patient as we stood with Alex’s parents, waiting to catch the first glimpse. When the screens flashed up the familiar faces we made our way over for the first tear-stained hugs and greetings in what felt like an age. Thirty hours of travelling is enough to break anyone, let alone trying to do it with two preschoolers and a five month old, but the troopers were still standing amidst an enormous pile of luggage, delirious with relief that they had made it.
After packing them into the Combi so that they could head back to their temporary home with family, I decided to head back into the airport to use the facilities. Eli decided at the last minute to join me, not realising it was a significant walk back inside the terminal. By the time we made it through the front doors, he was regretting his choice and told me he wanted to go back. I informed him that was not possible so we pushed on. When we finally found the bathrooms, the strong smell of cleaning products acted as a forcefield that repelled Eli, him running out the door every time I tried to enter. Frustrated, we headed into the disabled toilets at the suggestion of the friendly cleaner, but the allure of those door operating buttons compelled Eli to press the shiny green one just as I had settled down.
The door began to swing open, the aspect not only towards the ladies bathrooms, but also facing directly onto the busy corridor. I leaped up to push the door shut, but it was on a course of its own design and was unresponsive to my desperate attempts. Flushed and embarrassed, I gave up, going back to the original plan of the normal facilities, but the forcefield remained strong. The incredible cleaning lady came to my rescue yet again, ushering us into the family room where we finally met with success.
On our way back to the car, Eli decided he wanted chicken nuggets, but I was in no mood to indulge after the recent battles and chaos ensued. I ended up carrying his writhing, screaming body all the way across the road, up the stairs and into the carpark. It was not one of our finest moments and the heightened emotions continued from the back seat (including several unbuckling moments while we were in a moving vehicle) for another hour.
After my ‘spiritual awakening‘ (to borrow a Brene Brown term for breakdown) of last week, I have actually felt a lot more free. It is uncanny how simply naming the internal turmoil and expressing it can release one from its’ fierce grip. Not that anything has been magically fixed or changed, but at the very least I no longer have the battle raging in my mind. It has also been a massive case of the shedding of my persona/stage mask to reveal the ‘shadow self’ underneath.
I’ve accepted help from all avenues, from extra outings for Eli with our friends Dwain and Jane, going out for wine with Allie, to crashing at Mum’s all day Tuesday, even getting to go out for coffee with my two sisters during crazy hour while Mum and Dad wrangled the kids. Pat came over on Friday night so that Dave and I could have a date night to see ‘Mockingjay: Part 2’, and I had a moment during the movie when I realised that Dave knew every single one of my ‘deep, dark secrets’ and still loved me and wanted to be around me. It was a pretty incredible feeling.
There are still many conversations to be had, passions to be discovered and pursued, structures to be put in place to avoid reaching empty again, counselling to be participated in and unrealistic aims to be surrendered. This week I had the realisation that I pin my identity to being the person who shows up no matter what, whether sick, exhausted or frustrated. When others don’t hold to that mentality, I (unfairly) take it as an attack on my identity when it is actually just a reflection of the state that they are in at the time. Hopefully, my responses to people not showing up can be more grace-filled and understanding moving forward.
Also, I think I’m realising that meltdowns (from the kids and myself) are pretty much a given in parenting. I’m deluding myself if I think I can control the parameters to such an extent that true, raw emotion never bursts through. It was also reassuring last night, chatting to Alex and Monica about parenting and realising our stories really are so similar with the particular struggles and challenges we face. It also helped that the kids played for hours without (major) incident- creating worlds in the Combi, mud pits in the outdoor kitchen and funny games in the bath – just like old times. I’m so overjoyed to have our friends back, to have a family so perfectly matched in terms of structure, ideals and values about life… and to know that our kids will share a magical childhood together… gives me so much hope.