There is a hunk of birthday cake in the freezer.
This thought keeps me going.
I have four loads of laundry to do, healthy meals to make for the week, moldy shower curtains to take down, wash and re-hang, a birthday party for which to prepare and attend, sibling disputes to referee, beds to make, and floors to de-crumb. You know how it goes.
My hands hurt. My back hurts. There is a nagging pain in my neck.
But if I make it to the end of the day, after the kids are in bed, I can sit on the couch and eat frozen cake.
I haven’t exercised in way too long, and my kids are watching way too much TV. We’ve eaten fast food more than I’d like to admit. Sometimes I go days without offering them a vegetable.
I don’t get around to changing the sheets on our beds very often, and tend to forgo activities I consider “adult” like buying wrapping paper or drying my hair. I’ve gotten lazy about sending Thank You cards, and forget to return phone calls. Many days, I look at my clients with an engaged face, but a disengaged mind as I contemplate the list of how I am failing as a mother, wife, and social worker.
It goes on and on.
Being a working mom is hard. Like way harder than I could have ever imagined. I’m sick of talking about it, and bored to tears of writing about it. It’s not a unique a story, and I actually have it a lot better than most.
And that cake is there. It is a little slice of nice, the thought of which momentarily stops the monotonous broken record of maternal depression and exhaustion.
Maybe I’ll eat it. Or maybe I won’t, because just knowing it’s there, just in case, satisfies.
I feel guilty I’m not on Pinterest in my spare time, looking up crafty shit to do with my kids.
I. Just. Can’t.
I feel really, freaking guilty I don’t spend every second admiring my children’s ethereal beauty, and that I count the hours until bedtime. I feel even more guilty after they are in bed and I realize another day is past us and I squandered it being frustrated and mindless.
Maternal depression is tricky. It is misunderstood by society, and seems taboo to address head on. I don’t think of myself as “a depressed person,” but every once in a while I become so overwhelmed by the mundane, it suddenly occurs to me, “I’m depressed and that is why every minute activity or request is being interpreted as a complex demand which threatens to push me over the edge of despair.” (I.e., spending 20 minutes unraveling the vacuum cord after Jack “helped” me clean.)
I don’t even like using the words “I’m” and “depressed” in the same sentence. For the record, I’m also not a person who eats her feelings, but imagining that cake. . . it just helps.
Before motherhood, depression sucks, but is tolerable because there’s more access to self care. This is not to say depression can’t be totally debilitating to non-parents, and it is certainly not a competition about who is more depressed than who. But I’ve found self care becomes a lot more elusive for moms who work and use money formerly set aside for organic diet and massage on daycare, or who are shuttling kids around to dance and soccer and don’t have the time to work out unless they get up before the sun.
There is also a weird dichotomy that if we don’t take time for ourselves we are martyrs, but if we do we feel oddly and uncomfortably entitled. It doesn’t help with the whole guilty/worthless/trapped/hopeless sense one has when depressed. Stupid jerk, I find myself telling myself. What did you think motherhood would be?
Then comes the unbalanced, lack of perspective and sense of failure. You don’t even deserve all you have. It takes some strength to keep the train from careening off track. So, let us eat cake.
Other thoughts that keep me going?
My daughter wakes me up every morning, pokes my nose gently with her pudgy finger, and says, “Hug mama?” I love her chirpy voice and cookie dough smell even more than freezer cake.
The kids may not eat veggies, but they eat fruit all day long. Their preferred beverage is water, and so is mine. We are all getting our fiber, and are wonderfully hydrated. So there is hope for our health.
The kids played nicely for ten whole minutes the other day, so there is hope we might make it another year without them mauling one another.
We read to the kids every day. They love books. So there is hope that extra half hour of TV won’t demolish their brains.
Jack goes to karate and does everything he is told, the first time, every time for a whole hour. So there is hope maybe he won’t always be a stressy ball of tantrum.
Emily pooped on the potty twice in the past month! Sure she also peed on the carpet and dumped out a pantload of crap on the bathroom floor, but she also pooped on the potty twice! So there is hope I will usher yet another child into big-kid-pants.
Jack’s sunflowers offer their bright faces to the sun.
It’ll be okay.
It’ll be okay.
These are the hard years. These are the years when there is never enough money, time, patience, energy, room in our bed, or sanity. These are the years on which we will look back with longing for arms stretched up to us. These are the years when we are growing plastic, little brains and are under the gun to do it right, do it good, do it quick.
These are the years when tending to our own mental health so often takes a back seat to the needs of our families, work, home.
But we need our oxygen so we can keep breathing for those slimy little critters, who we can’t remember when last we bathed.
Sometimes a little cake on the couch does just the trick. Sometimes simply thinking about cake helps.
These are the years when our kids need our hugs, smiles, and random potty jokes in the middle of the day so much more than something crafty from Pinterest.
It’ll be okay. We will get there.
What do you do to take care of yourself when you are overwhelmed or down? Share a thought that keeps you going.