It was raining. I was in the city with the boys.
Anxiety was creeping in, along with a sadness I couldn’t wrap my head around.
“Walk,” my body said. And so I did.
I covered the double stroller with the rain shield and walked up, up, up the city streets until I reached this.
Right there in the center of the holiday bustle.
Tourists shoved their way past her to see the big tree, the ice skaters.
Basking in light from the fancy shops, the promenade angels.
Open and proud and calm, and weeping.
A steady presence.
Last week I visited the hospital where Judah was born exactly two years ago. As I drove home, along the same winding route, I found myself flooded with emotion as memories of that first year came rushing in.
The drive home from the hospital two years ago wasn’t so hot. It was my idea that Isaiah (then a mere 16 months old) should be with us to bring home the new baby. Unfortunately the timing coincided with his lunchtime and naptime. Isaiah banging on the metal bassinette as the cranky hospital nurse went through her endless discharge directions. And because I was holding a newborn and had a fresh C-section, I couldn’t physically restrain him. Although I tried anyway, sure I was ripping my stitches.
The drive home wasn’t any better. Both babies were screaming and crying. Not only was this a shitty moment, it went against all of my expectations for what the drive home with a new baby should be (and we all know our expectations of how things should be will always set us up for failure). I think it was on this drive when I had the first taste of that miserable anxiety. Wanting to either scream or get the hell out of the car.
Unfortunately this was only a foreshadowing of what was to come for the next 9 or so months.
So what would I say if I could go back and whisper something in my ear that day, two years ago?
That day when I was so tense and edgy and cagey and nervous and mad and tired and sore.
What would i say?
- take a deep breath and let it go.
- don’t be so testy. don’t worry about the rules. don’t find so much blame. so it was the wrong move having isaiah come with us. let it go. give him a snack. give him what he needs. and try to give the baby a reassuring hand.
- i’d say get as much sleep as you possibly can. for real. because every ounce of your health starts with getting sleep.
- leave the f*&^ing housework
- get grocery delivery for gods’ sake. it’s worth every penny.
- have martha, my angel of a housekeeper, come over. (actually, i hadn’t met martha yet.) find a martha–someone who will come over and spread their touch of joy around my house. someone who will see what needs to be done. catch me up on the laundry. bring groceries. hold the baby for me.
- find a baby holder. because this new baby cried every single time i put him down for months.
- god forbid find a different way than trying to get isaiah and judah up the steps after daycare every single day. i had all kinds of hangups about having a nanny, but in retrospect, it would have been so much easier.
- get on medication for postpartum anxiety sooner. talk to someone who would help me see that I had postpartum anxiety, something I had never even heard of.
- stop being so angry and find out what the root is. figure out what i need.
- don’t be so judgmental to my spouse about doing everything “the right way.” the newborn days are not about doing anything right. they are about survival.
- let it go.
- i’d go back and just give myself a hug and say just enjoy this time.
- find the joy in this moment and revel in that.
- find other moms. such trite advice but so helpful to see how others are coping and to laugh through tears.
- get out of the house more. that winter was brutal.
- stop having so many people over! why were we having people over every weekend? those visits that never seemed to end. Isaiah and their kids going crazy from being winter housebound. Me just wanting to go upstairs, put on pajamas and sleep w/ my baby.
- what if i just admitted to everyone that i was a total wreck? why was I so afraid to let that show? trying to keep up appearances was exhausting. i’d go back and say to all those visitors. “i’m a wreck. what day can you meet me at the driveway to carry these babies up the steps?”
- breathe. let it go.
The details leading up to it really aren’t that interesting–It was my husbands birthday last Monday. We were all at home that morning because it was Columbus Day. So instead of having the normal structure of a “mommy day,” we treated it like a typical Sunday morning–letting either mom or dad sleep in until the kids completely lose it somewhere around 10am.
Since it was his birthday and all, we gave dad the “gift of sleep” even though I was feeling like crap–exhausted, a little sick, and unsteady. When the deteriorating of the toddlers kicked in, the flareups came fast and furious. And I observed myself yelling at them not once but at least three times. At that point, it was only 9 am. I just couldn’t wake him up yet.
I am not a yeller by nature.
When I find myself giving in to anger by yelling, it means I have reached my peak of problem solving and am feeling completely out of control.
Many times danger is involved, like yell #3 that morning when one toddler was swinging on the refrigerator door while the other was wedged inside the fridge and I had a full pot of boiling water on the flaming gas stove just beside the stove.
It was ugly, terrible screaming because I was exhausted on all levels and wasn’t able to see what the situation needed to be resolved. (Baby gate, anyone??)
So often as mothers, our judgement is blurred by lack of sleep and lack of space.
Once I regained my composure (and averted danger), I shuttled the kids out to the backyard. This involved a whole mess of protests, tears, and flinging themselves on the ground as I tried to shove their little New Balances on their feet.
When my husband came outside around noon, I did my best to give him a bright Happy Birthday! before I hightailed it upstairs for a break. I lay in my oldest son’s room and melted into tears. Why was that morning so difficult? Why had I snapped so easily, so often? Why was I so frayed?
It would be so easy to become a yeller and screamer.
It’s even sort of justified in the refrigerator/stove scenario above. But it makes me feel like crap. It is not at all the kind of mother I want to be. It is not at all the kind of environment I want to create in my home.
That morning, crying in my sons’s room, I read from Buddhism for Mothers, which actually has a whole chapter devoted to anger.
Among the many inspiring passages I found, one of the most helpful was the author’s perspective on the Buddha’s Discourse on the Forms of Thought in which the Buddha presents five options for dealing with disturbing thoughts.
1. Dwell on the positive
2. Consider the results of our thoughts
3. Distract ourselves
4. Consider the alternatives.
5. Use our willpower.
As the author points out, what’s so fantastic about this list is that they are options.
So while sometimes it might not be not possible to use a typical toddler distraction (“hey you hanging on the fridge handle which could easily plow your brother right into the open flame of the stove–how about a tickle?!!”). But it would be a useful exercise to think back to a less dangerous situation you didn’t feel so hot about and consider other ways you could have handled it based on the “5 Ways to Not Lose It” menu above.
I apologized to my children later that day.
Isaiah, my oldest, clearly remembered the incidents of that morning, and by apologizing I hope I am showing him that we are all human. And even if I was right (no hanging on the goddamn fridge), I didn’t handle it right.
Anger is such a fleeting emotion.
I can’t even remember the other 99 things I’ve yelled about recently. But the aftermath of giving in to anger sits in the home, like tobacco on a smoker’s wall.
Here’s to not giving in.