In Which a Nervous Breakdown is Avoided

July 11th, 2010

My husband kicked me out of the house this afternoon for some much-needed “me time,” sans toddler. We had just gotten her down for a nap (with many tears) and I was listing off the things I needed to accomplish while she slept. He looked at me for a minute, then gently replied – “honey, I think you need to get out of the house for a few hours.”

And so I did. I headed over to my parent’s empty condo with a good book and spent a couple hours reading and chatting on the phone with a good friend.

I also spent a fair amount of time sobbing hysterically.

My husband’s generous gift of time to myself unleashed in me two simultaneous emotions: overwhelming relief and a sense of abject failure. I found myself utterly devastated by the fact that I’ve been having a hard time “doing it all” lately — and that someone had noticed my inability to seamlessly juggle the demands of work, parenthood, and domestic life. Even though I know in the rational part of my brain that my own standards are impossible to live up to, I’m still crushed when I fall short of my own goals.

But, good lord. Nothing you read, nothing you experience, and none of your friends’ stories can adequately prepare you for the sheer emotional exhaustion that parenthood brings with it. The sleep deprivation of the newborn weeks is nothing compared to the self deprivation of the toddler years.

It is immensely wearying to battle nine rounds over tooth brushing without blowing a gasket. To sing the alphabet song for the 89th time with enthusiasm. To gently explain (again) that the doggie doesn’t particularly like having fingers poked into his eyes. To have someone follow you into the bathroom every time you go (which is often, when you’re pregnant!). To have that same someone hang off your legs and chant “up up up” as you’re trying to cook dinner. To breathe deeply when the dinner you make gets flung to the floor.

There’s so little time for yourself when you’re a parent because your life is about someone else. You have to make time, carve out a moment in your schedule to read a book, or talk to a friend, or work on your knitting. Because if you aren’t intentional about it, it doesn’t happen. And eventually, the strain of being Super Mom starts to build up, and your temper gets shorter, and you take less joy in the experience of parenthood until — if you’re lucky, like I am — your partner in all of this takes the reins for a while and sends you away.

Two and a half hours later, my husband and my daughter showed up at the condo for a late-afternoon dip in the pool. And I was ready to hug them both, pick up my girl, and spend the next 45 minutes sweetly encouraging her to not drink the pool water, leap into the deep end, or clobber other children with her plastic buckets.

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