Last night you threw a tantrum like no other when I asked you to go to the bathroom before bed. My nerves were already frazzled beyond recognition from you being sick for four days and my deep fear that your brand new baby brother would get the virus that spiked your temperature so high and made you so, so miserable. It was frayed after several days of no naps. After cloroxing and washing every surface in our house instead of enjoying some birthday shopping like I had planned. After 8 weeks of a much fussier baby than you ever were.
My nerves were already gone when I asked you to go potty. The last thing I needed was to wake up in the morning and have to change wet bed sheets on top of a crying baby that needs to be breastfed and trying to quarantine you from him when I’m the only one here. I asked you and you screamed hysterically. But I kept replaying the pee sheet scenario and knew it was worth it. So I stood my ground and you screamed harder. And harder. So hard I thought you might vomit. So hard my ears started ringing. So hard that for the first time as a parent, I had visions of walking out of the bathroom, down the stairs and out the door and driving away without saying a word. For the first time as a parent I had visions of slapping you, just to make the agonizing noise stop. These visions flashed vivid and angry across my mind and I worried I was about to scream and never stop. Then I had my worst parenting moment and I grabbed your shoulders more tightly than necessary and gave you the look that said “mommy is about to lose her mind.” I sat there and squeezed your shoulders and shot that look right into your eyes and you didn’t even seem to notice, you just kept screaming. But I noticed.
Then a few seconds later you finally went potty and kept crying and crying and I scooped you up and held you and we both cried but I tried to make sure you couldn’t see my tears. I didn’t even tell daddy. I didn’t have time because your brother was busy having his own meltdown. Our day to day is stuck on “survive” mode.
And this morning. I thought, “fresh day, fresh start!” Which is a lovely thought.
You needed to brush my hair and you did so so hard you tore a chunk out. You needed the pink chair and the Rapunzel doll whose shoes kept falling off and I needed to find and fetch and re-apply and a milk refill RIGHT NOW when I was nursing brother and no mommy you CANNOT sit there because it’s for my dolls and you needed the dark pink doll blanket and NOT that one! And you needed and needed and needed some more and I lugged brother up and down the stairs 18 times to retrieve what you needed because I couldn’t handle one more meltdown and then I had one. You started the ‘whine to cry to scream’ over me not going downstairs to get you another toy you suddenly needed. And I had that scary calm mom voice that said “mommy is about to get very angry …. blah blah blah … Do. You. Understand.”
And I wanted you back, the you that was happy and easy and loved me and the me back that was happy and patient and liked you.
And I stared like a zombie with dead eyes out into nothing with an 8 week old strapped to my chest.
And you sat on the coffee table and stared at me and I didn’t even mention that coffee tables are not for sitting on.
And then you climbed over and touched my knee and said “I’m going to play in my room. I can come down when you feew bettah.”
And you did.
And I cried. And hated myself.
And I thought about how much help I have, how helpful daddy is and how gam gam comes over all the time and takes over and how so many moms do it with zero help and how I’m just hanging on by a rapidly fraying thread even with all the help in the world.
And how sometimes for a split second I wonder if I should go back to work and use this brain I’ve been gifted instead of staying home and losing my ever loving mind. That maybe my brain and temperament was made for academia and research instead of negotiating with toddlers and bouncing grumpy babies. And then today someone suggested that maybe I might want to look into some kind of childcare if this was just too much for me. They said that not everybody is made to stay home with 2 kids. And they said it with the kindest, best of intentions and no judgement and it absolutely felt like a knife straight to the heart. Because the thought of paying someone else to take care of you and brother makes me wild with jealousy. Because I want to be here with you, for all the seconds, all the moments, and that means this hard, brutal, sometimes downright terrible stuff too.
That suggestion confirmed my worst fears – that someone else felt maybe I wasn’t “made for this.” Not that I enjoyed work so much or that we needed the money or that I was happiest working away from home – all of that is great and valid and spot on for many people. But this is what I chose, what I want – staying home and working from home – and hearing someone suggest I might want to explore the possibility that I chose wrong felt like big red flashing failure.
And maybe I’m really not “made for this.” There shouldn’t be any shame in that. But I want to be made for this. I want to be made for it so bad. And I want to know that I can do it even if I’m not made for it. And that even those who are made for it feel like me sometimes.
Today I shaved my legs for the second time in 8 weeks. I noticed a hard lump in my calf that wasn’t there 8 weeks ago – it was muscle. From pacing this house hour after hour, from bouncing your brother so he will calm down. So he can sleep so you can sleep. He has baby sonar that senses when I am thinking about eating or sitting down and begins his fussing. If there is any justice in this world I should be about 40 lbs lighter within the next 3 months. I’m afraid it doesn’t seem to work like that very often though.
Sometimes I am so frustrated with your brother for needing so much, for depending on me for survival, depleting my resources so that I have so little left for you. Other times it’s you I get impatient with – he will never ever have the attention you have had. He only gets my full undivided attention when you are asleep or with another adult.
And I love you with such intensity and feel crushing guilt for every time I say “I can’t play right now” or “don’t touch your brother! Your sick!” I feel the sting for every “no” I have to give you. Every time I have to brush you aside. It might seem like I’m annoyed but truly it feels like a little piece of my heart is being torn slowly away like a bad, deep hangnail. Every time I see your face fall it feels like I am crushing your tiny, happy spirit and making you this tantruming, angry little girl.
I know I am giving you a gift in the long run, this brother, these limits, teaching you self control and sharing and tolerance of disappointment. I know but it feels fucking awful right now. Sorry for the F word. But language is the least of my worries right now.
I know you aren’t supposed to remember these times and you probably won’t but you remember the most minuscule of details already, so I can’t imagine you won’t remember times like today when I looked at the world with zombie eyes and you played alone and were worried about me. 3 year olds shouldn’t have to be worried, baby. I hope that’s not a memory that makes it in your memory bank. I hope the ones that make it are when your brother smiled at you for the first time, or when we all played outside together and everyone smiled and laughed and things were beautiful and shiny and easy.
Part of me is afraid you will read this one day and feel like I was a bad mom. But I’m more afraid that someday you will actually feel like a bad mom for feeling the same things I did. So that’s why I’m writing this. If someday you feel like me, I want you to know that is human and ok and normal. I want you to know it has nothing to do with the amount of love I have for you, which grows beyond what I thought possible every day. I know you will get it, if you become a mom some day. I know I won’t have to explain how this works, how you can be at your very wits end, with no patience, joy, or enthusiasm left, where you visualize a long drive away from the screaming yet at the same time ache with love for this red-faced crazy angry child. I won’t have to explain that you still want to be here even for these agonizingly tough days. That even when your mind teeters on the verge of insanity you already know it’s worth it.
I love you, my first-born, my daughter, the girl who made me a mother and teaches me everyday I’m capable of more than I imagined and that the hard stuff is so worth it.
I love you.
Let’s try again. We can try again every day for the rest of our lives.
I love you.