July 18, 2011

Losing it, Regaining it, and Losing it Again

 Last week, I threw a bowl of ice cream.

Actually, I dropped it. But, with a lot of force.

Still, it resulted in a broken bowl and a splatter of chocolate Ben and Jerry's all over the kitchen floor.

It had been a long day, for everybody and when, after several failed attempts, the bean finally fell asleep around 9:30, I snuck out of the room. I was dirty and stressed and totally empty.

I tiptoed into the kitchen and scooped two scoops. I pulled out the chocolate sauce and felt my shoulders start to relax a little. My mind went straight to the anticipation of collapsing on the couch, bowl in hand, and letting my weary body sink into the cushions as I shoveled the sweet and creamy into my mouth.

Just as I'd put the spoon into the bowl, Willa wailed. Not just a whimper, but a full-on wail.

I remember  thinking, "I should just throw this bowl." I wanted time to stop for a second, just a second, and somehow, I thought the shatter and the force of a breaking bowl might achieve that.

And so I threw it. And it did.

I calmly called for Jacob's help and he helped me with the mess, both the screaming baby mess and the mess of ice cream and ceramic shards on the floor.

You would think it was a loss of control. But, I think maybe it was an attempt to regain some control.

We've been under so much pressure lately. Part-time job, full-time Mom, part-time farmer and full-time cook and keeper of the house, the finances, the schedule, the diaper bag (do we have sunscreen? blanket? hat? bug spray? phone? wallet? ... you know the drill. Getting out of the house takes a spreadsheet and an engineering degree these days.)

By the end of the day, we're all so exhausted that when sleep is a fight, it's just enough to get us all right there, at the edge of cool and crazy.

The ice cream that night took me straight to crazy.

I waited a few days before I told Jacob that I did not drop the bowl, as he assumed. And, I didn't tell anyone else either for awhile. I was slightly, and maybe still am, terrified of what that act says about me. Am I out of control? Am I violent? Do I have some sort of anger management issue I need to work out?

Finally, I confessed to a few Mama pals.

They all had the same reaction: Oh honey, I've been there.

One told me she allows herself her own toddler tantrums. She waits until her little one is asleep, then goes outside and screams and jumps up and down and flings her arms -- the whole bit.

She also says her real urge is to run, as fast as she can, down the lane and just keep running.

Another tells her kids that Mama is being bad and needs a timeout. Then she locks herself in the bathroom.

Another tells me she has moments like these every day, sometimes several times a day.

Often, all you hear when your babies are little is how to not let a moments go by, that this will be the happiest time of your life, that you'll turn around and they'll be grown -- so savor every moment.

What you don't often hear from mothers is the pressure, the chaos, the power battles, the anger, the loss of control. And almost never do you hear about complete and utter emptiness you can feel after a full day of giving to your children.

It's as if talking about it might mean you're taking your child for granted. That maybe, if the word anger comes out of your mouth, it might make people think you don't love your child.

Or, maybe we're afraid someone might hear all this and find us unfit. Or worse yet, maybe we're afraid if we say it out loud, we'll find ourselves to be unfit.

But parenting is all about losing it, and regaining it, and losing it again.

Where there is love this deep and when there this much giving of oneself, there is bound to be an unraveling of the self. In fact, the unraveling may be the only way to give the way a parent gives.

Never have my emotions been as deep and thick as they have been since I became a mother. And if that means a broken dish here and there, so be it.

In other news, after the ice cream incident, it was even more apparent that our trip to Minnesota for a Farmer's Union leadership retreat came just in time. The day we left, we were both freaking out. What terrible timing. And really, would this be worth it? Why are we leaving the farm in the middle of July?

But, oh, how we needed a break. We got lake time, met some new friends, gained some really valuable insight and generally, were able to just check out of the farm for a two days.

When the retreat organizer asked us all to write down what we wanted out of the weekend, I replied with:


Space from the to-do lists and the deliveries, from the turkeys and the dishes, from the house and the seedlings and the work and the stress.

Space to talk, to actually relax a little, to play.

I'm hopeful it recharged us enough to last the rest of the season.

Note: As you can tell from Jacob's farmer tan (see photos above), we are not water people. I've always secretly wished I was a water person. People always seem to be having so much FUN in and around water.

But, we're dirt and mountain people and thus, a little wary of the water.

Which is why I was totally freaked out about taking Willa on a boat. At the last minute, I told Jacob we were going to skip the boat ride. Earlier in the day, someone mentioned that in some places, they make you put your kid in a car seat in the case of a boat wreck.

That got me thinking about boat wrecks and babies and ... by the afternoon, we were not going on a boat. Out of the question.

But at the dock, Jacob very nicely told me that while he understood my fears, also, they were a little crazy. He put Willa in the life jacket and told me what a great time she would have experiencing the wind and the water and the sun. And so we stepped onto the boat, me holding Willa so tightly she was in more danger of suffocation than drowning.

Then the minute we got out on the lake, both Mama and Baby relaxed a little. I released my grip (but not too much) and let both of us feel the breeze. We both needed it.

It's hard to know when your mothering instinct is right and when you're just being absurd.

Good thing I have a husband to help me tell the difference.

Out of all of this, two questions for you:

What do you do when you lose it? (Please tell me and make me feel better?)
When do you know you're being fearful just to worry and when your worry is actually an instinct you should listen to?


  1. I have walked at the backdoor and screamed four-letter words to the mountains more times than I can count. I have strapped my children safely into their car seats, closed the doors and kicked the car tires hard and repeatedly. I have screamed into pillows, stomped on the floor and, yes, thrown things across the yard. My kids are 3 and 5 and I still do things things though lately the trick is to try not to let them see me lest they start throwing things! Maybe it is always this way. Also, I check car seat straps all the time, freak out when there aren't enough life jackets and still don't let them eat apples by themselves. hang in there sister. I can't offer you much except to say you are not alone.

  2. I once pitched our shower caddy across the room. That doesn't sound like much -- nor does your ice cream bowl incident, for that matter. But the chaos and buzzing in my brain just before I did it makes the memory poignant and sad for me. I was bathing both the kids and this was when Cormac was one-half drown by accident and another half drown on purpose and I couldn't take my arms off him for a single second. But Maggie is the Chatterbox Cafe and all the chatter is usually demanding in some way and it was the end of a long, busy, draining day and I just felt something inside me come unhinged.
    So I threw the shower caddy.
    Immediately, I recalled those public service announcements from the 80s: "Take a break, don't take it out on your child." And I felt /awful./ I'd like to say it was a cathartic moment that led to understanding and change. It didn't, really, but something happened and I've never been inclined to throw anything.
    I don't know how to answer your second question. I haven't figured that one out yet, but I will say the very weekend you were in Minn., we were taking our canoe out for a maiden voyage and I made both the kids promise to NOT MOVE A MUSCLE the entire time we were in the boat. I'm sure their early memories of canoeing will be really awesome: clutching a boat for dear life while sunscreen slowly melts into their eyes.
    Oh, wait, this is your blog. Not mine. I'll stop.

  3. Jennifers, Thank God I'm not alone. Thanks for the insight, both of you. And Jennifer, you can write on my blog any time.

  4. I usually push down all intense emotions until they burn a hole in my stomach lining. That's healthy, right? :) I've also been know to make use of the silent scream on occasion. Of course, if I had kids I'd most likely omit the silent part.

  5. Coming clean (oh, wait, is that a pun?): I'm bathing the kids last night. It's the end of a long and exhausting day. Cormac is making magical fountains of mess by pressing his Lightning McQueen Bath Book against the water spout, shooting water everywhere but in the tub. And it's not cute. Not even with chubby cheeks.
    I threw the bath book. Not a real forceful throw, more like a heavy toss. But you feel me. I learned nothing from my shower caddy incident.

  6. I know what I'm going to do: "Another tells her kids that Mama is being bad and needs a timeout. Then she locks herself in the bathroom." That's pure brilliance. I guess I'll admit that I did not lose my crap at inanimate objects. When Kate was about four or five months old, I put my face in her face and screamed, "Stop Screaming!!!" Amazing to me that didn't actually work. I've also left her in the middle of the night, wailing in her crib, and gone for a walk around the block. Amazing to me, that actually did work. I also have the water/boat fear. I have a recurring nightmare vision of my daughter slipping out of my hands and down, down, down in a dark lake. It's almost too spooky to write down and I'm gonna go now. Great post, Court. So true.

  7. Once I freaked out on Finn because he refused to pick up his bone and jump in the car with it. Poor little guy.

    And for about the first 85 days of teaching 9th graders (and once a week or so thereafter), as the off-task classroom chatter would escalate above a tolerable level, I would envision myself throwing a stapler through the window - to replace the noise with instant silence, in part, but also just to freak them out. Never did it, and I'm glad, but there is certainly some primal instinct for fighting child fire with adult fire. There are lots of great reflective, inspirational teaching books out there (and parenting books, too, I'm sure) that talk about there being no room for classrooms dictated by fear, but I doubt there is an honest teacher or parent out there who doesn't have a story of losing it at least once. Some just never regain it. The ones who do seem to understand the fact that we never really have control in the first place, and somehow also incorporate that understanding into some kind of practice. I think I'm getting close to the understanding, but I'm far from putting it into practice.

  8. You are certainly not alone. I can't imagine that any parent can keep it together 100% of the time, if they say they can I'd suspect they are lying. ;) It's just human nature, we aren't perfect and at some point every so often we need that release. With my kids being 7 and almost 9 there are many times and examples I could give you, mainly when they have been fighting at each others throats non stop or when they were babies and I was short on sleep. The most recent thing I can think of was just telling Steve I'm going for a drive, not telling him where I was going or when I'd be back. I left and drove on a back country road that was straight as far as I could see, I drove fast, rolled down the windows, turned the radio up and sang as loud as I could. I turned my phone off and I didn't go home for 2 hours. That's pretty mild really. I've done the whole go outside and scream at the top of my lungs, go to my room for a time out and scream and cry into my pillow, and more....you are completely normal.

  9. Oh Courtney. I'm going to really need you next year. I'm throwing pregnant fits already.




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