This is a subject that isn’t new to my blog, so forgive me if I repeat myself in any way, but lately I have had many conversations with people about a subject that seems taboo. And, well . . . taboo shnaboo. I want to talk about it.
We all love our children, right? Right? Dude, if you don’t . . . wow . . . I, um . . . well . . . give them to me, and I will love them. Unless they are awful. Anyway, as I was saying, we all love our children, which is something that goes completely undisputed. But for me, there have been moments where, through that love, I have wanted to chop my freaking head off rather than listen to the sound of my baby crying. It may come as no surprise to my reader-friends that I struggled when the kids were younger. I have mentioned it, I am sure, at least once or twice. (Ha!) But there are things I have withheld, because to put them out there has made me feel vulnerable. And like most people, I dislike feeling vulnerable.
When Rowan was born, I had a really hard time feeling connected to him. It took months, actually. I loved him, but it wasn’t all rainbows and sunshine at my house. In fact, John used to laugh about the fact that, when Rowan woke up in the night to nurse, I would throw the covers back angrily, muttering through clenched teeth, “jesusfuckingchristIamsotiredwhycan’tyoujustsleep” . . . and then scoop him up and smother him with kisses. I felt as if I was walking a constant line between love and despair, even after I began bonding with him. One minute I wanted to smother him in kisses—the next, I wanted to slit my wrists.
Enter Luca. Luca was colicky, and I realize that a lot of babies are colicky; what I don’t understand is how after the very first colicky baby in history was born, people actually continued to make other babies. I consider myself a fairly compassionate person, but dude. Holy freaking crap! When a child is crying for hours and hours, he or she is just sort of awful! I literally couldn’t handle it. So, John took over parenting every night from 6 to 9 pm. (The only nice thing about colicky babies is the fact that they are on a strict “time to be totally repulsive” schedule.)
And John was a champ! He found a way to soothe him, which of course required all sorts of extreme athletics, as well as, eventually, total stillness. Oh, and the sound of a dryer at top volume, on a loop. But even John has his limits, and one night while he was walking Luca to sleep after spending hours keeping him from making the most annoying sound on the planet, he snapped. I wasn’t around when he kicked the hole in the wall, but it happened. When he showed me the hole and told me the story, it was odd, because I had a brief moment of fear of and anger toward him. I actually thought to myself, “well if this is how you react to the kids, maybe you shouldn’t be alone with them,” and in the next moment I thought, “well, thank God,” because, quite frankly, it was a relief for me to see that I wasn’t the only one having moments of extreme insanity. I did judge him in that moment, but it also almost instantly freed me. Not only did it provide me with a safe place to feel like a total psycho, it also allowed John and I to get even closer.
I’m not sure what it is about children that makes people do things that they never could have imagined themselves doing before. Is it the sleep deprivation? The loss of freedom that you once intellectualized as a simple sacrifice, but realized too late was actually a big, giant suckfest? The total loss of control, coupled with an overwhelming need to maintain control? The loneliness? The mundanity and predictableness of days that used to be filled with spontaneity and unpredictability? The fear that if your child falls asleep in the car, he’ll wake up when you try to transfer him to his bed, thereby fucking up the one single opportunity you had to poop without another person on your lap? The fact that the children never. Stop. Touching. Me? The constant fear of being judged as a parent, combined with the realization that you yourself judge others? Realizing that you should probably work on that? The contrast between the marriage or relationship you had with your spouse before kids and the current, pitiful one? Trying to make friends late in life that—fingers crossed—will talk about more than the consistency of their children’s bowel movements? The muffin top?
Dear God, the muffin top.
I don’t know what it is, but for me it came in like a storm. And when it came, it was so shocking to me in its realness, that I can’t even be embarrassed about it. It consumed me, and seemed impossible to stop. So, without realizing it, I surrendered to it. And it wasn’t pretty. All along I had been losing my temper with the kids, having really bad days where I would call my husband at work and say (or shout) that I couldn’t handle it anymore, but John always talked me through it. (He’s good like that, and no, you can’t have him.) But one day I snapped.
Luca was quite young, still up at night every other hour, still nursing, and I was trying to potty train Rowan. I had probably had 4 or 5 hours of interrupted sleep, which was nothing unusual. As part of a concerted effort to get Rowan potty-trained, we had not left the house for three straight days. We had made some progress, I thought—setting a timer and letting him be naked (not a really big stretch, actually) so that it would be easier. These are all things that I had been advised to do. In the back of my mind, I had an expectation that, by the third day, my kid would be potty-trained, because some asshole wrote that in a book somewhere and I read it and it, like, stuck in my head, because I’m like that. So, I just assumed that this would be the grand finale of potty training! I was also feeling pressure to get him out of diapers so that he could enter school and not be shamed by all the other kids. So imagine my dismay when I came out of the bedroom to find Rowan naked, rolling around in a puddle of his urine, and delightedly announcing to me that he was “just like a hippopotamus in the wild.”
He was covered in urine. For three days I had been cleaning up accidents with nary a word of anger about it, but I freaking snapped. I shoved him into the bathtub, and he began to cry. I told him to stay, and I can remember that my heart began to race and my temper was seriously rocket-fueled. I began to clean up the pee, all the while listening to the—now-two—crying kids (Rowan crying always made Luca cry). With each wipe, I grew angrier. In my head, I was thinking about how horrible my life was, how robbed I was of any type of personal freedom, how much I sacrificed for the kids, how no one in my life was helping me, how much I hated cleaning the fucking house and grocery shopping, and it all escalated. I cleaned Rowan off, roughly, and shouted at both of them to stop shouting. I felt an overwhelming need to scream, and I did, like a feral animal, screaming so loud and for so long that I made myself hoarse. It was as if I had actually left my body, because I was conscious that I was screaming and I was conscious that it wasn’t good, that I was out of control. I hit the wall over and over again until my hand was numb, grabbed the phone, and locked myself in the small extra room in our house. The boys were banging on the door to the room in which I was crouched, like a prisoner, and they were crying, but I was impervious to it, because by then I was having a panic attack. Not to mention that I had lost touch with reality.
I called John, and in a phone call that can only be described as something like the 911 call you would hear played aloud in court during a murder trial, I told John loudly and rather insanely that he needed to come home! (Breath) Now! (breath) Because! (Breath) I!(Breath) Think!(Breath) I!(Breath) Might!(Breath) Hurt!(Breath) The!(Breath) Children!(Breath)
“I mean it! I can’t do it anymore! I feel like I’m going to die! Or hurt them! And I have no help! No one understands! I can’t listen to them cry anymore! And he peed! On the floor! Again! And oh my god! I hate this! Why do people do this!”
While I waited for him to race home, I was so out of my mind that I actually prayed. And if you know me at all, you know that I don’t pray. It would be like Sarah Palin deciding to not actually say things out loud. Which is to say virtually impossible. But pray I did. “Oh, SIPNEL. Please help me. Please oh please help me.” And I cried. I cried out of anger and frustration, and out of shame and embarrassment. It felt like I was vomiting out a sickness.
John came home and saved me. But it was a huge moment for me, like the hole in the wall had been for him. He has come to my rescue many times since, and I now know that there is no other person in the world that could possibly understand me more than him, and so I will never divorce him. I believe that in every healthy home, you create a safe place to be flawed. There is almost instant forgiveness and understanding for me here, both with John and the kids. I mean, within reason of course. It isn’t like I’m mainlining heroin while having sex with strangers with the kids watching SpongeBob in the other room. So, when I recently asked Luca if he remembers being a baby and he responded, “no, just that I was small and wore a diaper,” I thought to myself “thank God.” Because dude. I was a wreck when he was a baby.
Dodged a bullet there!
I know that many of us have stories about moments where we have felt out of control as parents. Some of you have shared them with me, which I appreciate more than I can express. I think that many of us keep those moments to ourselves so that we don’t risk being misunderstood or judged. But I think that keeping those truths secret could be hazardous. It could lead us to believe that we are the only ones to experience moments of complete insanity. That no one else feels irrational anger toward their children. It opens up absolutely no healthy dialogue. It could lead us to believe that we are alone, which couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s just that we need to start talking about it, and not while we are alone, twitching and drooling in the corner. While mumbling. And picking at sores.
I know that it’s hard, painful, and somewhat risky. So, allow me.