The clock read 5:03 a.m. when I heard Charlie wake up this morning. I felt a flash of rage when I remembered it was Monday. Are you kidding me, universe?
The mental and physical exhaustion from the weekend re-settled. I felt desperation at the thought of facing my day: fixing Charlie breakfast, struggling to give him a bath, bribing him to get his shoes on for school, commuting in traffic, spending 8 hours at work, driving 90 minutes to pick up Charlie and get him back home, trying to feed him dinner without it ending up on the floor or on his head, 30 minutes of hysterics at bedtime, and the inevitable bickering between Charles and I. Oh, and I have to finish some homework before I collapse.
It was time to take a mental health day.
Parenting just feels hard lately. Charlie is at a stage in which his emotions are running high, yet he doesn’t have the cognitive ability to handle them nor the language to express what he’s feeling. So, he whines. A LOT. And throws things. And clings. And kicks. He’s also decided that he only takes one 40-minute nap a day. Dear Lord, help us.
Coupled with all this is my weakness at being “the disciplinarian” and my inability to experience his unhappiness without internalizing a lot of crap that a therapist probably needs to sort out.
I know this is a terrible cliche, but I never realized how selfish I was until I became a parent. There are times I feel resentful that Charlie is so needy right now. Or that we can’t watch TV (our parental choice), use our phones or open a computer when he’s around. I tried to read a textbook in the same room, but he flipped out that he couldn’t have my hi-lighter. CHILD, WHERE IS YOUR OFF SWITCH?!
It’s times like this when I feel I suck at being a mom. Good parents don’t feel resentment toward their children. Good parents don’t desperately yearn for a few hours of solitude – one with no baby, husband, daughter, house, work, or school responsibilities. Good parents handle the tantrums and neediness, because – duh – they signed up for this going in.
On top of all this, I feel society constantly reminding me that I must treasure these years, which go by oh so quickly. Because when they’re over, your children leave you and you die. Alone.
(See, I really did need this mental health day.)
I recall this great TED talk I once watched about taboos in parenting. In it, the speakers (founders of Babble.com) address the false “party line” that every aspect of a parent’s life gets drastically better after the arrival of a child (skip to 11:12 for this section). They share a slide (lifted below) about peaks and valleys of happiness throughout life. Your 20s, for example, are pretty stable, but it’s not until you have kids that you resubmit yourself to the extreme highs and lows you experienced in your own childhood.
This morning, I truly felt that low. And it sucked. But I also remember that incredible high yesterday when Charlie ran to me and buried himself in my arms after a long run. Or how he hummed the melody of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” to us for the first time.
At the end of the day, I willingly trade the stability of my 20s for these few, precious, transcendent moments.
To use another parenting cliche, it’s so worth it.