Well, I got it all smashed up last night. No, not from hitting a glass ceiling or doing fancy things with avocados. The passenger mirror on our family van.
And I did it with an audience – not just two of my boys in the back of the car, but the six or so workmen in the street outside our house who had nothing better to do at 4 in the afternoon than watch me back in carefully to my driveway. I got halfway in, then drove forwards to come in again because I realised that I was too close to the gatepost on the passenger side. Lined up better – or so I thought – I backed in again, slowly, so I smashed the mirror slowly.
Only I didn’t realise at first that the mirror was broken. I thought it was just knocked out of place. It was only when I asked one of my boys to pull it back up that I realised that the mirror was a spiderweb of cracked glass. That did it. I couldn’t stop the rush of sobs that came to me as I grabbed my backpack and keys and headed into the house, two worried boys following me.
My oldest boy, who was at home, heard me as I came down the hall. He put his arms around me, the epitome of care and concern. This child, who has caused me so much stress, anxiety and worry, was being a pillar of support for me at a time when I could no longer hold it together for myself, let alone for everyone else I was trying to help.
“It’s only a mirror, mum,” the three boys reassured me. “Don’t worry – it can be fixed.” Even my daughter came out to give me a hug. “That’ll make it better, Mum,” she told me.
My oldest boy put on the kettle, the youngest went to fetch me a guinea pig to hold, the middle boy shooed my daughter away before she could ask me to redo her hair, fix her shoelaces or do something else for her that someone else could easily do but for some reason, I have the magic touch. I just sat at the table, head in my hands, and bawled. “But I was trying so carefully – I knew I was close – I went out to come back in again…How could I be so stupid? I just don’t need this on top of everything else…”
An almighty ‘everything else’
Everything else – what an everything else it has been. These past three weeks in particular. My mother-in-law passed away. My mother moves from her home of 50 years this week, and for weeks now, my three siblings and I have been helping her pack up, sort out, and chuck out. It’s a huge physical and emotional challenge, compressed into a ridiculously short amount of time.
Then there are significant ongoing concerns for one of my children who, suffering depression and anxiety, has been refusing to engage with formal education of any sort.
In between, I was getting time to myself. Two nights out at band each week have been a sanity saver for me. But as my tears continued to fall, I reflected sadly that it was clearly not enough.
These were the big things. But of course, there are the myriad of other things that make up life with children.
Some of these being:
- My youngest turning 11 – cause for celebration;
- The child with deep anxiety and other issues had his braces removed –yay – but then turned around, potentially trashing years of agony on his part and angst on mine (not to mention a large amount of money) by stating he would not wear the retainer to stop his teeth from moving now they were no longer restrained by braces. (I rescued it before it met with an “accident”.)
- Grappling with NDIS for our daughter (phone calls, meetings at school, gathering documentation).
- Over 6 medical appointments for different children.
- Needing to deal with a nasty bullying incident, as we found out from my daughter (who was travelling independently on this particular day) that her friends were throwing water over her and spitting on her.
You try to hold it all together. To find the encouraging words for the child who most needs it, but who appears to give little in return. To summon the patience for the child who refuses to have anyone but you help her. To try and leave children fed and the bench reasonably clean and clear so you can race off with a good conscience and pack another box, take another load to the op shop, think ahead to how you’re going to approach the thorny subject of getting that school work done so that the next steps can fall into place.
Yes, in between, I was getting time to myself. Two nights out at band each week have been a sanity saver for me. But as my tears continued to fall, I reflected sadly that it was clearly not enough.
Doing your best…but…
The children fluttered around me, concerned that I was still upset. One of them rang my husband and I sobbed out my story on the phone to him. Yet he is carrying almost exactly the same burdens – I didn’t feel it was fair to get my tears as well.
I tried to calm down, and explain to the boys why I was so upset (my daughter had long since gone back to more interesting things).
“I try so hard to be a good mum, and a good wife and a good daughter,” I sobbed, “But I don’t feel like I’m making a difference”.
“You are, Mummy,” my youngest insisted. “You can’t do better than your best, and you’re doing your best.”
“But…” I returned.
There are always “buts”. The things I haven’t been able to do. The most distressing to me is my seeming inability to find strategies to help my oldest boy fight his fears and anxieties to engage with his education.
He was still there, his arm around me, comforting me.
“I know you find it stressful” I told him. “I really do. But it’s also stressful for me and Dad…”
The mountain of things left to pack at Mum’s house, and furniture to find new homes for. Worry about whether my daughter will be through the NDIS (National Disability Insurance Scheme) process in time for her to start her post-school programs in January next year.
And I still haven’t been able to finalise the enrolment process for another boy at his new school.
And, and, and…
Eventually, I exhausted my supply of tears. BY then, my children had had a rare insight into the effort that it can take parenting them. They came through for me when I needed their support. I was so grateful. Will the support last? I don’t know. But it was nice while it was there.
When you feel that your kids are giving up on themselves, you just can’t afford to give up on them. But it takes a toll. You feel burnt, and burnt out. I have to recognise that. It’s the things that I’ve had no control over that have been the most exhausting over the past few weeks.
I wouldn’t change anything that I’ve chosen to do. But more often, it’s been the responses of the various people involved which have caused the most emotional fatigue.
That, eventually, makes itself felt physically.
I hadn’t realised I was so close to breaking. Perhaps that was because even my relaxation time was “busy”, rather than reflective. But I thought that I was building in safeguards to prevent myself from getting to that breaking point.
I’ve heard it said that happiness is a choice. To some extent, yes, it is. But sometimes I think I have to be able to let things go. I’m only human. If I don’t find an outlet for my emotions, they will find a way out and maybe not in a good way.
So, the moral of the story is? Perhaps it is simply, allow yourself to be fallible.
Recognise that despite your best efforts, things will go wrong. Give yourself time to cry. It’s exhausting, but cathartic. And then, you’ll be able to pick yourself up, and get going again, hopefully, with a mite more empathy and maybe even help from those closest to you.
Until next time, may you smash only avocados, and – Happy Wombatting!