A Day of Rest

A problem, how I made it a bigger problem, and the eventual solution:

This week was exhausting. Devastatingly, heart-disease-causing, soul-wrenchingly exhausting.

Something is shaking Butter awake at night, at least once an hour, and making him scream as though his head were being severed from his body with a rusty grapefruit spoon. Ear infection? Teething? Intense training by the CIA to see how I react to Guantanamo-levels of sleep deprivation? I don’t know. He’s often asleep as he starts yelling but wide awake and responsive when I talk to or touch him. I ask if he hurts, he says no. Blood-curdling scream. Do you want a cuddle? No. Wall-shaking scream. Do you need to pee? No. Neighbor-ending scream. I pat his back or cuddle him or get him up for a drink of water. He screams then cries then grabs my hair and pulls it, then kicks me until I explain the mechanics of loving mamas and their limits, then eventually gets so tired he falls asleep. For about half an hour.

It was so bad one night (perhaps Thursday?), so terrible and painful and awful because I couldn’t understand and couldn’t stop him and couldn’t get more than 15 minutes of sleep in a row without being blasted with the air raid siren in his adorable throat that at 4 a.m. I took him out of the bed (he comes into our bed around 1 a.m. most nights, but by 10 p.m. this week), put him on the floor, held him by the hand as we walked to the hallway, then shut the door behind him and let him scream in the hall while I stumbled back to bed.

Nice? No. Terrible? Yes. Feel more than free to judge if you have slept fewer than three hours a night, in short bursts punctuated by emergency-caliber adrenaline rushes. For a week. More sleep than that and you may unleash your judgement for my many other failings but shut yer piehole about the late night choices I made.

[Also? Pushing a screaming toddler out of my room because I was going to kill him otherwise? Totally woke older child and made him grouchy the next day. Just FYI when you’re considering horrible and heartless ways to nighttime parent a small, confused, helpless creature. I let it go on for about 15 seconds, but that was too long for everyone.]

I also tried sleeping on the couch at 2 a.m. one morning, but Butterbean cried so piteously about my departure, for so long while Spouse tried in vain to cuddle him, that I couldn’t sleep and returned to the lion’s den.

I’m 87% dead. How do I know it’s not 100%? I can still make coffee. How do I know it’s more than 75%? I can’t be bothered to work on my book.

So what? you ask. Big deal. Raising kids is exhausting and hard and mysterious and punctuated by phases of awful. We all know that. Those who don’t will find out. The diaper ads reveal only the copious amounts of cute brought to a household by a baby, moments of which are absolutely true, but the montage of which is doubtless gleaned from hours of regular baby stuff, which is one part cute, one part gross, one part infuriating, and one part heartbreaking.

So you know genuinely soul-sucking nights are normal. Me, too. Why blog it?

Because I learned something about myself this week.

I’m a raging asshole when tired.

Now, those who know me understand that the baseline of my unsavory personality characteristics is pretty low. To be a raging asshole is actually my default. And so, since becoming a mother, is being tired. I have two naturally wakeful kids and have not slept through the night in more than seven years. When Peanut started sleeping through the night at age 3.25, I was in heaven, skipping gloriously through my days, and got pregnant that week. Butter has still not slept through the night.

So I’m running on empty and I’m not nice.

But this week pushed me over a precipitous edge to a dark place. I yelled at my kids for every single thing they did. Fighting? Let me yell at you for that. Not listening? How about I yell at you. Asking for a lollypop? I have this riot act I will herewith read you at the top of my angry voice.

I was a cartoon of grouchy, impatient nastiness by Thursday. I took out on these delicious young people all my dissatisfaction with the week’s lowest moments.

So today I took today off. I’m getting a cold, borne I’m sure, of a week in which I slept twelve hours total. We had a full day of family activities planned…all delightful and full of people we enjoy.

But I knew it was today or never. Other times that I have been really sick, Spouse is often out of town. Or has the sort of work obligations he absolutely can’t back out of. Today was full of optional, awesome, fun not-obligations. So I told Spouse last night to prepare for a day of solo parenting. I told the kids this morning I would not be getting out of bed.

I’m sick. More honestly I’m sick and tired.

And for the first time in my life, I refuse to push through. I finished a triathlon with a stress fracture. I finished a client deadline and wound up with carpal tunnel syndrome. I finished both my degrees in minimal time with highest honors.

But I’m not going to a birthday party today.

Spouse made me soup. It was perfect. Peanut read to me. He was perfect. Butter sat on me and rolled all over me and tickled me and threw the cat at me. He’s two. Everything and nothing they do is perfect except when they grab you in big, sloppy, off-balance hugs.

I did not parent them. I loved them and enjoyed them and shooed them out of the room when I’d had enough and wanted a nap. But I did not parent them.

And I don’t plan to. Not at all today. Eat nothing but cookies if that’s what your father proposes. I’m sick and tired and I don’t care about anything but your joy. Brush teeth or not. I’m sick and tired and I don’t care about anything but your overall well-being. If When you fight you find solutions or let your father help you. I’m sick. I’m tired. There’s no benefit to any of us if I engage in that nonsense.

I will not tell you how or what to do. Because until I recharge my dangerously depleted batteries, nothing I say is of much use to you.

I learned this week that I have nothing to offer when I’m depleted. And this was a hard-won and stark reminder that I must refill the tanks or I must shut my mouth and let them run around like wild hooligans. Because there is nothing to be gained by hanging on by my fingernails and then bringing them down with me.

So. Who wants to eat ice cream in bed with their totally abdicating mother?

[Note: I vowed not to get out of bed, but the second they left the house I cleaned out my closet, reorganized the garage sale pile, cooked dinner, read a chapter of a nonfiction book, paid the bills, did the dishes, watered the plants, and organized the photo files so I can make this year’s photo albums online. All with a horrible headache and a sore throat. I’m really bad at this relaxing thing. But I’m proud that I at least said I would. Baby steps.]

In which I whimper “Uncle”

Despite an almost four year track record of ink only on paper or skin, in compliance with my simple request—oft repeated and carefully monitored—there’s blue marker on my favorite couch pillow. Just a bit. It’ll come out.

There’s blue marker on my favorite silk headband. Just a bit. It’ll come out.

There’s blue marker on the carpet. Just a bit. It’ll come out.

There are long artistic streaks of blue marker on the backside of the curtains. A lot. It’ll come out. If it doesn’t, they’re cheap and replaceable. And it’s hidden.

The bigger problem is thathis was all before 7am. And then there was a relatively quick oil change at a creepy oil change chain with a tiny, depressing waiting room…jiffy, even—for an adult. But for a four-year-old it was enough time to go through all the toys, books, and snacks I brought then use coffee stirrer after coffee stirrer to spit at Mama and torment strangers and climb on the checkwriting counter and invent new songs and sing them loudly, then quietly when asked, then loudly, then quietly when asked, then loudly, then quietly when hissed at, then loudly until they called our name.

And then there was the supermarket where there was pushing the cart too hard and pulling the cart too fast and running off and responding to gentle and to polite and to clenched teeth and to threats all the same. Begrudgingly, nastily, saucily. And temporarily.

When told he would fall if he climbed on the side of the cart, he got off. When told again, and given a brief reminder about balance and gravity, he got off. When told again, he got off. And when I turned my back to load items onto the conveyor belt of “almost-done-thank-you-lord”-ishness, he tipped the cart, and I caught it with one arm just before it crushed him, righting the cart and wrenching my back all with baby strapped into the wrap on my chest. And I almost cried.

I told you. I told you. I ask everything politely and gently the first time. Second time. Third time. A million times a day you disregard and refuse and ignore and refute and sass. I still don’t know why you don’t listen. I mean…you do, then you don’t. It seems to go beyond the developmentally appropriate hear only what you like. And you totally deserve for that thing to fall on you. I hurt myself helping you. I daily hurt myself trying to help you.

And it doesn’t seem to matter. Whatever you want you do. Whatever I say you don’t want to do and you don’t do. You hit me no fewer than twenty times today just trying to leave school at the same time we always leave school.

I’m so sick of this. I’m done.

Except I can’t be.

This is the only job on the planet you can’t quit.