Empty Cup: When Motherhood Runneth Over

I’m tired. Burnt out if you will. I almost followed that up with a list of disclaimers about how I know there are a zillion people in this world that are way more exhausted than I am and have every reason to be burnt out and who would probably (understandably) label me as whiny and privileged. But I  honestly don’t have it in me right now to appropriately excuse myself of my whiny and privileged tone, so please bear with me as I get this off my chest.

147261My twins are 16 months old. They are my only children. They have been sleeping through the night for eight months. They nap every day. My parents live in the next town over and give me a generous amount of help. Technically, I should not be tired.  I should be full of life and energy. But for whatever reason, I am not. I am a stay at home mom and I love my job. Truly. Deep down I love it. But my God it is a lot of work.

Before I had kids, I was dancing professionally and working as a freelance visual artist as well. I was an avid gym-goer, a consistent maker of healthy meals, a keeper of the house and a doer of fun things with my husband, sisters, or friends.  I was a reader of books and a follower of news. A lover of the outdoors and an appreciator of the arts.

And then baby fever hit hard. My husband and I put it off for a little while, but when the time came, we were both ready and there was no denying it any longer. One baby was the immediate plan. We eventually maybe wanted a second, but we’d decide about that later. I told myself it wouldn’t be unrealistic to be a stay at home mom of one baby and still be able to consistently fit in some of my own art or dancing, or at least something of my own.

Of course it was not one baby, but two (surprise!), and now I can’t imagine it being just one. But wow. Since the day they were born, I have been slipping away from myself. Not in a way that I think I’ll never come back. I will. But right now – who I am today – is almost unrecognizable to me. I’m still “me” of course, but I’m temporarily (I hope) wilted. My entire existence is spent loving my babies and I don’t know how to leave some for myself.

I do get breaks during the week from my parents, and my load is lightened by my husband on the weekends. But even time “off” is spent catching up on daily tasks I’ve fallen behind on. And even when I find myself with free time – or choose to ignore the chores for a bit – I’m too bone-tired to muster up any creativity or stamina to even want to do anything I used to do.  

Who is this person? This can’t possibly be me…but it is and I sometimes get so discouraged by my own lack of energy that I send myself into a downward spiral of negativity and self-criticism that leads to an even deeper slump.

During the full throes of the day – when I’m in full mom-mode, I’m rarely faded and droopy.  I love these kids and I love raising them and I love doing all the fun mom things. We play and dance and read and go outside. I feed them healthy foods and keep them on a good nap schedule and bring them to playgroups. I often find myself blissfully lost in the moment, laughing so hard at their adorable silliness that tears roll down my face, or dancing so enthusiastically to “Old McDonald Had a Farm” that I end up winded. I of course have plenty of parenting-fails and plenty of days when I just don’t live up to my expectations as a mother. But when the good and the bad days are averaged out, I’d say I’m a pretty darn good mom.

As for taking care of myself, I do have some days that I make myself a nice healthy lunch, or use my girls’ naptime to exercise in my living room, or work on a long-forgotten art project after they go to bed. But overall – when averaged out – I do a pretty crappy job of taking care of myself. I like the idea of self-care. I want to feel good. But when the day is over and my beloved little monsters are in bed and I finally have a moment to myself, I have nothing left. I give myself away day after day and I just don’t have anything left over.

This lack of leftover gusto could be due to the physical stamina it takes to get through a day with twins; the double-carry, the double chase in public places, the double diaper changes, double meltdowns, double sicknesses, double doctor appointments, double…everything. Or it could be that I am an introvert in every sense of the word and after a day full of interaction – be it only with two tiny humans – I am simply drained.  Or it could that I need eight hours of sleep in order to feel rested and I don’t always get that because sometimes sick or teething toddlers = night wakings. Or it could be that I’m worrying myself into exhaustion. I worry a fair amount, but I’m pretty sure that’s just a normal mom thing to do.

Whatever the underlying cause may be, I am – in a word – tired.  I hurt. I’m dragging. I’m not fully myself. I also recognize the fact that my girls won’t be this little forever and this feeling will most likely pass. In the meantime, I would love to start bringing back small pieces of my old self. I don’t think that can mean daily trips to the gym or big blocks of time spent working on my art just yet. But maybe trying to make myself a yummy healthy lunch more days than not would be a good start. I have unwittingly set my self-care bar quite low over the past 16 months, so almost anything would be a good start. And burnt out as I may be, these babies are worth every bit of exhaustion.

~ Brittni

I Want My Mother: An Overwhelmed Preschooler’s Perspective

 

Daughter: I thought maybe if I cried loud and long enough my mother would come running back in, scoop me up, and realize this was not where I belonged. I needed her and I needed her to know that I needed her. I needed the teachers to bring my mother back in here because I felt alone and scared and did not want anything else in the world but her.

I don’t remember when or how the teachers finally succeeded in coaxing me out from under the table that first day of preschool. I don’t remember anything else about that day. But being under the table crying for my mother is something I remember vividly and I think it’s because my need for her as a highly sensitive 2.9 year-old was so primal and strong that being separated from her left a stamp in my memory.

The preschool days following my dramatic first day are mostly a blur now. I remember some things, such as the finger painting station that I liked, and circle time which made me feel squished and crowded and itchy. Mostly though, I remember the feeling of preschool. It felt big. Not always scary, but never calm and always confusing.

Among what felt like a sea of children and teachers and noise and movement, it was all I could do to keep up with what was going on. I could not make out single voices or clear instructions above the sounds of chairs being pushed in, children laughing, teachers directing, toys dropping, hands clapping, feet stomping, jackets being zippered, children being counted, faucets running, toilets flushing, doors opening, doors closing, the teacher speaking quietly – finally quietly – in my ear.

Right in my ear and I could hear her now. She asked me a question and I nodded my head because I didn’t talk in preschool. Not much anyway. My senses were too busy processing everything around me and who would even hear me anyway? My voice was soft and low and worked just fine at home, but not here. Here, everyone’s voices seemed to be loud and high-pitched and easily audible. So I saved my voice for at home, and at preschool I used my eyes and my ears. I used them so much that by the time I got home, they were all used up. I was all used up.

Overstimulated

Mother: When Brittni was 18 months old, I took her to a Gymboree Play & Learn class. It will be fun, they said. Your child will be engaged, make friends while developing early skills, and you can relax and enjoy the time!

My daughter’s eyes widened when we walked into the brightly colored and well lit room. Fast, upbeat children’s music played as we took our seats around the red and blue parachute. A robust, bubbly blond lady led the group, singing cheerily and loudly. Babies bounced and laughed, waddling toward the lady, toward each other, toward the fun.

My baby girl clung to me and began to cry. The crying escalated to screaming. People stared. What was her problem? their looks seemed to say. The bubbly lady looked surprised, annoyed even.

I picked up my daughter, looking for a quieter spot to soothe her. But I couldn’t settler her down. Every corner was filled with color, lights and sound. It was supposed to be a blast! For most of the little people, it was. But for my baby, it was hell in living color. And I’m not gonna lie, it was rather over the top for me too.

Isn’t everything new for babies? Why do we need to create a world just to stimulate them when they are so easily stimulated already? But I was here to be social, because a friend had asked me to come with her and her child. I handed over the money and the time so my highly sensitive baby could be entertained. My mistake.