I ran around cleaning my house yesterday before the housekeepers come today. That’s a thing I did. But why? I made Jackson clean his room, I made Jerimiah tidy up his office. I got all the laundry done, all so when they arrive they won’t think we live like animals? I don’t know, but I know I’m not the only one who does this. When I used to go with my mom as a child and she would clean houses, the woman of the house always said, as soon as we got there, “Margie, I’ve been cleaning all morning!” Ha! My mom thought that was funny, but she understood.
My mom cleaned houses for decades. She cleaned houses, she cleaned motels. She cleaned military barracks and lodging for over a decade as a civilian employee on Ft. Leavenworth. It was in fact the only job she secured a retirement check from, and it small amount comes in handy now as a 76-year-old.
I used to go with her on the weekends when she would clean houses. Really big three-story houses with full basements and adorable dogs to run in the backyard with. I used to dream at night, in our two-bedroom apartment, about having my own big house, my own adorable dogs to run in the backyard with.
When I first called the house cleaning service I felt shitty. But I haven’t been able to keep up with things like I used to. I’m in near-constant pain when I do a little light-cleaning (I have my second visit with my rheumatologist this week to go over more testing) and we are all so busy, and home. We are all so HOME all the time now, that the house is sort of swallowing us up whole, spitting out our remains by way of unwashed rugs, dirty baseboards, an oven I can’t get clean. All the little things have started to add up to one big mess and we need help. Still, I felt bad for hiring someone to do something I can do, so I called my mom.
“Shoot,” my mom said on the phone, “if I had the money I’d hire someone. Don’t feel bad about it, honey. A house your size, they’ll send over two or three people and have it done in a few hours.” I felt relieved to hear my mom say that, and I guess less guilty.
Guilt. That’s what I’m trying to write about today. But I just haven’t found a way to convey it through a story on a page. Not quite yet.
Take a load off today, y’all and maybe cut yourself some slack.
I had a breakdown the other day. It had been stewing for days. I felt it, as one does, gaining momentum with each thing I did. I had to wash the dishes by hand (because the dishwasher is broken) and I cut my hand. Then I started to make lunch and I spilled the sauce. Then I dropped my phone. Then, then, then… Shit hit the fan. Finally I decided I was not doing a damn thing for the rest of the day. I was going to park it on the couch and watch a wildly entertaining documentary. So that’s what I started to do, then things got complicated.
I choose “McMillions.” Jerimiah was sitting next to me, trying to figure out my mood, but I didn’t say a word. Jackson came downstairs from doing school work and asked if I would ride bikes with him. Nah, dawg. I told him. I’m not feeling bikes. Then I immediately felt bad and tried to compromise. I asked if he wanted to take a walk. No, he didn’t. He just wanted to ride his scooter alone outside, so Jerimiah and started the show. A couple minutes later I started to feel like a shitty mom, as one does. I couldn’t concentrate on the show. I could only worry that he would talk to some random person walking down our cul-de-sac. Or that he would fall and hurt himself, which meant I’d have to take him to the ER, which is bad news bears right now, considering they are literally turning out conference center into a makeshift hospital. (We will be at 20,000 Covid-19 cases before the week is up.)
Then I heard him talking and asked Jerimiah to check on him. When he did, Jackson came to the door (he had been talking to Siri, telling her to change songs) and then I overheard Jackson say to Jerimiah, “Tell Mommy we can go on a walk now.” At this point it had been a good thirty minutes of me stewing in place, while this show played in front of me. Thinking about how horrible of a mom I am, how my son wanted to spend time with me and I didn’t oblige. Instead I watched television. Then my guilt turns to anger as it ALWAYS does, and I reacted way too strongly.
Jerimiah came back in and I said, “I can’t believe he wants to walk now! I offered that up half an hour ago!”
Jerimiah listened politely, as he does, and suggested we do take a walk because it might be good for all of us. The sun was setting fast at this point, so I mumbled something about “It’s gonna be dark soon,” then went upstairs to put real clothes on, not pajamas. Meanwhile he tried to get the dogs leashed up, since they had heard the word “Walk” one too many times and were freaking out.
When I came down Jerimiah told me that Duke was refusing his harness, and I may have screamed, “LEAVE HIS ASS HOME!” I was totally spiraling out at this point. Jerimiah was like, okay, and we walked outside. There we were met with Jackson and some “scooter” issues and I was like, “You’re the one who wanted to go for a walk!” And I could see the tears start to well up in his eyes and I thought “SHIIIIIT!” But instead of apologizing right then, I let us all go with me into this spiral.
Duke was barking at us from inside so Jerimiah asked if he should go try again with the harness and I said, “Sure!” In a really high-pitched, super fake-singing kinda way. Jackson knew the situation at this point and was looking upset. Duke wouldn’t cooperate and when I saw Jerimiah walking down the drive I knew he was now as angry as me, meanwhile Jackson was on the verge of tears, meanwhile I was totally at the bottom. So we walked.
One cul-de-ac over Jackson broke down. He was telling me that he was sorry he had ruined the evening, and I thought, “Holy hell, Missy you are legit the worst mom on the damn planet.” We stood there in the road as I hugged him and told him that I had been a mess all day and none of this was his fault. Then we walked more.
When we got home that night I went to the bathroom then came downstairs in tears. I told them I had to talk to them. They sat, stone-faced and listened as I explained where I was. I explained how I wasn’t sleeping. How I was trying, so hard, to keep my shit together for them, but that I just couldn’t anymore. How I felt like Jackson deserved a better mom sometimes. And I truly, really felt that way. I truly had felt at the bottom that day. All day. And instead of reaching for help, I went further down into myself and had come out so bad on the other side.
Jackson was crying at this point, saying that I should never say that again. That he would never want a different mom and it scared him. That he was scared. For the first time since this has all happened he admitted to being scared. I have tried to have a lot of talks with him about feelings, but he would never budge. It all came out that night. I told him about how my feelings of guilt morphed into anger. About how it all stems from fear. About how I take a pill, everyday to try to combat this, and even so it doesn’t always work. He nodded in understanding, even though he never could, and I hope he never does. Just like I hope I never turn into my own mother, who would bottle all her fear in and then blow up at me in screaming anger. I strive every day not to be that person. Like how Jerimiah strives every day not to bottle up emotions, not to be mean, not exhibit any of the behaviors he saw as a child. It is tough work, and sometimes we have breakdowns. All of us. And that’s okay. I would rather have my child witness my truth, then shove things down, down, down. Then we sat there and hugged for a long time. Went up to the bed, and all slayed together and read books until we fell asleep.
Afterward I wondered about you all.
During my breakdown my husband listened intently. My son cried with me. My family took care of me. Allowed me to lose it, then helped put me back together. But I wondered: What do people do when they don’t have a family that is supportive? When they don’t have friends that will listen? When they don’t feel comfortable sharing their truth with the ones they love? How are people coping right now with families they are stuck with, literally? Family members they can’t stand to be around? Why and how are people in relationships with people who don’t make them feel loved and wanted, even at their worst?
I can’t imagine it, y’all. And please, please, if you find yourself in one of those situations, please reach out. To me, to someone you love, to a therapist, to a medical professional. Because we can’t risk it. You can’t risk it. Times are bad right now. They are for most of us. You are not alone. You. Are. Not. Alone. Even the best, most chill of us (like my husband) need to break sometimes. And we should be allowed to do that with the people we love standing behind us, catching us, and putting us back together.
I’m gonna leave some numbers here for you to call if you need to. And I’m going to leave a reminder, one that my son told me, “I am scared. I am scared that I will lose people I love. I am scared about what the world will be like when this is over. But no one can replace you.”
Saw this cartoon today at the New Yorker and I felt it. Felt it with all my being. I’m sure some of you are feeling this too. I’ve had four days with my husband in two weeks, and it’s bothering me. It’s bothering us both. One whole day was spent at Jackson’s Robotics competition and one whole day was spent with me in deep sadness. Sleep until noon, sulking, sadness. Dejected. Apathetic. It’s Christmastime. It’s the most wonderful time of the year, damn it, why do I not feel wonderful?!
I go back and forth with depression. One minute I think it’s the most selfish thing in the world. The way I am, the way I treat my family, the space, and time, and energy I need to feel better. Then I’m reminded that this isn’t a choice. I’m not waking up everyday saying, “Let’s make today shitty, Missy!” On the contrary. I will myself to be positive. To stay upbeat. I drink a bunch of coffee to try to stave it off. I make a to-do list. I plan a walk or a coffee with a new friend. Then something trips me up. This month it’s been my husband’s damn work schedule. It’s been having him gone in the busiest two weeks of December. It’s been him missing activities he wouldn’t normally miss. It’s been watching my son’s heart be broken when daddy has to get on a plane again. And I know, I know, this is temporary. Shit, I know. It’s a mantra I created my damn self, in a hospital bed giving birth to a dead baby. It’s temporary. This is all temporary. But Jesus it doesn’t feel like it sometimes.
December is a tough month for a lot of people. Dare I say most people? How it got this whole “Most wonderful time of the year” tag has to be some good Hallmark marketing. I mean shit. Come on you guys. We do this to ourselves. The pressure of this month is something we created. And how on Earth can you feel wonderful when there are kids without shoes walking around? And how can we feel wonderful when there are mommies and babies without food in their bellies? How can we feel wonderful when Santa doesn’t make it to whole neighborhoods? Whole schools? Whole communities? The most wonderful time of the year. Hmpf.
As you can see I’m still in the pits. The storm is still raging. I’m trying to write my way through this one, so I won’t be offended if you haven’t stuck around. I get it. Believe me. You’re looking for funny, slice-of-life shit and I’m all, “Feline AIDS is the number one killer of cats…” womp, womp, womp. Believe me, I’m looking for joy too.
Cause that’s really how we combat this time of year. The grief that sets in. The crowded stores. The parties you don’t want to attend. The people you only see once a year, for a very distinct reason. We combat it by finding, and often times manufacturing, our own joy. Maybe that’s what’s so wonderful about this time of year? Maybe it’s that all this horrendous shit is still happening, but we can somehow hit pause for one day, maybe two if we’re lucky, and pretend it isn’t happening. Maybe it’s the feeling of standing on a mountain, right when the second big snow is coming, and no one is around, and the world is completely still, and the only thing you can hear is the tap of the snow falling on the frozen ground. Maybe it’s the peace you get from that. The calm from that. From something. Maybe.
Those of us with kids, kids who still have that Christmas magic in their heart, are the luckiest ones. We are still shaken awake at six a.m. on Christmas morning with anticipating faces. We still have to run down the stairs on very little sleep, stand in awe of what Santa has brought. We still unwrap gifts in a hurry, pounce around the living room in our pajamas, make wrapping paper forts and crawl under them. Laugh. Eat chocolate for breakfast. We find our merry and bright, even just for a few hours.
Those of us fortunate enough to not work for whole weeks at a time. Those of us who can sit with our families and put big, complicated puzzles together by the fireplace, or drink wine leisurely at five p.m. on the 23rd. Those of us packing up after Christmas and hitting the road. Vacationing to see friends or family. We are the ones who can hit pause. We are the ones who understand “happiest time of the year,” and sometimes when we are down in the pits, like I am now, with no real reason except that this happens sometimes, what is coming ahead is all we have to look forward to.
A friend said to me the other day that my feelings, my emotions, and my sadness right now are all valid. She said this after I was comparing my life to people who have it much worse off. We do that, don’t we? We go, “Well, it could be worse.” Sure it could. It could also be a lot better. And it will be one day soon. And on that day we will remember this one, and we will try not to take too much for granted. Until then, let others be merry and bright, our day is coming soon.
Take care of yourself, it’s only a little longer now.