Just What I Needed!

Ahhh, I feel so much better. A few weeks ago, I complained, in great detail, about my mommy burnout. At the time, I couldn’t see past my own misery to comfort my husband through a sudden, tragic death in his family and I felt horrible about it. I was hurting so much already that I just didn’t have any emotional energy left.

It felt good just to talk about feeling burned out, but I needed more. I needed to take action. And I’m happy to say that I did.

Immediately following the burnout post, we had houseguests come for a week. For a couple of days, I took care of them, but on the third day, I escaped to a grownup world. Every August, I attend a writers’ conference. This year, my conference just happened to coincide with my houseguests’ visit. Even better, my houseguests were primarily interested in seeing the kids, so they got their wish. While I commuted to the conference, and Matt worked at home, our guests entertained the kids.

Three weeks ago, I would have been happy to go to an execution, just to get away from being a mommy, but the conference was a hundred times better. I looked forward to it all year, and it didn’t disappoint. For one thing, I got to converse with grownups for a few days. And they didn’t just view me as a mom. They viewed me as a writer – a peer.

As if grownup conversation wasn’t enough, I got to attend seminars on the craft of writing. Since I’m not a Starbucks scribe, writing is a solitary practice for me. I don’t get to sit in a room with other writers and talk about writing. I try to improve my work with every piece of writing, so I love learning to hone my craft.

To top off the conference experience, I got to pitch books to literary agents and publishers. I’m really happy about how my pitching sessions turned out. I hate to say it because I’m superstitious, but people wanted to see my work. Publishing professionals are really busy, so they won’t waste their time unless the work has potential. That’s what I tell myself anyway. Most attendees believe that pitching is the biggest part of the package, and they’re right – unknowns don’t command five minutes of an agent’s or publisher’s attention any other way. But for me, the conference was so much more.

Attending the writers’ conference did wonders to perk me up and soothe my child-weary soul. Oddly enough, I ran into one of the moms from preschool there. We got to know each other better and although we did discuss one kid’s birthday party, we talked about writing most of the time. I won’t mind discussing the kids next time I see her but it’s great to know that we have something else in common.

On the fourth and final day, I was going to skip the seminar, but I couldn’t get enough grownup time and that seminar was my last chance before heading back into momdom. The extra time paid off and I went home feeling good – like a respected, competent adult.

I’ve been feeling good since the conference, but I’m still learning to take care of myself. The other day I wanted to go through the car wash. The car wash is my eight-dollar pick-me-up. I don’t do it for the car. I do it for sheer enjoyment. I just love going through the car wash, sitting in the middle of the bubbles, listening to a great song on the stereo. I have always loved going through the car wash and I regret the demise of the giant mops and brush scrubbers they used to employ. They were so much fun to watch.

I usually go to the car wash when I’m feeling down, so the other day, I almost stopped myself. I thought about waiting until I really needed it. But I talked myself into it. I realized that taking care of myself meant going to the car wash even when I felt good, so I could maintain my happy demeanor. I realized that I didn’t have to wait and that I shouldn’t, because it’s easier to prevent burnout than to cure it.

I’m planning to do more self-care. I just had a birthday, and I plan to take advantage of all of the free stuff I got from marketing promotions. Last night I had my free Red Robin burger (Yum!) This week, I’m going for my free chiropractic adjustment. I also plan to use my free ten-dollar gift card from World Market. Birthdays, and current marketing practices, remind us that we are special, and offer us opportunities to treat ourselves as such. We just have to remember that we need to treat ourselves all the time, not just on special occasions, because burnout can incapacitate us at the worst times, and we never know when those will come. Now I’ve learned that preventive care requires a lot less effort than recovery. But I’ll just keep that to myself and go to the car wash whenever the mood strikes.

Burn Out, then Fade Away

My world is shrinking. I used to be able to relate to other people. I used to be able to muster sympathy. I used to be able to care for my kids without snapping at every little defiance. But right now I can’t.

I’m burned out. I’m burned out on taking care of the kids. I’m burned out on being a mom in general. When I used to hear “Mommy?” I felt needed and ready to tackle any challenge Rose had for me. Now when I hear it, I wish I could leave. Just leave, and go somewhere where there are no kids, and not have to answer her at all.

How did I get here? I should have seen it coming. For one thing, I haven’t had any time off since three hours in May, when I left the kids with Matt so I could see a movie. For another, potty training efforts went down the toilet. Rose was doing so well, and I thought she’d be fully trained before long and then she lost interest. We tried to force her by making her wear panties instead of pull ups. That led to “accidents.” They weren’t all deliberate but no matter what, I’d wind up cleaning a puddle of pee somewhere in the house every day, sometimes twice a day.

Being up to my wrists in urine all the time took its toll but Rose wasn’t finished with me yet. Her tantrums became more frequent and spectacular. She’d have at least one tantrum a day, during which she’d scream like a howler monkey, destroy whatever room she was in, and get violent with me or her baby brother.

So every day I had to clean up pee at least once and deal with one or more huge tantrums. To top it off, many of those tantrums were triggered by a refusal to nap – a battle we’d have at least three times a week – so I got no down time. I don’t get down time with them unless they both sleep at the same time. Rose has a regular naptime but Christian’s naps are unpredictable.

I did get some time without them. Rose went to camp four days a week and to a babysitter on the morning on the fifth day. Christian spent some of his mornings at the sitter’s, while Rose was in school. So I did have my mornings without the kids. But mornings were occupied by work, so they definitely weren’t “mom time.“

I am extremely grateful that I had mornings without the kids. I am. But then I feel guilty. How can I burn out when I get a four-hour reprieve from mothering every day? And further, I spend that time doing work that I love. How can I complain? It makes me feel worse because in my mind, I’m not entitled to what I’m feeling.

Part of the problem is that I rarely interact in the grownup world, and when I do, it’s with other moms, our kids are there and we all talk about them. So my whole existence outside of work revolves around children. Of course I get sick of it. I could get sick of pistachio ice cream if it was all I ate every day for months on end.

So not only am I burned out, I feel guilty for it. And this week it got worse.

Matt had a death in the family. It was the third one this year, and it was sudden and tragic. The deceased played a big role in Matt’s young life. Shocked, Matt mourned. He wanted to go to the funeral. He bought plane tickets we cannot afford to fly in and out in two days, so as not to leave me with the kids for too long.

I want to sympathize. I mean, my God, he is suffering a great loss. I want to help him through this. I want to mourn properly. But I can’t. Because I’m feeling so bad myself that my world has shrunk, all I can do is try to navigate my way out of my own feelings. And it makes me feel horrible. I’m his wife. I’m his best friend. I’m supposed to offer him comfort and support. But it’s like I’m in a plastic bag. You know, the kind that says “keep out of reach of children.” I am in the bag and trying to breathe and each breath sucks the bag closer and closer to my face, making my world smaller and smaller, threatening to suffocate me.

So here I am, suffocating. Matt left today and I’m spending two days alone with the kids – a Friday and a Saturday. I honestly don’t know if I’ll make it through. If I do, Matt has promised to give me some time off Sunday. For now, I’ve got a plan. Gym tonight, because they have babysitting. Gym tomorrow morning, same reason. McDonald’s PlayPlace after that. Hopefully naps. Then a party with the Parrot Heads. It’s easier to take them out of the house than to be bored and gloomy at home. Plus some of the Parrot Heads will give them some attention. Plus there’s alcohol there. Can’t go wrong with alcohol.

If I make it, I’ll need a new plan. Just like I plan for the kids’ needs, I must plan for my own. I can’t let this happen again. I need to schedule some days off. I need to use my mother’s day gift – one night at a bed and breakfast. I need to find ways to move in the grownup world.

I’m not going to let this happen again. I let it go too long and I am burned out at the worst possible time. There’s no good time to fail as a parent or spouse, but some times are worse than others and this time is particularly bad. I have to get back some of myself. Until I do that, I won’t have any of myself to give.