“I actually attack the concept of happiness. The idea that – I don’t mind people being happy – but the idea that everything we do is part of the pursuit of happiness seems to me a really dangerous idea and has led to a contemporary disease in Western society, which is fear of sadness. It’s a really odd thing that we’re now seeing people saying “write down 3 things that made you happy today before you go to sleep”, and “cheer up” and “happiness is our birthright” and so on. We’re kind of teaching our kids that happiness is the default position – it’s rubbish. Wholeness is what we ought to be striving for and part of that is sadness, disappointment, frustration, failure; all of those things which make us who we are. Happiness and victory and fulfillment are nice little things that also happen to us, but they don’t teach us much. Everyone says we grow through pain and then as soon as they experience pain they say “Quick! Move on! Cheer up!” I’d like just for a year to have a moratorium on the word “happiness” and to replace it with the word “wholeness”. Ask yourself “is this contributing to my wholeness?” and if you’re having a bad day, it is.” – Hugh Mackay
I had one of those days at home yesterday with the kids. It was Sunday, arguably everyone’s favorite day of the week, but the kids and I woke up in my bed sandwiched together like a jigsaw puzzle without Andrew by our side. My husband doesn’t travel a ton for work, but because our kids are really little and need so much from us around the clock, when he does it can’t help but feel like a lot. For me, the hardest part about solo parenting is not the physical serving and nurturing on command all day, but mental exhaustion that builds up because I have to be on and ready 24/7. Granted, as a mother I am on and ready 24/7 regardless, but it’s quite different when Andrew and I can tag each other in here and there when we are needing a break. Like when Alfie wakes up crying in the middle of the night needing comfort, or Theodore pees the bed next to us, or Stella gets cold and wants another quilt piled on her bed. We can offer one another a slice of rest by saying, “I got this one, babe.”
It’s also different when you know at some point you’ll get a break. When you know, that even though the day has been hard and messy and scrambled, that relief will come walking through that door and help you put back the pieces of your broken day. Single parents, I am in awe of your strength and bravery. And if I could come give all of you a some respite to help lighten and lessen your load, I would do it in a heartbeat. Parenting is hard enough as is, but going at it alone can feel really like the wilderness.
So yesterday we woke up with little sleep and plans to do not much of anything. Church was out of the question because Alfie doesn’t go to the toddler class anymore without a fight (attachment issuing going on) and so I wouldn’t have been able to listen or participate anyhow. I opted for a big homemade breakfast instead, and pulled my Buvette cookbook off the shelf for some inspiration. I made us all scrambled eggs, the French way, with lots of warm buttered bread. A good start, I thought. But slowly as the day unfolded, the kids grew restless and began to bicker to no end. Toys were thrown, hair was pulled, and naps were cut short because of a very loud tantrum. I called Andrew mid-afternoon and told him how I was feeling, which was basically down and defeated, which is always hard because 1). he’s far away and can’t do much of anything but offer words of support 2). He’s working! Gt’s not like he’s on a cruise sipping martinis in the sunshine, so I always feel a little guilty for telling him we’ve had a rough one, or that things at home are unraveling faster than a torn wool sweater. He told me to hop in the shower, and make it a long and hot one. Then, to take the kids to the park and get some fresh air. His words felt warm, like curling up next to our crackling fire. The sound and comfort of his voice gave me enough encouragement to get up and go!
I turned on the shower and closed the heavy door behind me to get our little upstairs bathroom all steamy, and I went all through the house kid-proofing doors and putting up art supplies. I set the boys up with some Legos, a new favorite, and told myself that two Christmas songs in the shower would be a good amount of time to get scrubbed and shampooed. When I turned off the water I could hear the boys laughing, and not a playful kind of laugher making me think they were building toy cars, but a mischievous kind that made me head right down. We all know the pitches and tones of our kid’s voices, especially the ones that sound like trouble. Dripping water everywhere, I tip toed quickly downstairs in my towel and saw both of them curled up under the dining room table laughing and covered in soot. I didn’t even turn to look at the living room, I just yelled, “What’s all over you boys?” Theo pointed to the fireplace and that’s when I turned and saw it. Soot everywhere. On our couch, in the toy bin, on the toy bin, the Christmas tree, on the coffee table, and all over the floor. It was also trailed through the kitchen and dining room as if they had themselves a little five-minute soot parade around the house. I could feel my face turning burning and turning red, and I let out a scream. Not even a word, just a scream. I felt liking falling down on the steps to let out a good cry, but I was too upset. So instead, I turned around and marched up our creaky upstairs and plopped myself on the tangle of sheets at the base of our bed. I fumed and I sat, still dripping.
It’s easy to feel alone and overwhelmed when you’re all worked up and by yourself. All I wanted, I thought to myself, was a simple shower. To get clean and make myself feel renewed. A basic necessity, right? And I covered all my bases, so why did this have to happen. Why couldn’t they just give me five minutes? I was not prepared in the slightest to clean up that mess beforehand, and I certainly was not in the mood now. I honestly sat there trying to muster gratitudes, but thought, “What bullshit. This sucks.” Yes – I am very grateful for so many aspects of my life, and I am generally a very optimistic person who looks for the silver lining, but also, life has its way of serving you another piece of shit pie right after you feel you’ve had more than your fill. I wanted peace pie, or everyone take a nap pie, or let’s not fight anymore or brake anything pie, not this kind! Anyway, we ended up going to the park and library, and ended the evening back in my bed where the day started with new books and a holiday movie. I pulled my babies close and told them mama was sorry for getting so upset and stressed out earlier, and that tomorrow was going to be a new day. I told them that I was going to try to do better, and asked, “Could we all try to do a little better, tomorrow”? The boys half-nodded more interested in Winnie-the-Pooh Christmas, and Stella told me I was a good mom even though I had a hard day without dad. It felt nice to be heard. We ended the day together and okay, and the mess would wait until morning.
A friend send me that quote above yesterday after reading about my frustrating day on Instagram, and it really gave me good food for thought. What do we teach our children when we don’t acknowledge their wholeness, or our own? What happens when we focus solely on being happy, and thereby disregard emotions and experiences like failure, sadness, grief, frustration, and disappointment? Emotions that tether us to growth, empathy and compassion? I do not have the answer to these questions, only that I think these words are important ones to reflect on. So if you’ve had a rough day, or are going through a rough season, no matter the details – this is not a hardship competition – know you are most certainly not alone. Every mother has these days. I have them. Your mother had them. And her mother, too. Open up with a friend, and share your heart with someone who can lend a compassionate ear or helping hand. And today, well it’s a new day. The slate has been washed clean and we get to try again. And isn’t that just beautiful?