Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Breaking Free from the Funk

I’d like to say that every day as a stay at home mom is filled with wonder and joy.  From the outside it may look that way sometimes.  A friend told me today that I’ve got it all figured out but the truth is on most days I feel like my britches are tied to a hot air balloon as I try to run a marathon on the ground.  That image of the 1960s  housewife adorning a cocktail dress, heels, and a smile as she serves her admiring family a flawless feast in their spotless dinning room is unrealistic most days if not flat out impossible.  I’ve accomplished this utopian state of stay-at-home-ness only a handful of times in the past 8 months, usually without the admiration of my three year old (she’s mad at me at least four times a day) and never in heels.

Before the new year we sold our second car to make ends meet and lower our insurance payments. Mike works only 8 minutes from home so dropping him off and picking him up wasn’t a problem and on other days he simply road his bike (which was great for the environment, our pocketbook, and his waistline all in one). Living with one car wasn’t really a problem until conferences came.  Because Mike works as a teacher for a division of the Economic Opportunities Council he has to do all 18 conferences at the students’ homes spread all over the county. 

For two weeks I was stranded without a vehicle.  I hated being trapped in our house, not able to visit family, take the girls to the library, our usual park, or run errands. But at least I had the blessing of the computer to keep me connected to the outside world, friends, and current events.  That is until it crashed in the same week.  No Facebook, no email, no ABC mouse, no PBS kids, and no stress relieving blog.  With each passing day Jenna and I both became stir crazy, my nerves quickly became raw, and gradually I felt my spirit sinking.  

I kept reminding myself that I was blessed to have the privilege to be at home.  After all wasn’t this what I had longed for? I should be overwhelmed with ecstatic joy to be with my kids 24 hours a day, to minister to my family, and make our home a well run place of comfort. But as Jenna stood there chucking mega blocks at my head (because I wouldn’t let her cut her hair with her new safety scissors) I found myself questioning my decision to leave work. Was I making that much of a difference being home? I drug my protesting three year old to the time out chair and surveyed the toys scattered on the floor, the dirty dishes in the sink, the piles of clean laundry in mountains on the couch waiting yet another day to be folded and put away. 

For a while I assured myself it was the missing computer and car that had resulted in my down slide. But even after conferences were over and the computer was repaired I found that my depression lingered. I felt overwhelming shame and guilt because of it.  Every part of my day took such extreme amounts of effort, each task consuming me until I felt like I was gasping for breath. When I showered Jenna was there running in and out of the bathroom.  When I ate, someone always wanted a bite or a sip. I wasn’t sleeping at night because Naomi was teething and waking up every couple hours and every time I tried to write someone woke up early from their nap or fell down or wanted a drink or a snack or was lonely or needed my attention or their butt wiped.   I couldn’t even get a break in the bathroom because I always ended up with an audience.  

By staying home I had lost adult conversation with friends at work, time to myself (even if it was just the moments during my classroom planning period) and self identity beyond mother and wife. My days were so filled with meeting the needs of everyone around me that I was forgetting to take care of myself.  Michael grew more and more concerned about me and by the fourth week of living in my funk of self pity I realized that if I didn’t do something to help myself I was going to have a serious problem on my hands.  It took every ounce of my being to force myself to remember anything, no matter how tiny, that used to make me happy.  

The first was basic. I went to the store and splurged on two containers of So Delicious Coconut Milk Ice Cream and spent a couple minutes each day hiding behind a cabinet in the kitchen until I had finished both containers all by myself.  Then I explained to Mike that unless he wanted to see his wife committed I was going to need some time by myself.  I stayed home from church and took a nap with Naomi; I visited my mom for an hour after the kids were asleep.  I started reading and was surprised at how much I missed it.  I finished the last installment of the Hunger Games and The Help in two weeks.

I did some research and found that exercise, sunshine, and fresh air help to fight the blues so each morning I strapped the kids in the double stroller and set out for a tour of the neighborhood or for a trip to the local park. We got in the habit of walking about a mile a day and I started to appreciate a morning filled with sounds of birds chirping and happy baby/ little girl chatter. When my energy returned I stopped putting off Jenna’s play date with her friend and found myself happily talking away with another mom enjoying my first lengthy non family adult conversation in months. Another mom who I could share my confessions of frustration, laugh with, and explore topics beyond Sesame Street and Strawberry Shortcake. It was wonderful. I found myself looking forward to our weekly play dates just as much as (if not more than) Jenna.

Finally Mike and I discovered something magical.  Because Jenna was fighting me on naps each day I decided to keep her up and do a serious stretch of playtime at the park instead.  We did early dinner and baths and put the kids in their car seats in their pajamas.  Then we drove along the river.  Our kids were both restrained and safe from danger or injury (especially from each other). In 5 minutes time both kids were sound asleep and Mike and I were free to reconnect 100% interruption free.

Like a fog gradually dissipates with the rising of the sun, my depression slowly subsided. The beat in my step returned until I felt like the well oiled machine I was months ago. I can’t say that every day is all rays of sunshine and rainbows. There are still moments when I feel like pulling my hair out but in the end I am happier that I am home with my girls than not.  When I had first contemplated the decision to take this year off of work a wise women told me that the very best gift I could give to my children was myself.  I just have to make sure that the self I give them is well cared for too.

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