It was Monday morning, and time for me to return to work after a particularly sleepless weekend. Sunday night was legendary: one of those nights when I was up nearly every hour, stumbling zombie-like between our three bedrooms. Despite the fact that I had prepared all our necessary items the night before (coffee made, camp clothes laid out, shin guards washed, lunchbox located), we still scrambled like mad as we tried to get ready for our oldest daughter’s summer camp.
Flustered and frustrated, I consumed as much coffee as is appropriate for a nursing mother and hopped in my car. I idly wondered if I should be driving; surely driving while sleep-deprived is only a small step up from driving while intoxicated.
Monday is my husband’s ‘day off,’ meaning that instead of going to work, he stays home with our infant for four hours and tries unsuccessfully to complete all the household chores we failed to accomplish over the weekend. After teaching three energizing music classes, I returned home expecting to find that the break from my baby would have supplied me with a fresh wave of patience and selflessness.
Instead, I was disheartened to hear that she had screamed on and off all morning and was ready to nurse to sleep immediately.
“I guess I’ll have lunch another time,” I announced passive-aggressively, stalking upstairs with the baby. Trying to search for a silver lining, I nestled in for my own quiet time.
Sophie can usually be counted on to nap for 2 to 3 hours during the afternoon, and it is common practice for me to fall asleep with her in my arms and nap for at least a half hour myself. On this particular occasion, all-too aware of my husband busy at work with the laundry downstairs, I was unable to drift off. I decided to roll the baby off of me and attempt to fall asleep more comfortably. This is always a risky maneuver.
Sophie sleepily continued to open her mouth frantically like a fish while I gently pushed her head away from me. She settled, and I precariously leaned to the side, deposited her on the bed and perched over her without breathing. I carefully wriggled my arm out from under her, rolled deftly to the other side of the bed, and patted her bottom for a moment, breathing a premature sigh of relief.
As though attached to a marionette string, Sophie eerily drifted upright, beaming at me. Within a second, she was clambering to the bedrail, slapping it rhythmically and vocalizing with glee.
I stomped downstairs with my cheerful baby and thrust her into Shawn’s arms. “Here,” I snapped. “She took a terrible nap, and I didn’t get to fall asleep. And now I can’t get anything done that I wanted to do.” My voice was rising dangerously.
“But she’s so happy,” he crooned, smiling at her.
“I don’t care if she’s happy, I’m not happy,” I growled.
Suddenly I was in tears. I blubbered unintelligibly about my lack of sleep, constant nursing, inability to exercise…meditate…socialize…do yoga…and how it was next to impossible for me to keep the house tidy or prepare meals that required any kind of effort. During my rant, I realized absently that I hadn’t showered since Saturday night.
In essence, I felt like a disorganized, irritable, lazy disaster whose efforts to “be prepared” are met with raucous laughter from the universe.
“I don’t care if you aren’t keeping the house clean or planning meals,” Shawn said honestly. “This stage isn’t going to last forever. You’re doing what’s most important. If you need an hour to take a nap, just tell me and I’ll take the girls somewhere.”
I looked at him with bewilderment. He took the baby to the grocery store, an errand I had planned to do myself, while I gratefully crawled back into bed to nap and reflect on my meltdown. Feeding the baby and helping her sleep are my two biggest jobs in the world right now, and when they don’t go smoothly, I feel (rationally or not) like a colossal failure. Not to mention the fact that when the baby sleeps, it is truly my only time to be off-duty.
I have a good friend and fellow mommy who knowingly articulated my need for a periodic meltdown: “Sometimes even when you stick by the choices you’re making, and you wouldn’t have it any other way, you still just need to complain about it.”
I greatly appreciated her empathy and wisdom; so often when we complain about our atrocious bedtime routines, complicated naptime strategies, and less than desirable mornings, we just need to express our feelings. We just want to be heard. It is essential to have certain people who understand this, eliminating the need for defensive explanations. Of course we all love our children, but sometimes we just want a decent night of sleep, some time alone, and an unhurried happy hour with girlfriends!
Later that night, my bad mood behind me and both girls in bed, I sank into the couch next to Shawn, grateful for my husband and my pint of peanut butter cup ice cream. I realized that intermittent meltdowns are bound to happen when one is parenting very young children; it is a particularly self-sacrificing, challenging stage of life for a control freak.
Not every day will go smoothly–moms will melt down sometimes. Having the perspective and space to appreciate the beautiful people in your life and your connection to those who sustain you is worth all the stressful, messy Mondays in the world.
QUESTION: How do you find the silver lining when you are having a “Meltdown Monday?”
CHALLENGE: The next time you find yourself on the verge of a parental tantrum, give yourself some time and space, however limited, to reflect on what is truly important in your life.
Originally published November 12, 2012