I had a bad, bad morning yesterday. My husband went to a fishing clinic that had been on the calendar for two months. He took our one and only car and I was at home with our four sons all morning.
The kids argued with me.
They argued with each other.
They screamed the screams that make you pray, “Dear God in heaven, make it stop!”
In an attempt to make the day better, I suggested a bike ride. It was a bust, full of whining three year olds, busted shoes, and a dog bite.
Tiny things, really. But they all piled up, one on top of the other and I was miserable. I was crushed. I hated everyone and everything, including the neighbor and her stupid yappy dog.
By the time my husband got home at 2pm, I felt like crap, both emotionally and physically. I was supposed to go Big Grocery Shopping but instead, I crawled into bed, nursing a headache behind my right temple.
My husband came in to check on me. “Are you okay?”
I was not okay. I was having a motherhood-induced break down: A Mommy Meltdown.
Meltdowns are a pretty normal occurrence at our house, but for my kids, not me. I’ve gotten particularly skilled at preventing and/or handling meltdowns for Benji, my 8 year old Autistic son.
A lot of times, I can anticipate situations that will stress him, cause his sensory system to overload, and diffuse his triggers skillfully.
Just this morning I had carefully avoided two potentially disastrous situations.
Benji is very sensitive about his shoes, so sensitive that he owns exactly one pair of shoes that he wears for all occasions.
His shoes have to fit just right.
They have to be flexible.
Most importantly, they have to be tight.
Fine motor struggles have placed tie-shoes as impractical for right now (that’s me, avoiding daily meltdowns over the frustration of tying shoes. We’re getting there…) so he has Velcro.
The thing is, the Velcro on one of his shoes is worn out and the shoe will not stay tight.
“Mom! Mooooom! My-my shoe! It. Will. Not. Stay. On! UGGG!!”
He was ramping up fast. I had to quickly nip his meltdown in the bud. I went into solution mode: I dug out my snap press and snapped pressed those shoes and BAM! Problem solved. The shoes were snapped and tight.
We could now go on our bike ride.
My snap solution only lasted for about 5 minutes, until Benji’s twin brother rode over his foot while Benji was stopped on the sidewalk.
Another meltdown was rolling in but I got there quick, soothing and logicking, and being firm and kind. He calmed down, rode home on the loose shoe (miracles of miracles!) and we fixed it and tried bike ride, take two.
I know his triggers. When I can avoid them, I do (shoelaces).
When I can’t, I pull out my bag of solutions, tricks, therapy tips, and my low, calm, firm voice, and diffuse the situation.
When all that fails, I ride the wave of the meltdown with him.
I am a Meltdown expert. I am experienced and prepared.
Except when it comes to my own Meltdowns.
Time and time again, I am stunned by my own emotional breakdowns.
I don’t recognize my triggers until my mood is so bad that snapping at my kids feels like second nature.
I’ve become an expert at anticipating my children’s needs…all while ignoring my own, until I’m curled up in my bed, crying, and wondering why I am such a “bad mom.”
My husband talked to me for a long time. He held my hand and listened to all the little things that made up my Bad Day. He asked me questions and made me laugh.
After a while, I said, “Thanks for talking to me. It really helped.”
“I think that’s what a lot of your problem is” (he has a way with words, my husband).
“You’re lonely. You don’t have the support like you used to.”
And he is right. When my twins were little, I had a strong group of mom friends who were my lifeline. We saw each other weekly and supported each other through those rough, little years. But when our kids reached school age, the group slowly drifted apart.
I miss those days. It was a good season of my life. And while many things have changed, the truth is that I still need friends, both old and new.
It’s a lot of effort to make new, good friends (that’s an understatement). But I’m trying.
I went out this morning to a community gathering at a playground. I fought the urge to just silently watch my kids from the bench and instead, I struck up a conversation with a woman sitting near me.
As it turned out, we had a lot in common.
After my morning out of the house, letting my kids play, and having adult conversation (even though my 3 year old still whined a cried a lot), I felt whole.
I feel like crap when I don’t take care of myself:
When I don’t drink enough water
When I wait too long to eat
When I forget to take my vitamins
When I don’t take the time to rest when I’m tired
When I don’t make the effort to cultivate friendships
That’s when I have a meltdown, and I spiral into sadness, overwhelming irritation, and anger.
Like my son, sometimes even with my best intentions, meltdowns can still happen, even if I do all the right things.
But I’m going to work on taking better care of myself, especially recognizing my own triggers, and working towards meeting my own needs so I can better meet the needs of the people I love the most.