And this is how it happens.
I stand in the kitchen while my child violently shakes the bars of the safety gate 4 feet away, letting loose the death scream that would at the very least cause the neighbors question our parenting if not draw in a hungry mountain lion from hills.
It’s too early for the death scream. For the love of all that is sacred, its 5:15 am.
This has become routine, though. I scramble to put breakfast together, bleary-eyed and stiff in the joints, while listening to alternating outbursts of “EAT!!! Mama hold YOOOOOOOOUUU!!! EAT!! MAMA HOLD YOOOOOOOOUUU!!!!” Looking for something quick to satiate him while the oatmeal pancakes brown in the skillet, my eyes alight upon the last of the beautiful organic peaches sitting on the counter. I glance in the fridge at the last remaining luscious strawberries in the carton we splurged on at the farmer’s market. I think about how much I was looking forward to enjoying a bowl of cut up peaches and strawberries for my own breakfast. I think about how my son will most likely refuse them as he does most everything except the four basic menu items he has narrowed down over the past four months. I cut them up anyway. He’s hungry and I am supposed to keep offering him different foods, right??
I set them on his tray along with a fork and see my opportunity to make a much-needed mad dash to the bathroom. Amidst a necessary uh,… multi-step process of changing and freshening and emptying I become aware of three things simultaneously:
1) there is no toilet paper
2) the smell of pancakes beginning to burn
3) the clunk of the fork as it hits the floor and the ensuing wail
“Fooooooork!!!!! MAMA!! Fork! Fork! Foooooork!!!”
Seriously, fork my life sometimes.
My pants around my ankles I shuffle to the closet where we keep the toilet paper and finish up my personal hygienic duties, “Just a minute!” I chirp hopelessly, the desperate and feeble attempt at cheerfulness in my voice sounds ridiculous. He can’t hear me. He doesn’t care. But it is too late. With the first unmistakable “plop, plop” sound I realize I’ve lost.
Plop. plop. plop…
By the time I emerge defeated, 10 seconds later, every last piece of that precious fruit has landed onto the dirty, pet-hair covered floor. The highchair tray is empty. The dog is furtively sniffing and licking each piece of dropped food, evaluating each morsel. There is the smell of smoke from breakfast now blackened on the stove. My son is shrieking that he wants a “SNACK” with increasing hysteria. But for a moment I just stand and stare at the floor unmoving. And I feel my throat tighten with a choking kind of cry.
And this is how it happens. This is all it takes. To break me.
I have tried to break down what exactly makes up this highly combustible mix of elements that lands me back in the place of feeling like the the joke is on me … again, and that the only reasonable solution is to stick my baby in front of some cartoons and light up a cigarette and maybe start morning drinking. The scenario always involves some version of 1) not enough sleep. 2) an overwrought toddler 3) unrelenting pain in my body 4) the need to take care of myself but not feeling that I have permission to do so and 5) a striving, even in the impossible moment, to do what I think the “good mother” would do: put her needs last, make breakfast from scratch, feed the kid organic fruit I know he doesn’t want (but that I actually want!), and on top of it all, mask my frustration with a kind of strained cheerfulness.
It’s a set up. Once I’ve pitted my needs against his, I will always lose.
So I did what I should have done in the first place when I first felt the twinge of the battle lines being drawn: Hold the homemade organic breakfast, give him a handful of cheerios. Turn on “Little Bear”, pour myself a cup of coffee, walk outside and breathe.
Every day doing your best looks a little different. Compassion for others begins with compassion toward myself.