I love to read mommy blogs. Not in any pejorative sense, either (NY Times article and the ensuing controversey notwithstanding); I honestly love them. Mommy bloggers have given me most of the laughs that made me pee a little in the past 5 years. Contrary to the beliefs of the uninitiated, these bloggers aren’t sharing details about diapers and the minutiae of daily French toast preparation. No, these bloggers (the ones I read, at least) are talented writers adept at finding broad meaning in the day-to-day happenings of life with children.
But you know what I really love? Ironically, of course. What I love is when a mom gives herself a bad mom award for something like, oh, I dunno, letting her kid eat candy corn, or settling for a wet washcloth to the face when the kid really needs a bath.
No, I’ll tell you about being a bad mother. But first, as always, the background.
Carter’s been cycling up for almost 2 weeks now. It starts slow and we’re like those frogs in the water: we don’t always notice the water is getting hotter until until we’re half poached. His therapist confirmed for us today that Carter is hypomanic (that’s mild mania). In Carter, hypomania presents as extreme (really, outrageously extreme) hyperactivity, sleep disturbances (Whaddya mean 3 am is too early to get up?), worse-than-usual impulse control (Carter doesn’t have much impulse control at the best of times.), and impatience and irritability. Hypomania isn’t usually a crisis; he doesn’t have much by way of delusions or hallucinations (Those little guys on the stairs? At least they’re not telling him to do anything.), doesn’t threaten or try to kill himself, and is only dangerous to other people because being around him is like doing the tango next an airplane propeller; watch out lest you take a propeller blade to the kisser.
So we started the day today and Carter was being this entirely unorganized little person. He couldn’t attend to any activity, whether that activity was active or quiet. When he’s like this, he never actually does anything. He might bug the dogs for 2 minutes, run around outside hitting things with a stick for 3, then come in and demand a sandwich; if I make the sandwich, he will eat a few bites, then watch TV for 4 minutes before a toy catches his eye. Toy is broken; accuse dogs or Spencer of breaking it; cry, rage, pout about broken toy for 6 minutes; ask to go out in the front yard, spend 3 minutes hunting for bugs; kick the wall repeatedly; chase the neighbor’s cat out of the yard; come in and demand a sandwich, sees the one I already made and take a few bites, etc., etc., etc. All of this is punctuated with near constant interaction with me: kicking the bathroom door if I’m in there, making noises (these awful spitting sounds that get right inside my skull) while I try to make a phone call, trying to engage me in discussion about toys, TV shows, or computer games, making butt/fart/penis/poop jokes.
In the meantime, if I’m not trying like hell to do something (read a book, write, clean the kitchen, pee, blow my nose), I try to interest him in actually doing something. I probably sound like some demented parrot during these lists I rattle off for him: wanna do a puzzle? Ride your bike? Color? Get the chalk and draw on the driveway? Help me make dinner? Go for a walk? Read a book? No, no, no. Or I get a yes, and he’s distracted and running off before we’ve even gotten out the puzzle, put on our shoes, or chosen a book.
And so we went on this way, hour after hour, and I tried to do a few things and I got frustrated several times, and I tried to remember that he wants to behave himself but all of this is neurological. And I mostly held myself together until I decided to come up to my office to check my email. I hadn’t even sat down yet when I saw Carter kick one of the dogs. I reacted, moving to get the dog and as I turned I knocked over my coffee cup. I watched coffee spill over computer, cell phone, books, and files, and something in me just cracked. I lost my shit and I lost it good.
When I started yelling, Carter scrambled. He was crying, but I was so entirely out of, what? What did I run out of in that moment? Heart, I guess. And then I sent that coffee cup flying. Final score: Carter, devastated; me, guilty and ashamed; desk, computer, etc., covered in coffee; favorite coffee cup, shattered.
One thing I’ve come to understand lately is that, as stressful as life with Carter can be, what’s worse is that his illness prevents me from doing the things that help me cope with that stress. I can’t turn the music up loud because it hurts his ears; I can’t get in the shower because he can’t bear to be alone; I can’t write because he can’t stand to stop interacting with me. So my needs are deferred, and deferred, and deferred, and if you ever doubt that people really do have emotional limits, we need to talk.
So, tongue firmly in cheek, I claim the bad mother of the day award for myself and only myself. But I also acknowledge that I’m up against something much, much bigger than me. The piece of advice I get most often is to get a babysitter, take a break. That’s fine advice but in this situation, it doesn’t help. A few hours to myself is lovely, but up against the relentlessness of all the other hours it’s meaningless. What I have to do is find ways to be OK with Carter, with his demands and his noise and his constant, nerve-wracking physical activity (because it’s kinda hard to do or enjoy anything when there’s 60 pounds of dervish whirling around you).
Because really? As hard as it is to have him home right now, it’s just as bad to know that, when school is in session, I just hang on and survive when he’s with me and try to pack all my living into the hours when he’s at school. Maybe enjoying my time with Carter is unrealistic, but that’s an idea that’s really too sad to accept. So I’m looking for ways to be OK, to dial down my own sensitivity so that Carter affects me less. It may be a fool’s errand, but the other option is to surrender to a reality of flying coffee cups and a little boy who’s scared of the one person he relies on most in the world to keep him safe.
It’s late and I’m tired, so before I get maudlin I’ll tell you this: Carter accepted my apology and gave me nine-hundred-million-thousand kisses before he went to bed tonight. Say a prayer, if you will, that risperdal and trileptal will do their job and bring my boy back to planet earth, and soon. And then say a prayer that next time, I remember to take a deep breath before I throw the coffee cup.