People who equate truth with fact are missing the point.

I got yer bad mom award right here…

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.

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9 comments to I got yer bad mom award right here…

  • we all have our breaking point. sometimes we are able to walk away and remove ourselves from the situation but that is very rare. after taking it time after time after time, we DO crack. throw things. yell, swear. stomp up and down (yes i’ve done it) we have to. We learn as we go along and the very next day we get to start over. I pray that today is a good day.

  • Meg

    Oh, yes we do all have our breaking point.

  • Just wanted to say how happy I am to find your blog (via Brain, Child). Your writing about raising a challenging kid resonates with me more than I can say!

  • Thanks, guys! Comfort from anywhere is wonderful, but as I’m sure you know, words of understanding from people who really get it is golden.

  • Wow! Did I just write this post? You captured my feelings in a nutshell. Some days (actually most days) I just want to get away so I can recharge, but it is not possible.

    Some times, its not my children who worry me, but how I react to them. I’ve played out the coffee incident more times than I want to admit.

    But you are facing it all. You’re awareness and empathy shows. Hang in there!

    PS. I love the frog line! Describes our household to a tee.

  • I know that feeling so well. You give and give and give and give and give and give and then you break. You’re not a robot. You are a person and you have needs. I wish I knew a way I could help you. I know that feeling of wanting to laugh in someone’s face when they suggest a babysitter? What is a few hours when there are 24 hours in a day 7 days a week 12 months a year and the kid NEVER LEAVES FOR ANY OF THEM.

    It’s so easy for me to say this to you of course. It’s so clear when it’s you what an incredible job you’re doing, how hard it is.

    The only way I know of to dial down sensitivity, um, let me think. Drinking?

  • Think about it this way.

    From your outburst, Carter learns (even if he doesn’t conciously learn it):
    1) It’s okay to have feelings, even when their really bad. Mommy is good, and she gets mad sometimes. So I must be ok, even though I get mad sometimes.
    2) The most important thing when you’ve been bad is to apologize
    3) No one is perfect, so I’m okay even though I’m not perfect.

    Just my thoughts.

  • two things…first of all, your son sounds just like my Taz. especially when describing the disorganized times. Taz does the same thing, jumping around from thing to thing…not really doing anything.

    and two, you are spot on about us as parents not being able cope with the stress because, my God, we can’t even get one moment to ourselves! often my son needs constant attention, constant interaction, and constant company. even brushing my teeth is rushed because he doesn’t want to be in the other room alone. it’s so frustrating!

    but i’m so glad i read this because it’s so so true. and don’t worry, i’ve overreacted to stupid things before of the stress. i’ve yelled, loudly, at Taz when i shouldn’t have. i’m normally a calm patient person, but i mean really, there’s only so much a person can take.

    anyway, good thing our kids forgive us 🙂 i’m sure we’ll mess up a “few” more times while their growing up.

  • Oh wow this post made my heart ache for you. The fact that you wrote it all so beautifully just proves that you are not at all a “mommy fail.”

    I’ve been reading your blog for all of 10 minutes, but you are inspiring, even in your posts about stress and grief.

    I look forward to learning more about you and your family!


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