This Is What Burnout Looks Like.
I took my kids to the dentist this morning.
I always feel like a fucking superhero when I take them to the dentist. I make sure to look put-together and hip, as the dentist's office is the place to let people know that you're a Cool and Responsible Mom. The kids are always reluctant to go, but cooperate once there. They pick their prizes. The staff know us by name.
We look good at the dentist, you know?
Since Osi, my four-year-old, dry-heaved at school yesterday and needed to be picked up early, he wasn't allowed to go back today. As a surprise, I decided to keep Isla - who's six - home, too. Except that instead of heading home after the dentist's, I took them on a Mystery Ride.
My mom started Mystery Rides when my sister and I were kids. We were about eight or ten, and she'd tell us to get in the car. "We're going on a Mystery Ride. It'll be fun." Because it was the late-80s, fast food was still totally acceptable, and so our small, wood-paneled station wagon would wind its way to Burger King or McDonald's. We'd go inside to eat. After, we'd get back in and drive somewhere else, usually to The Christmas Tree Shops or Building 19. We'd get to pick out a few things. It felt spontaneous and luxurious. We could tell that our mom was relaxed, happy to be with us and happy to be treating us to some memory-making.
As a perfect juxtaposition to the delicious sin of late-80s fast food, today my shiny, un-wood-paneled Mazda5 pulled into the parking lot of Whole Foods for lunch. The kids were excited. I promised to let them hold their own plates at the make-your-own-crazy-expensive-bowl-of-random-food bar. "And you guys can pick out one of those cookies, too," I said, before they could ask. "Just remember not to touch." They squealed, delighted.
Isla played don't-touch-the-white-squares, jumping from black square to black square, head down. "Honey, you need to be aware of your surroundings," I said evenly. " You're almost jumping into people."
We ate our $30 (WTF) lunch.
In the bathroom, "Osi, you can't scream like that in the bathroom."
"But I can hear my echo!"
Echos matter. So does leaping around with abandon. Public places are just 'places with more people in them' to kids. Don't get flustered here, Mama.
The end-game was Barnes & Noble, as we had holiday gift cards to use. But before we got there, I made them suffer through the ridiculously over-stocked cubes (they're not really aisles, are they?) of Bed Bath & Beyond. I had a gift card to spend and had carefully mapped out exactly how I wanted to spend it: a Magic Bullet and an expensive pillow. After we found the Bullet, we wound our way through the store toward the pillows, stopping occasionally to gawk at the on-sale Frozen paraphernalia.
I started resting my head awkwardly sideways on assorted white foamy rectangles - while standing, of course, because how else can you reliably mimic restful sleep for a purchase like this? - while the kids roamed in my general vicinity. At the check-out, we stopped, predictably, to weed through the light-up mini-swords with M&Ms in the bottom, the hand-held flower fans, and The Lego Movie pens. I bought them each a little something.
I had a gift card, after all.
We were on a Mystery Ride, after all.
"Thank you, Mama," I said.
"Thank you, Mama," they parroted back.
We got to Barnes & Noble and made our way to the back, where the kids books are. I was prepared for indecision and overwhelm, as those are my go-to emotions in bookstores, too. We roamed for ages and ages, hunting down books on sharks, astronauts, Wimpy Kids, and Elsa. I was committed to keeping them inside of their $25/each. They need to know they can't have everything they want.
"Yes, you may get that. You have $5 left to spend."
We continued to roam.
Eventually, we all had hands full of things to be grateful for.
I paid, handing over three gift cards.
"Can we have these, too!?" they said, bringing forth a stack of small notebooks.
"Not today," I said.
We went and got some free water at the Starbucks inside of the bookstore.
"I want food here!"
"We just had lunch. And you both got cookies. That's it for treats today."
And that's when the burnout really started smoldering. Because there was crying. And pleading. And while I know that crying and pleading are acceptable behaviors for children to exhibit, I just wanted to catch a break. I just wanted them, in that moment, to think about the day I'd just orchestrated for them. I wanted them to remember me sitting on the floor while they debated this book or that one. My patiently answering every single, "Does this cost $5?" as they worked to spend the last of their money. Them sitting on my lap when it wasn't their turn at the dentist. My encouraging them into bravery as they readied themselves to hop up in the big chair when it was.
I wanted them to say, "Oh, right - we already had a cookie!"
I wanted some fucking gratitude.
As we walked to the car, the protest against my lack of fairness continued.
"You know," I began, my tone sounding classically maternal, "we just did a lot of fun things. You both got things you didn't expect to get. And instead of hearing about how grateful you are, about how much fun we just had, all I'm hearing is complaining. I don't like it."
I turned the music on and faded into my weary mind.
As we pulled out of the parking lot, they said, "Can we stop somewhere to see if they have Whoopie Cushions? Please?"
I'm not sure how all of you do it. Are your houses in constant disarray? Are your closets full of un-used shit? Is there laundry spilling out of baskets onto dusty floors?
That's what it's like in my house.
My husband and I spend all of our free time putting things away, cleaning, folding, budgeting, or paying bills. The other night, instead of doing any of those things, we decided to watch Louis C.K's new hour-long, which meant we woke up to dishes that needed to be washed. We simply can not make a choice like that without paying for it somewhere else.
When we arrived home from our Mystery Ride, my husband was home. We came inside and the kids showed him what they'd bought. Seeing his face made my burnout sear hotter; he knows how I feel.
I started quietly expressing my frustration. About how I feel like we could buy our kids the entire contents of F.A.O. Schwartz and they'd walk out of the store asking for an ice cream cone. About how our house is constantly in need of some sort of attention. How our kids ask us for help with everything; they seem unable to face even the smallest of challenges without calling our names. "Mama? Can you come help me find the Lego I'm looking for?" (That's an example from this afternoon.)
How the only time I have to work on my writing and event planning and all-of-the-other-things-I'm-making-happen is after they go to bed, the least-ideal hours of the day for me to be creatively productive. And while I'm about to have Tuesdays for personal work, those days are already becoming interrupted with other dentists's appointments and doctor's appointments and you can do your stuff another time. They need to have their teeth sealed.
Which, of course. But also: when do things fucking ease up a little bit.
I often daydream of giving away most of what we own and moving into a Tiny House of some kind, with clever storage everywhere and only the bare essentials surrounding us. You get a box of crayons and you get a box of crayons and you can share this tub of Legos. "Ooh! Thank you! This is wonderful!" I imagine them saying.
I dream of what it would feel like to sit and read for an afternoon, to not have that choice mean more work for later.
I sometimes feel envious of the moms I know who split custody with ex-partners. They get days to themselves every single week. The life I imagine in these daydreams is so clearly not my friends' reality. But still: I love you. Now, please go away.
There are solutions for this burnout. And I will promptly start seeking them out.
In the meantime, I'm going to go read a new book.