This blog is about is about loss, and it’s also about parenting. And for a widow with children, these two things are so deeply intertwined that one has everything to do with the other.
I like to consider myself a patient person and a patient parent. I work hard to make sure that I am as gentle as I can be without becoming a pushover (sometimes I’m a pushover, but I try to take control of even that so she thinks she is winning when really I decided I would give in before I set the boundary). When she is upset, I comfort her. When she is angry, I let her be angry. When she is throwing a tantrum, I walk away with open arms ready to welcome her back to the land of reality whenever she is done having her moment. And when I am at the end of my rope, I work hard to keep my mouth shut. If no useful words will spill out when I open my mouth, then no words should spill out.
I try hard, but I am not perfect. Sometimes I have to work harder to keep my mouth shut than others. And sometimes those non-helpful words sneak out before I catch them. I’m not perfect, but I try hard to be a good mom. I’m the only parent she has. She doesn’t have another parent here to balance me out, so I have to be everything she needs all wrapped up in one imperfect (and, in many ways, broken) person. I will never be perfect, and I don’t strive to be. I simply strive to be good enough.
Last night was the first time I truly crossed the line. I hadn’t been sleeping well (or very much lately for that matter) and I have been exhausted! I’m exhausted and up too late right now writing this. My toddler woke up in the middle of the night crying for me. I was instantly angry. I had just managed to fall asleep and now I’m woken up. But I managed to pull it together… for a moment, until she asked me to sit in her room with her for a while. She often does this, particularly if she’s had a bad dream. I get it. It’s a reasonable request. The poor thing just needs a tiny bit of comfort from mommy. But when she laid back down in her bed and I saw her eyes wide open and staring at me I lost it. I yelled at her to close her eyes. Then I yelled at her to come sleep in mommy’s room so that I could go back to sleep (I was so exhausted it hurt). She said no and started crying “mommy sit there!” Pointing to the chair next to her bed that I was already sitting in. Then I got up, told her “no”, I picked her up and grabbed teddy and brought her into my bed and told her she’s sleeping there. Then I proceeded to yell at her to go to sleep!
What was I thinking? She’s a toddler, she’s not even three years old. She woke up from a bad dream and all I have for her is to berate her like this? The poor thing did nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing, wrong! Where was soft and compassionate mommy when she just needed a few minutes of comfort?
I cried myself to sleep. I burst into tears and I hugged her and apologized for yelling, for being mean. She just rolled over and went to sleep. I don’t know if she was stunned, or if my perspective made me feel like it was so much worse than it was, or if she really is just one tough cookie. I don’t know that answer. But I do know that as terrible as I felt about it this morning, I still ended up repeating the same mistake again today! Again I yelled. And this time I was so mad at myself in the moment that I stood up and I stormed into my bedroom and slammed the door. I dropped onto my bed and sobbed into my pillow. I gave myself about 2 minutes before I pulled it together enough to open the door. She was standing right there playing with some mark on the door itself. I grabbed her and hugged her and just held her, apologizing through my tears. I picked her up and we both sat down on my bed quietly where I apologized without the tears this time. I told her that she did nothing wrong and that I was wrong to yell and get mad like that. I asked her if mommy was mean last night, she said yes. I said, “I am so sorry I was mean to you, you didn’t do anything wrong”. I really needed to drive the point home.
I’ve been holding back tears all day because I know that yelling at my toddler is not ok with me, and I can’t be that mom. So I am trying to change my internal dialogue from “I am a piece of shit” to “I am not being my best self” because I can fix one of those things… and the other is just self-deprecating. It’s not always easy in these moments. But I’m trying! I also decided that I need to do something about this exhaustion, so I called my parents and arranged for them to take my daughter for an overnight so that I can get some relaxation and sleep.
I crossed the line last night. I know that Matt would have looked at me and decided that we needed to make a plan. He wouldn’t have been upset with me, as long as I fixed it. Not eventually, but now. He was a wonderful husband, he was so good to me. So when something like this happens, I can’t help but realize how much this has to do with losing him. I don’t say that with blame or to excuse my behavior, I simply mean that I miss him. I’m exhausted from doing all of this solo. I’m exhausted from missing him. Grief creeps in from behind if you ignore it for too long. You can pretend like it’s not there but it will always follow you like a shadow, so tend to it. And for the love of everything that is good in the world, get some sleep!