This past week has been great. In fact, I cannot remember a better week than the week I have just experienced. But last week, I thought for sure that the men in suits would be taking me out of the house ... although I wasn't sure if I'd be in stripes or a straight jacket.
I say that what I experienced was a nervous breakdown, because it was unlike anything I had experienced before. It wasn't my typical "Holiday Hangover". It was so bad, Charlie had to stay home from work. It was so bad, I wondered how in the world I'd managed to do everything I was doing up until that point and how I would ever function again.
It was more than a bonk ... I totally capsized.
Charlie came home from work on Wednesday night to me sitting in a dark house. Not a single light was on, save the Christmas lights hooked up to a timer, that were still hanging from our eaves. The baby was sitting on my lap chewing on a bill. The kids were in bed asleep. They didn't go down for a nap until almost 3:00 PM, so they were still snoozing when my husband walked in the door at 5:00 PM. When he asked if he should wake them up, I'm pretty sure my exact words were "God NO!"
A trained professional might have been able to see that I was on the brink. Even I sensed that things seemed to be spiraling out of control. But then the holidays came and there were festive decorations, relatives in town, bright lights and cheeriness all around. Charlie was home from work on vacation, we had things happening every day and there were more hands to help than I knew what to do with.
Then, I was all alone. With new toys, new clothes, new books, new gadgets and .... new stuff from Christmas that had yet to find a place to go.
And four small stuffy-nosed and needy children.
The Christmas decorations that brought me such joy a week earlier were suddenly overbearing clutter that I had to get rid of immediately. But I couldn't get rid of them because I didn't have the time to take things down and neatly put them away, the way I wanted. And I was sick.
There were thank you notes to be written. A Flat Stanley project to be wrapped up for my nephew in Massachusetts that was due ... tomorrow. Yet every waking hour was filled with something else that I must be doing. Playing with the children. Bathing the children. Laundry. Menu planning. Breaking up fights. Holding a fussy baby. Unloading the dishwasher. Feeding the dog. Walking the dog. Getting to bed at a reasonable hour and hopefully sleeping more than three hours at a stretch.
Someone told me that I just needed to "Let it GO!" and I snapped. That phrase is flawed on so many levels when you are a parent. What exactly do I "Let Go?"
The laundry? The dishes? Taking out the trash? Paying the bills? Feeding the kids?
Because at some point I need to have clean clothes for our family. Come to think of it, we'll also need clean dishes AND space in our trashcan. And if we want a roof over our head, running water and a garage free of refuse, I'll need to sit down and pay a bill or two along the way. My life is one great juggling act - where I must keep all the glass balls in the air without letting them fall and smash to pieces on the ground.
Wednesday night, after the children were in bed, Charlie and I discussed what we needed to do to improve my situation. Maybe if he stayed home a little longer before going to work in the morning, he could help me get all of the children up and dressed and fed, so that I could get out of the house before noon. Unloading the dishwasher and making the beds are two things that I must do every morning, in addition to everything else. So, with Charlie's assistance, I could get all of these things done and then I'd feel more empowered to take on the day.
We discussed preschool. We discussed getting someone in to help every day. We discussed me calling my doctor and telling him that I was feeling overwhelmed. We discussed me accepting the job in Houston, returning to work and Charlie staying home full-time. Or, both of us returning to work and putting the children in daycare. We talked about moving. We'll need a bigger house, soon anyway.
It felt like we were bursting at the seams. We had moved a large portion of our belongings in to the garage and had to throw away a large portion of those belongings because of a rodent infestation. More than 20 rats and mice have been killed in the past two weeks. Super sonic devices don't work. Our best bet is to get a cat.
We can't take care of a cat.
We can barely take care of our dog.
"Good heavens. What are we going to DO?"
"I don't know, Margo. Pass the wine."
Thursday morning, while I was nursing Henry, Charlie jumped out of bed and unloaded the dishwasher. He got the children up and dressed. He made their beds. All I needed to do was prepare breakfast.
While I was pulling out ingredients, I noticed that Carolyn and Elizabeth were playing with their new wood blocks. They were filling paper shopping bags with blocks they had "bought" and were lugging them around the living room, carefully avoiding Henry who was laying on the floor. As I started to crack eggs, I saw that their shopping game had morphed in to block throwing. Every time I turned my back to throw an egg shell away, I had to whip back around to tell them "Please don't throw the blocks. PLEASE DON'T THROW THE BLOCKS."
After the third egg was cracked, and I watched a block land inches away from Henry, I cracked.
Now before I go any further, I must add that ever since Henry has arrived on the scene, I expect more of the triplets. I know I expect a lot more of them than I should, considering they are only three-years-old. But I expect that if I ask them to do something, they will listen to me. I can't always be out of the house with them, and when we are at home, I need for them to pay attention. I know that they understand, they are just testing my limits. When I am feeding or changing or bathing the baby, I don't have the patience to ask that they stop hanging from the curtains, or reaching up and pulling random things off the counters, more than twice. Triplets alone at this age are a handful. Adding an infant to the mix takes everything up a notch.
I will also add that if anyone tells me "You need help!" I'll climb right through this computer and throw dirty laundry on them. What I need is for Mary Poppins to magically float in and land on our doorstep with her bag full of tricks. But only when I want her, which is sporadic, at best.
It's not that we haven't considered or looked for part-time help. But our efforts thus far, short of forking out a large sum to a nanny service, have yielded zilch.
Neighbors? Churches? Local Colleges?
Zilch. Zilch. Zilch.
My eggs were sitting in a pan on the stove. There were blocks all over the floor and three kids that were running around and screaming like banshees - just like they do every morning. The baby was crying to eat. I could feel my blood pressure spike. Before I could do anything, I needed to put the kids in time out. I needed to move the blocks elsewhere.
I needed to ... I needed to ... I couldn't even think.
Instead of doing anything, I just stood in the kitchen, put my hands on my head and screamed. From the gut of my stomach I screamed. And screamed. And screamed. Taking a breath only to scream some more.
Charlie came running out - dressed and ready for work - and in an alarmed voice asked "Are you alright?! What happened?!"
I couldn't talk. I was in shambles. I put my hand up to silence him and removed myself from the kitchen. For the next 15 minutes, I stood in our 2 x 2 broom closet, squeezed in next to the vacuum cleaner, broom and Swiffer. Now that I think about it, I'm not sure why I went to stand in the closet. I could hardly breathe. It felt like my chest was being crushed. The sounds of the children, who had resumed their activities were muffled, and in the dark I was thinking about our 31-year old neighbor who hung himself in his garage last October. What had happened to this poor man that he felt so unable to handle his life circumstances? What situation in his life was so terminal that he had to get out, permanently?
Standing in the dark closet, I certainly felt unable to handle my life circumstances. But, the one thing I had going for me is the knowledge that it won't always be like this. Yeah, I'm totally overwhelmed. Although, I could remember with clarity, days that are absolutely glorious. Days when I feel healthy and I am on top of the world and capable of handling anything and everything that comes barreling - or toddling - my way.
While I was sequestered in the broom closet, I prayed. I prayed harder than I've ever prayed before that I would have the strength and patience to be a good mother and wife and person. I prayed for compassion and understanding. I prayed that I would have the ability to see past the disaster that our house currently was, and embrace the day. Once I could feel myself start to relax and the death grip that had my heart start to loosen, I stepped out of the closet.
Instantly, I was bombarded with screaming and the fragile serenity that I had been able to summon was lost and I was back in the stress vice. In a panicked voice, I told my husband that he could not leave me alone with the children because I was afraid what I would do to them.
How's that for honesty?
I was afraid what I would do to my children.
Last week, for the first time, I had a glimpse in to how someone would intentionally hurt their kids. For the first time, I saw how someone could snap. For the first time, I told my husband that he could not go to work because I was truly afraid to be home alone with our three-year-olds.
I was afraid what I would do if I had to break up one more fight. Or hear screaming about something, anything, nothing. I was afraid what I would do if I had to pick up the pieces of something that the children broke. Or stop them from doing any of the things that they do a million times a day and that I usually can handle, but on that particular day, could not.
It felt like I had been furiously treading water and suddenly, I stopped. I sank. I was submerged and I could see everyone functioning on the surface, but I couldn't be a part of it. They were in a different world.
Charlie stayed home all day from work. He took the children to the park in the morning and although he told me that I could leave and go to the beach or a restaurant or a store ... I spent almost four hours trying to clean a bathroom, that under normal circumstances would have only taken me 15 minutes. In between scrubbing the toilet, I would sit and cry. I would write my thoughts in my journal and cry some more. I would wash the mirrors and cry. Then I'd just cry and cry and cry some more.
During the height of my breakdown, I did what any irrational person would do.
I called my boss.
I told him that I wanted to come back to work, if possible, the very next day. After talking with him for 20 minutes and hearing the enthusiasm in his voice that I would be returning soon, I felt ill that I wanted to leave my children. Not all of my children, mind you. Just the ones that were capable of walking and talking and fighting and driving me insane.
I know that they will only be little once. I know that I should be enjoying every minute. I know that I will miss these days, one day. Just not today, and probably not tomorrow, either. I was filled with anguish that I wasn't enjoying every moment. I wasn't enjoying my husband. I wasn't enjoying this incredibly amazing life that I have been blessed with. My well was dry.
All of my life I wanted children. And now that I have them, I want to be with them. I want to be the positive stimulation that they need. I want to be the one that they trust. I want to teach them how to use scissors and a glue stick. I want to teach them their letters. I want to teach them how to be polite and gentle. I want to do all of these things until I'm with them. And then I want to pull my hair out of my head by the roots.
Why can't I be the one to do all of these things with them?
Why does it feel like they are sucking the very life right out of me?
After several hours away, Charlie came home and still, I was distraught. I told my husband that I needed help. I needed for us, just us, to go away for a weekend. We needed to reconnect. We needed to rediscover ourselves, our marriage. While I was sitting on the couch, holding the baby, I told my husband "Please, help me. I cannot do this anymore."
Charlie just looked at me and didn't say anything. When I repeated my plea and he still did not respond, I started yelling "I CAN'T DO THIS ANYMORE. I NEED HELP!!!"
He told me that he didn't know what to do. He didn't know who to call for help. But if I gave him a few days he could figure something out. That's when I jumped off the couch and said "Well, that's great. Because if you were to have a heart attack right now and fall to the floor, please understand that I might ask for you to give me a few days to figure something out! Can't you see I'm DYING?!"
Even with my slight flair for melodrama, I seriously felt like I was going to drop.
A few years ago, I was driving a red convertible European sports car, desperate for children and looking for a good reproductive endocrinologist. Now, I'm driving a minivan, full of children, and in need of a psychiatrist. What happened??
I ran in to the bathroom - which was still not completely clean - and while I sat on the rim of the tub with the blood pumping in my ears, I felt horribly embarrassed. I was ashamed that I possessed no self control and exploded like that in front of my husband and children. I was ashamed that I couldn't be a better wife and mother.
Just then, my mom called.
As I was telling my mother how distraught I was, how terrible my day had been and how out of control my life seemed, my mother said - and I honestly kid you not - "Jen, can I call you back in an hour? Oprah just came on."
*****Postscript: I don't want to be medicated to deal with my every day life. I also don't want to make any drastic changes - like bringing in a nanny and/or putting our kids in preschool. Although, I am evaluating our options.
This past week, I have made some significant changes and as a result, I am feeling completely stable and capable. I have gone to bed before midnight (except tonight) and have been very firm with getting Henry on a strict sleeping schedule. We have been busy with activities every day, the children are napping again (which I had allowed to stop over Christmas) and I have re-established a routine. I have also drastically reduced my computer time and will continue to do so. The fact is, I was spending too many hours when I could be sleeping looking at things like this. And this.
I have also developed a whole new level of respect for my husband. He proved that we are in this parenthood adventure, together. He vowed that he would take off as much time as necessary and not leave me alone until I was feeling stable. On Friday morning, he spent several hours printing up fliers and posting them at churches and colleges in the area. When I returned from an outing with the children, he had cleaned the house and had mulling spices simmering in a pot.
But best of all, he researched buying my mother a TiVo.