Motherhood is a Roller Coaster
Our neighbor brought us some homemade pumpkin bread last week, wrapped in aluminum foil and still warm from the oven.
We stood on the driveway and talked while our toddlers played.
"I got the kids a season pass to Hersheypark this summer," she said. "I'm not sure it was a good idea. My daughter loves roller coasters, and she always wants me to go with her."
"Not a fan?"
"No, they terrify me. Especially that new one they just built. It's pitch black. You can't even see where you're going until the lights start flashing. You just know that you're climbing really high. And then, of course, you fall."
Later that evening, my toddler was playing so contentedly on the floor that I wondered, for a moment, why I'd ever thought this motherhood thing was so hard.
Then my husband called us to the table, and tears came out of nowhere.
"I don't WANT to eat," my son shrieked. "I want to play upstairs!"
"It's dinner time," I said. "We sit together as a family. You don't have to eat but you're not getting anything else."
"UPSTAIRS," he screeched, over and over again. "UPSTAIRS. UPSTAIRS. UPSTAIRS."
Eventually I gave up trying to reason. Parenting books say that most tantrums fizzle out after ten or fifteen minutes. They say that if you withheld attention, they'll eventually stop. But my toddler kept screaming for ten, fifteen, twenty-five minutes. He seemed trapped in his own misery, unable to find a way out. I knew the feeling well.
"OK," I said after I'd finished my chicken. "We're going to try something new." I picked him up and carried him to the garage, then strapped him into the stroller. He fought me the whole way.
"Tell me about school today!" I said, my voice dripping with false cheer. "Did you get to play outside? The weather was so nice!"
"I don't want to go for a walk," my toddler insisted. But he wasn't screaming any more.
We crossed the street and he spotted a little school bus parked in the distance. I pushed him toward it, and we practiced taking slow, deep breaths.
"Sometimes Mommy has bad days, too! And when she's feeling really upset, she has a hard time taking deep breaths. But they always make her feel better!"
I stuffed myself full of pumpkin bread later that evening, ravenous for comfort. And I considered the similarities between parenting and roller coasters. How everything flies by so fast, and you get knocked around, and you can't help thinking you should be having a better time.
And then, of course, you fall.
I'm writing this on a Saturday evening. I'm feeling hopeful and scared, excited and cautious, the way a person might feel while standing in line for a roller coaster. On Monday, I have an appointment with a counsellor. A woman who's roughly my age, with two young children of her own, and who specializes in postpartum issues and parenting.
It's been ten years since I last saw a therapist, and I've spent the past few months trying to find a new one. I've scrolled through insurance databases full of disconnected phone numbers and left teary voice messages for practitioners who never called me back. Then my mother-in-law came through with a referral. This woman had just opened a private "boutique" practice. She returned my call the same day. She sounded nice on the phone. She even took my insurance.
I have anxiety and depression, I wrote on the "new patient" form. My toddler has severe food aversions. I want to make sure I'm supporting him without projecting my own problems on him.
I'm trying to frame this appointment as a new beginning. A new chance at clarity. I try not to think that I might just be climbing toward another inevitable fall.
And really, so what if I am? At least I can feel the wind in my hair. Maybe, for the time being, I can just take a few deep breaths and attempt to enjoy the ride.