Gratitude, On Fire

Sometimes I feel like I’m choking on the real words I’d like to say, or the real expressions I wish to wear, and so I take a big gulp of denial, throw my head back, and wash it all down rather than let the truth slip past my lips. I desperately want to wear a happy face all the time. If I’m beginning to lose it a little bit, as a mother, I feel I can’t tell anyone, not even the people who would understand or potentially love me unconditionally, because then I’m admitting that I’m not handling everything in stride, and that having everything I ever thought I wanted still isn’t perfect.

I feel like a little girl sitting in front of her grand birthday cake, candles all lit, with birthday presents and every friend and loved one standing by, bounce house towering over me, tiara upon my head, and as everyone sings to me with expectant eyes, anticipating my euphoric elation, I panic and want to cry at my own party. 

I’ve got everything I ever wanted and I don’t even know what to do with it. I wanted a family, a house, an amazing husband, beautiful children… and before I knew it, check, check, and check; I had it all. And then I wanted to stay home to manage this happy insane household, and never miss a moment, and I got that, too. And now I have the kids and the dogs and the dishes and the laundry and the husband and the family and running to and from school and a grocery list that never ends and friends that I forget to text back and it all makes me feel like I’m just not doing enough. 

Not each thing actually telling me I’m not enough, of course, it’s my own guilt, I suppose, that makes me feel like at the end of the day all that I do just simply isn’t enough. I should do more. I should have mopped floors daily, not monthly… okay, bi-monthly. My kids should probably be clean all the time, but it seems like the moment their feet hit the floor, either their hands or their mouths are a magnet to sticky. And I should probably get up and make my husband breakfast before he leaves for work, but a million years ago the man told me he enjoys gas station pizza and, therefore, I assume he doesn’t really mind skipping a hot breakfast. I should have my hair done, and face put on, and be a walking ray of beauty at all moments. I should at least brush my hair. I should dust the 1,001 knick knacks I have around the house that I swear bring me joy. They do bring me joy, dusting, however, does not. I should do STEM activities and play groups and count to 100 with my 2 year old instead of handing them a stick and telling them to go play in the dirt and count the frogs they find, or don’t count them, just whatever you do don’t bring them in the house. 

And there’s days where I’m overwhelmed by sound. Like I swear if I hear one more word, especially one attached to a question and directed towards me, I’m going to rip my ears off. And if for one more minute someone sits on, wallers against, pokes, rubs, elbows, or otherwise touches me, I will crawl right out of my skin. I get sick of cooking the food, that no one eats, which dirtys a dish that I have to wash, and in doing so, no one ever needs a thing until my hands are wet and I for the thousandth time in 30 minutes dry off to go to the rescue of a hungry child that wants me to fix them some food. And all of this, alllll of these little moments where I’m like a boiling pot who’s lid is rattling with steam, and once I reach that point, the moment the lid blows off, it all comes out as anger. My anxieties translate to anger. My tiredness translates to anger. My exhaustion translates to anger and suddenly I’m the mean mom who feels immediately guilty the second I take that pot off the burner, and I shame-spiral down the rabbit-hole of all the things I should be doing. And it paralyzes me. Instead of doing all the things, I do none of the things. Because a pot that doesn’t stress about the dishes, or dust, or laundry… never boils.

I’m finally seeing that instead of thinking about the things, the exhaustive list of things, I could be doing and just picking one and doing it. And once I started doing that, instead of struggling to get all the laundry done RIGHT NOW, or waiting for a day that I would have time to do it all, I started focusing on just getting all the laundry to the laundry room. And instead of trying to have every room of the house clean, all the time, I worked on getting all the things laying around to the right room or, if I was really ambitious, the right spot. If it all felt to be too much, I’d set the timer on my phone, plug those little children in to ABC Mouse (I would like to print on a t-shirt “It’s ABC Mouse, not YouTube, mind ya business” when someone glares at my child on my phone), plop their butts on the bathroom floor, and take a shower. When I was pregnant with my first, a wise woman told me to never underestimate the power of a shower to make you feel like a new person, and please take heed in this nugget of wisdom. It’s true. And if when I passed a mirror and shrieked at the zombie that resembled me in my reflection, I would spray on a quick coat of $10 drug store spray tan and await for the sunkissed goddess to emerge, (or insert here whatever other form of “self-care” people without opaque skin do for themselves). 

But the point is, at that moment, if I noticed something that needed done, I just did it. I stopped telling myself “sure I need to pick up the shredded kleenex from the puppy that I needed like a hole in the head, BUT the dishes also need done so I can cook supper so clearly this task isn’t that important right now”. In a fire, no flame is hotter than the next. If you don’t tend to it, you’re going to get burned, either way. 

And another thing, I threw making lists out the window. I always thought a list was the only way I could keep my brain straight, and if a list works for you, by all means list away. But once I started the Nike method (just do it) then I realized that a list was how I dreamed and plotted and talked about doing something, without really, actually doing it. Even if I think I should be doing the dishes or should be folding laundry or should be hyper-organizing the children’s toys that WILL be destroyed in .45 seconds, my only focus was the fire in front of me and nothing else. 

Don’t get me wrong, it all seems like it’s on fire some days. My whole entire house, and offspring, and even right down to the inside of my eyelids feels like one big, screaming “get the hose” fire. How do you even know where to start? Good Lord, I spent 4 years eye-balling the scene, trying to find juuust the right spot to start. I’m here to tell you, with confidence, it doesn’t exist. You will never find it. You will stare, and survey, and “prepare” until the fire consumes you. And, believe me, when 8 p.m. rolls around and you realize all you did was think about doing things, that can boil the last drop of water right out of the pot. Exhausted. Drained. Nothing left to give. Ka-put. 

It’s not that I don’t want all these things that I have- that I prayed someday to have. I’m just tired. And exhausted. And sometimes all the time unsure of what I should do next. My mind won’t let me waiver, not even for one second. If I were to admit that it all can be a bit too much, my biggest fear would be coming across as ungrateful. I’m so thankful for my children, and my husband, and my house (even it’s cobwebs) and all the things (and even the things on fire). But I have this irrational fear that you can’t be both; fulfilled and drained. And so I push on, slapping a smile on my face, or at least showing my teeth, as I blow out my candles and get ready to cut the cake. When asked, I say “some of the candle smoke got in my eye”, and “no! I’m not crying”. I wanted this party and I won’t cry, even if I want to. Because the second I say “this is a bit much” won’t it be met with “isn’t all that you wanted good enough for you?”

I’m still tackling coming to terms with this. I try to be grateful. I thank God. I thank my people that help me, that love me. But I’m not sprinkling #hashtagblessed around as evidence to the world I am, in fact, grateful. Sometimes I lash out in ways I don’t mean to, on people I don’t want to, because I don’t know how else to express that I simply cannot tread water with a fake smile any longer. My pot boileth over. And I reckon, if anyone at my party can’t see I am eternally grateful yet still overwhelmed by a life that I love, then I don’t know what to tell them except to find another party.

Someday things will be easier. I’m sure there will be less fires, but maybe not. Maybe I’ll vanquish them all, maybe I’ll kick back with a glass of tea singing “burn, baby, burn”. I don’t know how I’ll handle it then- remember? I threw planning out the window. However, I’m hoping to start expressing it all a little better. To not let my anxiety or bewilderment translate to anger, and then leave regret lingering like smoke out of a birthday candle, smogging up the room and tricking me into believing it’s like a roadblock on the path to productivity. 

And most importantly, I can talk about it. I can talk about not wanting to play dinosaurs for the 3rd time today. It doesn’t make me a bad mom. I can talk about not doing the dishes for 2 days. It doesn’t make me a bad mom. I can talk about locking myself in the bathroom for 5 minutes because if I didn’t I was absolutely going to lose the lid to my boiling pot. It doesn’t make me a bad mom. If we all would talk about the reality of having “everything we’ve ever wanted” (and spoiler alert: it’s okay to want even more), then you would see a lot of us feel the same way. Inadequate. Afraid. Steamrolled. And happy. Loved. Needed. They all go hand in hand. They all are amazing in their own right, and sometimes slightly suck, too. And it doesn’t make you ungrateful to feel it all. It makes you a human. A tired human. A tired human, who, I’m telling you, needs a 15 minute shower regroup to see everything a little clearly again. Oh, and a nap. And a fire extinguisher. And a sense of humor. We can’t do it all, and it’s alright. 

One thought on “Gratitude, On Fire

  1. Wonderful perspective of expecting too much out of ourselves! We strive and work hard to achieve our dreams only to find they come with “burdens” which we lay upon ourselves. Her wisdom tells us to enjoy the dreams and the times of chaos that come with them without the fear of everything not being in perfect order. She reminds us it is okay to feel our emotions and how to survive those moments of disquiet.

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