life: eat it alive



I’m a dad. I have to say, there were days when I was a pretty good dad. You know, doing dishes, giving baths, tucking munchkins into bed. Dad stuff. I believe I am deserving of some accolades. Maybe a trophy for making lunches 5 days straight. Perhaps a blue ribbon for sweeping up after dinner. You know how messy it can get. What about my name in lights for that time I got up to feed my daughter at 2am. Surely that is worthy. My girls are all grown up now, raising children of their own. I can remember, though, the feelings of inadequacy, anxiety, and doubt surrounding my ability to adequately take care of them. Was I attentive enough? Did I protect without being overly protective? Or was I a helicopter dad? What about their emotional and spiritual needs? I only get one shot at this. I have to get it right! I am pretty sure I was unaware of just how out of touch I was and how in tune their mother was. I believe it is imprinted into their DNA...this sixth sense of motherhood. Moms just have the radar. They are truly God’s gift to ankle biters. And yet, they struggle with the same concerns: inadequacy, anxiety, and doubt. My parents were married in 1951. They are in their mid-eighties now and still married. They raised 9 children. I am pretty sure mom had her share of anxiety. I remember piles of dirty laundry on the washroom floor. Literally 4 feet high. She did laundry 366 days a year. That’s not a typo….366 days a year. She counted Christmas as double time. Can’t say as I blame her. She speaks of her feelings of inadequacy, anxiety, and doubt now. I had no clue then. She was a stay-at-home-mom. How could she be anything but? Those were simpler times. Today, moms and dads log an 8-hour work day. Dad comes home, exhausted. Mom comes home exhausted. Many are greeted at the door by a babysitter and some cherubs. Dad snags a snack and a coke, slumping into his favorite chair to catch up on ESPN and the Buffalo Sabres’ latest loss at home. Mom wraps an apron around herself and starts dinner. Cue the kids’ demands. “I want a snack.” “I want to go outside.” Start any sentence with “I want…” and end with anything under the sun. The demands continue. Feeling anxious yet? At least dad is resting. I read the following story recently. I was struck by the wit and grace of this young mother. She is raising four boys (God bless her). She does what she can to snag a moment or two of relaxation where she can. The following is one of them.
“There I was. Exhausted. Emotional. Ready for a nap. I got everything lined up and had Charlie in bed and Toby sleeping on my chest. I had a bowl of juicy roast and potatoes next to me on the couch so I could eat before I drifted off into sweet, sweet slumber. After patting myself on the back for how well I planned for this nap I reached for my bowl of roast and realized I didn’t bring a utensil. In order to avoid waking Toby up I decided to lower my standards of personal dignity by eating with my bare hands. No napkin. Now I could sleep. Several minutes later I hear the squealing of tires and a minute or two after that there’s a strong knock on the door. Worried that one of the dogs jumped the fence and got hit by a car I jumped up off the couch holding Toby and answered the door. Apparently, a neighbor was gardening when an “exotic bird” perched on her shoulder and wouldn’t leave. You may or may not know this, but exotic birds aren’t native to western New York, so she realizes this is a pet. Naturally, she goes door to door to ask if anyone is missing their rose-faced love bird. Toby is awake. Charlie is awake. I am awake. The big boys will be home from school in 8 minutes.I’m not missing my bird.” Footnote: Dad will be home soon too. He will need to tune in to ESPN, so she had better get the snack and coke ready. What does one do with this kind of anxiety-producing pressure? There are a couple things you might try. First: Get help. Obviously, the first person on the list would be dad. I know it might be difficult to tear him from ESPN. He obviously does not get it (Disclaimer: Some dads do). Help him get it. A good marriage and family therapist might be able to help. Grandparents, friends, neighbors, babysitters, community programs? Are you willing to reach out for help? Albert Camus wrote: “Don’t walk behind me I may not lead. Don’t walk in front of me I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend.” We all need a friend. We cannot do it alone. In the words of Hillary Clinton: “It takes a village.” Second: Stay confident. Anxiety comes from many sources. One is self-doubt. “Am I doing this right?” No two kids are the same. The right answer for one is the wrong answer for another. Trust your mommy-instincts. Also, simplify your life and take care of yourself physically, emotionally, spiritually with no guilt. This may mean seeing your doctor or getting a therapist. Keep in mind, many therapists offer therapy via secure video technology. That way you could stay home with the cherubs. State laws vary. Lastly, keep in mind that this is temporary. That may be difficult to remember when you are up to your eyes in dirty diapers. They grow up right in front of your eyes. These difficult days could be fond memories one day.