Thursday, January 28, 2016

Insomnia and the Stay at Home Mother

Published @  December, 2015

I told a friend of mine the other day, that just as the saying goes, “You don’t know what you can do until you try,” there should also be one that says “You don’t know what you CAN’T do until you try.”  This summer, I learned what I can’t do.  I can’t be a stay at home mother to my two children.  Physically, I can, but mentally, not so much.  I can stay at home with one child.  I could do that for a while (and did this summer, much to my surprise, succeed in staying home with my 3 year old with no mental detriment to either of us).  But staying home with both of my children was altogether too difficult a thing for me to master.
I have mentioned this to other mothers my age, with kids of similar ages, and gotten lots of different responses, but without a doubt, it is always the mother who hasn't done it, who sighs and says "But that's the holy grail!"  I smile and say that I guess it isn't for me.
The funny thing about all of this, is that this shouldn't have come as a surprise. I have always loved working, and have never been great with needy people.  This is not the best of all possible combinations for a stay at home mother.
And yet, when I couldn't do it, and up until very recently, I viewed it as a massive failure.  Deep in my mind, where my nagging insecurities hold sway over all else, I couldn't help but hear the chant of "bad mother...bad mother."  Did it mean that I didn't love them enough?  That they were somehow getting the shortest end of the stick by being my children?  I have wanted to be a mother for my whole life, waited, getting more and more frustrated to meet the man who would be the father of my children, and here I was.  I had achieved the dream!  I had the husband and the son and the daughter.  I had the house in the town where I grew up, near parks and playgrounds.  But it somehow wasn't enough for me. Or maybe it was too much.   
This whole issue came as a surprise to me.  I am a person who believes that she can do everything.  With a little practice, I feel that I can be at least average at anything I set my mind to.  When the daycare called and said that we could take my son out for the summer, with his place for the fall intact, I jumped at the chance.  I don’t often get to be the one bringing money-saving news to my husband.  There was a tiny seed of doubt digging itself in in that aforementioned part of my brain, but I easily ignored it, as summer was months away, and I am his mother, after all.  This should come naturally.  We went ahead and signed my daughter up for camp for the month of July, leaving me with both children for two weeks (yes, only two weeks…how could I fail at that?), before we took a family vacation, and then we all went back to school and work. 
After a few weeks of summer passed, and Josh and I fell into an easy routine of lazy mornings, and swimming afternoons, I was feeling pretty good.  I could do this.  I was doing it!  But in the evenings, that tiny seed of doubt began to grow.  I would pick Abby up from camp, and the fighting would begin.  But, I rationalized, camp was tiring.  She has always been difficult when tired.  This did not foreshadow anything.  I stomped on that larger shoot of doubt.  We would be fine.
As the impending weeks grew closer, I tried to plan a couple of day trips.  But if the whole point of this exercise was to save money, I couldn’t justify more than a couple.  Okay.  We would all just go to the pool in the afternoons.  We could continue the schedule Josh and I had already grown used to.  But Abby did not want to go to the pool. When I took her, she got cold too easily and too quickly.  She wanted to do indoor things.  She wanted to stay home.  She wanted the iPad.  Josh wanted to go to the pool.  He wanted to blow bubbles.  He wanted the iPad.  It got to the point that the night before, with no activities planned, I would start to get anxious.  I would lie in bed, awake, so awake.  I am an insomniac by nature, but never to this extent.  Once a year, I go through a three-day streak of sleeplessness.  But this was ridiculous.  Every night, the same thing.  Even when a doctor prescribed sleeping medication, I couldn’t sleep.  This was unheard of!  What’s odd is that I wasn’t lying there thinking about, or worrying about my kids.  One night I just couldn’t get “The Golden Girls” theme song out of my head.  Other nights I grew angry listening to my husband snore.  I moved to the couch, but there were so many sounds, and there was light everywhere.  But most nights it was just blankness, and no sleep.  I knew it was anxiety when my heart started speeding up the minute I lay down.  But I still didn’t tie it to my children.  And, rapidly, things got worse.  Because now, I wasn’t just trying to entertain my children for 12 hours a day, but I was doing it on one or two hours of sleep.  I was shaky, and short tempered.  I felt sick much of the day.  Everything made me angry.  Sounds and smells were intensified.  I screamed at Abby for dragging her feet in the grocery store.  The scraping sound was making me crazy.  It filled my brain.  She seemed confused.  I can’t blame her. 
Finally I went to a sleep specialist. 
He made me cry.  I hadn’t really done that yet.  He made me talk.  I hadn’t done that either.  He asked me to point to the emotion I felt most often, and I pointed, shakily, to scared.  My finger seemed drawn there of its own accord.  And I finally admitted, “I am scared…all of the time.”  He asked about my schedule.  I went through each day since I had stopped sleeping.  It was not until that moment that I realized that the insomnia started when I became a temporary stay at home mother to my two children.  He sat with me for 2 hours.  I had expected him to tell me to try yoga, to cut out caffeine and alcohol, and to breathe deeply.  He told me to go back to work.  He told me to find me time.  He told me it was okay not to be everybody’s everything all of the time. 
I didn’t sleep better that night.  I wish it were that simple.  But a couple of nights later, when we were on vacation, and the kids were not falling asleep, I broke down crying, and really talked to my husband.  He listened, dealt with the kids, as he had been doing each and every night since this began, and finally, that night I slept. 
I cannot be a stay at home mother to my two children.  I can be a working mom (I do that pretty well), and a wife, and a teacher, and a daughter, and a person I am proud of in most respects. 

But for me, the holy grail is balance, and I'm still trying to learn that lesson.