Ever have one of those days where you just know you’re walking a tightrope? You know… the kind where one itty bitty little thing, no matter how stupid, is going to just pitch you toppling through space. That was me. Today. And I know when it comes down to it I have much more to be grateful for than to whimper about, but today I whimpered. Ok, I bawled my head off. I was a lip-quivering sniffling mess — and not just in the privacy of my own home. Oh no. That would be too tidy. Nope, I crumbled to sand in our church nursery and there was nothing I could do about it.
Actually, sand is a bad analogy. Unless it was soggy sand. Silt maybe. Guess I didn’t really crumble either. I deliquesced. Deliquesced into silt. What? Don’t look at me like that… sounds better than ’shlumped into sludge’. Well, it does to me anyway. Eight years of extreme challenges in our life, and you would think I would have been able to hold it together until we got home, but no. Not today. Today I fell to pieces. In public.
And I felt that panic again… Like I was going to drown in dry air if I didn’t get away from the faces. Watching. Assessing. Wanting to help me but not knowing how. I couldn’t have told them how if they had asked. Because I couldn’t even help myself. Except by running. So I ran. Home. Kyle and I. We ran home and I cried.
This morning started so well… so full of potential. I had been planning since Friday. I ironed clothes, packed the diaper bag, found shoes. I made dinner ahead for Saturday evening since I would be working all day. I came home Saturday after a ten hour shift and fed and bathed children. Got them to bed on time, stories read, lullabies sung. I pretended like it would work. Told myself that if I just planned well enough, we would be fine. After five years, we would finally be able to go to Sunday school again. The first time since Jacqui had been born.
We were five minutes late. No matter what I do, how I plan, set the clocks… we’re always five minutes late. It drives me crazy, because before children, I was the sort who was always ten minutes early. But being late wasn’t what did it. I was still OK. I took Jacqui to her class… she was so excited! And I verified that no snacks would be served… so far so good. Then we went to drop Kyle off in the nursery. Something I have avoided for a host of reasons. Most of them ones I never talk about. Because if I don’t talk about them, I can pretend they aren’t real. If I don’t name them, they don’t exist. Nothingness. A wind in the door.
But ‘Let’s Pretend’ doesn’t always work in public. And today it didn’t. Not a bit.
I set Kyle down and put the diaper bag on the shelf. Kyle sat down to play as I signed him in and checked out a pager. I started to sign out the number… 13. I’m really not superstitious, but I switched it for one numbered 18. Just because. Kyle noticed I was leaving and started to howl. “He’ll be fine,” I tried to tell myself, “Just fine”. But my stomach knotted, telling me a different story… whispering to me words of sanity, “Yes, but maybe he won’t…” So I went back in and distracted him with a toy before slipping out again. At least chances were better now. I hesitated a moment… wondering if I should turn back and launch into a warning with it’s accompanying explanation. Would it be making too big of a deal of it? Or would it be best just to let it go? Say nothing… no one ever really believed it unless they saw it anyway. I stood there a few more moments, waffling with indecision and then quietly left.
I met up with Ken in the adult class. There were two seats left. Up front. As I slid back into my metal folding chair, I felt it. The buzz of my pager. I felt ill. I rushed back down the stairs to the nursery… and there it was. The answer to five years of the question, “But, why not?”. There stood my precious screaming son and the dear lady staffing the nursery, our friend. Covered in puke. Literally covered. Both of them. Head to toe. I’ve seen five years of it, and I still can’t comprehend how that much puke can come out of such a teeny little person. Kyle’s vest, shirt, and pants were drenched. They dripped as I pulled them off, answering my friend’s query as to whether I had a change of clothes for him in the negative.
You’re shocked that I forgot a change of clothes? Well don’t be. I didn’t forget. I left them at home. Deliberately. Willing it not to happen. Knowing if it did, that I would long for a reason to flee to the sanctuary of home.
I cleaned him up as I apologized. I hadn’t thought about him throwing up on her. I guess because Ken and I have become so adept at dodging, that we rarely get caught in the line of fire. And now I felt awful. Not just for my child, but for her — kindly and calmly assuring me that she was just fine as she stood there coated in my child’s puke. I offered to staff the nursery while she went home and changed. She was so gracious, said that her husband could come down and watch the children for her, that it was no big deal. Maybe Kyle just had the flu she suggested. Oh, if only. I asked her if he had been eating anything, had he gagged? No. Had he been crying hard? Well, yes… but he had already calmed down by the time he had thrown up. I could see it puzzled her, but it didn’t puzzle me. It was classic Jacqui and Kyle. Work yourself up crying, then the minute you’ve calmed down, puke till your shoes come up. In Kyle’s defense, he’s tame compared to Jacqui’s infant puke prowess… she was ten times worse. At a minimum.
My friend continued to express concern that Kyle was sick, that it wasn’t just a normal spit-up. And she was right it wasn’t. Not normal, but at our house, commonplace. And so I explained. Just a little. And with the explanation came the tears. The ones I stuff down. The ones I shove into that black space of vacuity somewhere within myself where I shove such things. Things which daily threaten to deprive me of my last shreds of sanity. Out came those tears in a threatening trickle. Nails dug deep into damp palms. A tourniquet to the torrent.
And then came the sympathetic hug. I loved her for it, but it was my undoing. I liquefied as I rushed to stuff the diaper bag full of sodden clothes and Kyle into borrowed ones. And then I ran. Cradled my darling, rancid baby in my arms and ran. Pulled into our driveway, stepped out onto the walk in my black, budget-buy heels and ran. Locked the door, shedding diaper bag and shoes, pointed my body up the stairwell and ran. Turned the corner, holding Kyle tightly as tears began falling in great, weighty drops, faced down the hall and ran.
And then I sat. Crushing him to me at the foot of the crib where countless tears had already been shed, I cried some more. For so many reasons. For confusion amidst my tumultuous thoughts. For frustration with myself over not being able to keep it together. For panic over being caught emotionally vulnerable. For disgust at my weakness, or perhaps my vanity, causing me to even care about such trivial nonsense. For the teeniest bit of resentment that so much of my life revolves around the management of puke and poo. For guilt over that sliver of resentment. For longing for my children to be healthy. For injustices of all that they have had to endure. For my fears for Kyle as I run out of time that I can rationally agree with physicians that his problem will resolve on it’s own. For disillusionment of my admittedly ridiculous determination to parent Kyle completely through childhood and adolescence medically unscathed. For despair of the equally ridiculous hope that I will one day be able to enter a room without smelling like rancid dairy products. For exhaustion. For emptiness. For defeat. For feelings of failure. Failure as a parent, wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend. For failing to be able to be there for anybody except my family. For the times I’ve failed at even that. For failing to live up to my full potential. Failing to allow those in my care to reach theirs because I haven’t lived up to mine. For the feeling that somehow, this morning happened because I miscalculated somewhere… missed something. Failed.
I had my cry and I chose to not be defeated by panic and fear. I cleaned Kyle up, re-fed him, and put him in a new set of his own clean clothes. I accepted reality and stuffed a spare set into the diaper bag. I washed my face and re-touched my make-up, despairing at my reddened nose and watery eyes. I folded the loaned set of clothes, picked them up and then walked Kyle back to the car and drove my escape route in reverse. I walked back into church. Walked back to the nursery and returned the loaned clothes. Walked back up the stairs to the balcony listening to the sounds of the service that had already started. Walked with my family to the back row of the balcony, where we always sit out of necessity and spent a few fleeting moments together before Kyle started to fuss. Then I walked with Kyle to the Cry Room, a room designed to allow mothers to listen to the service while wrangling fussy infants, and we sat. And I laughed. I laughed as I cried. A pathetic, watery laugh over the irony that here we were in the infant Cry Room, and I was the one crying. Silly, I know.
And now we’re home again. The washing machine faithfully keeping up it’s five year vigil. So now what? Well, I guess now I’m going to piece this mess I have made of myself back together so I can do it all again tomorrow. Hopefully with a better attitude. Might as well give that a try since I’m beginning to annoy myself with this whole crying gig. Takes to much energy anyway. Energy that I really don’t have to waste on such nonsense.
I have the kids in bed for the night and I sent Ken out to watch a movie so he could have some recuperative alone time instead of having to sit here watching me unravel and then knit myself back together. Doesn’t do either one of us any good. I can always see the relief in his face (an expression that always makes me chuckle) when I openly acknowledge that I am non compos mentis and then send him on a mission to stay out of my path until I can claw my way back to a more rational level of existence. So he has gratefully vacated the premises. And I have ordered my thoughts. I believe that a nice hot bath is now in order as I hear the heavy whispers of sleepy breaths over the kiddo’s monitors. And after that… a well worn volume penned by L.M. Montgomery has been awaiting my undivided attention. It’s been ages since my last visit she is an old friend who never fails to disappoint. I am determined to end the day on a positive note and I know she’s a guarantee.