Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Wall

When I was in high school, I ran track.  I was a sprinter and ran in the 4 x 400 relay team.  The 400 is basically a controlled sprint.  You need to make sure you don't go out too fast or you'll die at the end.  Where we were in the race when I received the baton, usually dictated how fast I went out and whether or not I'd be able to hold on for the last 100 meters.  I was (still am) pretty little and I definitely wasn't very strong. I didn't have much of a kick and usually just tried to hold on till I could pass on the baton.  One of my least favorite feelings in my entire athletic career has to be the moment I would turn the corner on the last curve and hit the final straightaway.  My muscles would immediately tighten under the strain to keep up my pace.  It was like running in the water...exhausted.  It's called "hitting the wall."  A miserable experience, but strangely one I continued to do for my four year high school track career.

On Saturday at approximately 10:45pm I finally hit the wall.  I've been tired both mentally and physically in the last 2 years, but for some reason this felt different.

I pulled off yet another day of early swim practice, soccer and baseball games, a kid party (herping hike and ice cream) for A, and a big family party for both A and K's birthdays.  Prep for both parties was completely me.  Everything worked out great and people seemed to have fun, especially the birthday boy.

I was cleaning up and dumping the millionth plastic cup that someone left half-full in my living room and I just had had enough.  I sat down on the floor and sobbed.  I was so tired I didn't think I could make it upstairs to bed.  Somehow I stumbled upstairs, took out my contacts and cried myself to sleep.

The next morning we got up early for mass and continued non-stop the rest of the day with games, laundry, homework, etc.  CA stopped by after we got from mass (forgot her keys the night before) and told me as she was leaving that we need to spend more time together and that "I" need to prioritize our relationship.  She's busy too and I can't possibly be that busy.  I had nothing to say.  She just doesn't get it.  I don't think she ever will.

The day finished off with E announcing she wants to go back to individual therapy.  We went on a break in September on her therapist's suggestion because E wasn't participating (she goes to a grief group at school).  She basically used it to bitch about me and how I don't pay enough attention to her. My first reaction was panic in how I am possibly going to get her there. I can barely get through each day with our current load. My second fear is that she's just going to continue where she left off last summer and try to drag me into her sessions or use her therapist to tell me she wants more attention and doesn't understand why her needs don't always come first.  It was exhausting and awful.  It always made me feel like I was a terrible aunt and parent.  Yes, I went ahead and called her therapist.  I'm trying to be positive, but her timing was strange and she can be very manipulative.  The focus switched away from her this week (no prom) and just like M's fake illnesses her ability to express her insecurity is limited.  I'm hopeful, but skeptical of her ultimate intentions.

I have been on the verge of crying since Saturday night.  I have been moving through my days in a fog.  Driving.  Cooking.  Trying to be normal around the kids.  I just feel like I'm failing at everything and see no end in sight.  My house is a mess.  I'm behind in laundry.  I'm doing an awful job at work.  Thank goodness both of my task leads are clueless and somehow I'm skating by.

I am also so sick of constantly asking for help.  It sounds silly to complain about help.  Asking for help is something that is really hard for me to do and I have to do it every single day.  Even getting the help feels like work because I still have to figure out all the logistics.  I feel guilty about needing the help and the fact that we can never act self sufficiently is suffocating at times. 

I think I've finally hit the wall.  We have been running a marathon and there is no end in sight.  The emotional and physical needs of the kids are completely overwhelming.  Even Harriet (my therapist) on Monday was at a loss.  I feel indulgent sitting here typing this out when I still have laundry to switch over to the dryer and lunches to make.

I am tired in every fiber of my being. I don't feel strong enough to finish this race.  At least in the 400 relay I could pass the baton off to someone else.  Unfortunately, it's all me and I am struggling. Sigh.


  1. Praying for you lovely. xxx

  2. Oh, Peg. My heart goes out to you.

    I won't say I know what you're going through, but you describe it so well I feel like I do.

    I can offer suggestions based on my experience during my husband's deployments, maybe something among them will prove useful, so here they are:

    I think the hardest stretch for me a few years ago was a couple of weeks after our son was born and my husband shipped out again and I was on my own as the girls just turned five and three. I was a physical wreck after the C-section, functioning on no sleep, trying to get one kid off to school and care for the other one who still wasn't potty trained all day, and failing at everything. No family around, no close friends in the neighborhood--it was awful.

    So the first thing I can say is it will get easier. It just will. As the kids mature and things change it won't be all on you the way it is now. It feels like it in the moment when tomorrow looks just as impossible as today, but it won't always be that way.

    Set the bar lower. I like a clean house, I like to make nice meals and run the parties, I like to do all the stuff it feels like good moms should be doing and under the right conditions it's fun. But when it all got too hard here I turned to paper plates and cereal bars and take out pizza. I had to let certain messes go. As long as the front room was presentable I had to tell myself that was enough because it was all I could handle. Do parties where someone else has to clean. I didn't want to do my daughter's party at Chuck E Cheese, but during my husband's second deployment it was like a miracle to have a party and walk home to an undisrupted house.

    I'm sorry about the people who just don't understand. It's a testament to how much you really are able to accomplish that others don't see your struggle. I had to deal with people wanting to express their frustrations about the war that left me shaken and in tears because they just couldn't get that for me it was about my husband's safety, not some animated discussion. Someone says you are not doing enough either ignore them or do the run down of your schedule and ask them to see where you are supposed to squeeze anything in.

    Asking for help is hard. It was nearly impossible for me, but there were times I did it. Other people really don't get this, but arranging help is stressful and sometimes not worth it and most of the time I did without. My first instinct would be to find carpool solutions to all those practices and sports things. And when feeling so not self-sufficient was getting me down, I'd just promise myself in the future in a calmer place that I could be the one to offer help. And now I do.

    And not that you haven't probably done this or thought of it, but the kids are old enough to do more. My 10 year old empties the dishwasher, and I've been teaching her how to cook. She can make a dinner of cube steak and mashed potatoes for everyone, and did it this weekend when their dad was out of town and I couldn't get home in time. The 5 year old is in charge of picking up the living room in the evening before bed. The 8 year old clears the table at every meal. I was doing everything and feeling taken for granted and we finally laid down the law about some chores and it's working well. Not perfect, but better. If tasks are clear and simple kids can do them.

    Sorry this is so long. And I don't know if any of it helps. But I'm thinking of you and hoping for the best.

    1. Thanks as usual for such a thoughtful comment.

      I've tried to get the kids to step up a bit. The laundry bins (they put their own stuff away) has helped. They clear the table, get their own drinks at dinner, etc. I can rarely get E to help with anything. With her swim schedule and homework she basically comes home and holes away in her room doing work. On weekends I can sometimes get her to start a load of laundry or help prep for dinner. If she helps feed some of kids if I'm off driving one of them somewhere she'll text me nonstop to inform me what she's done (for praise) or ask silly questions. I can barely get M to do basic things for herself (bath, get homework done, etc.) Simple instructions with her are often overwhelming. If the girls don't do much, the boys get resentful (especially D) and complain. When E starts to drive that should help.

      I do let a lot go around the house. Most days I've been able to deal but for some reason I've just had enough. I'm tired of the clutter. I just can't find the time or the energy to do something about it. I guess I just feel stuck.

      Many a come to Jesus meeting with everybody might clear the air a bit and I can get them to step up some. I also tend to feel a bit guilty when I ask too much of them given the crap they deal with. Everyone, not just me, is still struggling wiht all of this, but at least I'm an adult. They are just kids.

      Not sure I've articulated it well enough. I am just tired. Plain old tired. I feel like I'm missing out on the fun part of life and forgetting to stay in the moment with them and just enjoy being their mom/aunt. This is a pity party post, but it's where I'm at right now. Writing it out somehow helps.

    2. You articulate it amazingly, painfully well. And this is your spot to vent so vent away. It's just hard not to want to help from out here, even if we can't, really. You're doing better at all of it than you know. Really.

  3. I ran the 4x4 relay as well as the 400 and 800. I know that wall well. I can totally understand what you're saying here--it's a fantastic analogy, for what it's worth.

    I feel like such a whiny baby now for my self-indulgent post Sunday, after reading this. I think the takeaway is we're all human and we can all only deal with so much before we do finally hit that wall.

    Are the older kids able to pack their own lunches? If so, they could pack for the rest of the family. Is buying lunch an option? I know our private school had lunches brought in so you could either pack or buy. My mom used to give me money at the beginning of the week for lunch and I could either pack my own lunch (and pocket the money) or I could buy. I LOATHE packing lunches (still do to this day but do it because I have to) and would take the money and run with it. :o)

    You are now a team and as such, the rules have changed. A come to Jesus may be just what you ALL need. Maybe coming into the meeting with a clear set of objectives ("These are the things that need to be done around the house, you are old enough and responsible enough to take care of them, I'm tired of carrying the entire load, which of these chores do you find least objectionable?" and divvy them up). An honest assessment of how things are going and what needs to improve and how to go about making that happen. You are Team (insert your last name here) and in order to be successful, you all have to work together.

    Isn't it funny how it's so much easier to give advice when you're not the one living the life?

    Are you taking care of you and your needs? I ask because I know if I'm not taking care of me, everything is so much worse. Make time for you. Get out and move--I know you need to--if you're not. Sure, when are you going to find the time, but really, more importantly, is that time out doing something for you more important that hitting that wall? I'd rather take my thirty minutes to hour in CW and let the house go to wrack and ruin (and believe me, Ellie has demolished the school room) than stay in and do what I'm "supposed" to do. Who says I'm "supposed to" do it anyway?

    I'm rambling, aren't I? Sorry. :oS My prayers are with you, Peg. Hang in there.

    1. Thanks Rach! I am certainly not taking the best care of myself. I think I'm in a pretty big rut and just don't have it in me lately to get out.

      I know I've said it before, but our situation is just so complicated. Practical decisions can often have entirely different emotional ramifications. Throw in stress, grief, ADHD, and anxiety disorder, and it sometimes feels insurmountable....lately it has felt like that most of the time if I'm honest.

      Ultimately, I just want them to have a happy childhood. I want to enjoy their childhood as their mommy/aunt.

      Thanks as always for listening.

    2. Oh and the kids "buy" on Thursdays and Fridays and E makes her lunch every day...she won't let me "touch" her lunch unless she's tired after swimming and I offer. Lunches wouldn't be that big of a deal if I didn't wait until after finishing work (around 11pm) to make them. The nights I try to get them done before I start work are bliss...that only if I can get all the goombas to bed without fussing of course :)

  4. Oh Peg, You've been running a marathon for several years now - no wonder you are tired. You go to therapy regularly, you are self-reflective, your feelings seem valid. So I don't think this is a case of you over-reacting or anything like that.

    You are tired. You have a lot to do.

    And I think the only way to get un-tired is for things to change. Here are my brainstormed ideas. I know you might read these and think "Oh, but we can't do that, for XYZ reason" but something has to give. If you wind up in a mental institution or in the hospital suffering from exhaustion, you're going to be no good to anyone:
    1. The kids have to give up an activity.
    2. Hire a college student/old teenager to help with driving on the weekends.
    3. Stop having your extended family over to your house.
    4. If people want to spend time with you, invite them over and fold laundry while you chat
    5. Hire an organizing company or a good house-keeper to help you keep the house in order. They may be able to suggest systems that you haven't thought of yet.
    6. Then have a house-keeper once or twice a week in the mornings after everyone is at school. Yes, it sounds indulgent. But while the house-keeper is doing the breakfast dishes and the laundry, you can be managing other household stuff (paperwork, tidying up, etc.) or (gasp) working at the job you get paid for !!!
    7. Family coach ? Someone who can look at your routines/systems and help you tweak them. There was an article in the Wash. Post magazine a couple years about people who do this (I've actually done it for a couple friends of mine) too. One of the things I suggested to a friend is that if she runs the dishwasher after dinner and then empties it before she goes to bed, she can then load it throughout the day the next day so there are never dirty dishes in the sink.

    Most of all, please, please give yourself a pat on the back for all the good things you are doing.

  5. Hugs Peg. I don't have any ideas that haven't already been proposed by other commenters, but just wanted to let you know that I'm reading and that I hope that tomorrow feels better than today did.

  6. I sure have sympathy for your situation. Trying to be everything for everyone is exhausting, especially when you have so many people grouped in that "everyone" category. Others have great suggestions, my only addition is to try to make several lunches or portions of lunches for each kid at a time. The weeks that go best for me are when I make a bunch of veggie containers to last the week. Every night, pull one out and add to the lunch. voila! Sandwiches can get icky too far in advance, but fruit works this way, too. I love to chop up a big cantaloupe or pineapple and scoop it into containers ahead of time. Tupperware is my friend.

    thinking of you. try to hang in there and find a few more you minutes.

  7. ((huge hugs for you)). Of course you're exhausted.

    A tool you might want to try is family meetings. There is a great description of how to do this in the book "Honey, I Wrecked the Kids." You probably don't have time to read the whole thing, but skip to the last chapter on family meetings.

    Start simple -- everyone gathers (it's voluntary to attend), and you have a chair and a secretary. Parents should start out chairing, but then you can rotate when people learn how. The first agenda item is "appreciations and encouragement", and you go around and say what you appreciate about each other. The second agenda item is "scheduling" and you just go through what are on people's schedules for the week, and hopefully find out things like "I need a tri-fold board for my science project" in advance of the night before. Start just with that. Eventually, it can be a space to address conflicts or issues, but just gathering as a family at a fixed time and doing "appreciations and encouragement" can shift the energy.

    Good luck!

  8. I think others have given you some great suggestions (I think my favorite is to have a college student do some of the running for you!). I'd guess that the thought of instituting them probably feels overwhelming, too. So, I have no words of wisdom. Just wanted you to know that I'm thinking of you and sending hugs and prayers.

    Oh wait, a few words of wisdom ;) Take a moment every day to just BE. It's not self-indulgent. Or, actually, I suppose it is. But that doesn't make it a bad, wrong or selfish thing. Taking care of yourself, if only for a moment, is so very important. YOU, and your needs, are so very important.

    More hugs and prayers.

    1. Thanks Becky! I tried to get in bed early last night with my book and I feel better today.

      The problem with hiring out some of the driving, especially on weekends is that what the kids really want is time with me. Those minutes in the car on the way to practice are often a time we can talk, laugh, listen to music together. For games on weekends, they just want their mom and dad/aunt/uncle there. They rarely get both, but we try to have at least one of us there. Games are usually some down time for me too when I can just sit and watch/cheer. Hiring someone out also entails money, trust, etc. that might be one step too far.

      As much as possible we are trying to keep our family normal. So much has been lost. The kids aren't over scheduled, there are just five sports schedules to balance, with school, therapy, tutoring, etc. I don't want the accident to affect our family life any more than it already has. Part of that dynamic is me getting to go to games and supporting them. I just want all 5 of them to have some semblance of the life they had and would have had if Jeanne and Mike didn't die.

  9. I thought of two other things.

    I wonder if you are still trying to run your family of 5 kids like you did when you had 3 kids. Would it be helpful to chat with a family with 5 kids and see if they have any advice ?
    A good friend often says that it's too hard to make a lot of changes at once. Maybe just think of 1 thing you could do this week that would make things a little bit easier . . .