The other day, Chris and I were talking about the images you drum up in your mind when you think of a mother (sounds like a really profound conversation on a Tuesday night, but I assure you, there was a point). We both agreed on certain terms and images – strong, nurturing, warm, safe, loving… essentially the center of a home. When I think of a mom, I think of a big, soft hug on a cold day… and there is always hot cocoa involved. Don’t ask me why… there isn’t a specific memory tied to this. It’s just the image that comes into my head. I almost always picture my parents’ room in their house in Maine when I see this image as well. It’s my happy spot – the place where I can flop on a bed and talk and know that someone will take away my pain, make me laugh, or hold me tight – even as a 32 year old.
Yesterday, in a sea of mess and chaos, as my dog yelped in pain because of her bad leg and bit my hands over and over as I tried to help her, and my child screamed and cried because the dog was crying, I started to sweat and tears rolled down my cheeks. (This after my child had slipped and fallen down five stairs in a matter of seconds before I could catch him — he’s fine, but I felt my heart drop to my feet in the moment.) I looked around desperately, wishing someone would come in and fix everything and then I realized… that someone is me. I am the one who is supposed to have an endless capacity for the tears and the pain and the love. I am the one who is supposed to make it all better and make everyone feel safe. And in that moment, I felt like my tank was empty.
Today, I drove to the vet’s office to pick up my dog who had been there for five hours undergoing testing and lab work for a limp she has had for months. I know that may seem trivial to those of you who don’t own pets, but my dog is like my child and I adore her. So when they called me and said I could come get her, but the doctor wanted to talk to me first, my stomach turned sour. Whenever people don’t want to tell you things over the phone, I assume the worst.
I took a few deep breaths and looked at Logan’s face in my rear view mirror, promising myself that no matter what the vet said, I would keep it together. Thankfully, the news wasn’t as bad as I thought. Congenital hip issues, a surgery in the future… things I can stomach and treat and handle. But as I got both the half-sedated dog and Logan back in the car, I thought to myself, “how do people do this? How do people get bad news alone and keep it together? How do moms protect their babies and their families when they have nothing left to give?” Because truth be told, a dog’s health issues, a kid who gets hurt, work stress, and a messy house are not THAT bad – some people have to deal with a hell of a lot more. It just feels like a lot when it all happens at once.
So how, as moms, as the ROCKS, do we replenish our tank of strength and patience? I guess that’s personal to each one of us. I know for me, writing, reading, music, and a chance to hit a yoga mat are all really helpful. Sometimes I don’t have time to do any of those things, but I think to myself, tomorrow is another day. I’ll do better tomorrow. But sometimes even those things aren’t enough – and I end up calling my husband while he’s at work, in hysterics, saying things are absolutely insane. Thankfully, he is a very calming person in those moments and knows how to talk me off the ledge. Once I am off the ledge and take my deep breaths, I dig as deep as I can and think, YOU HAVE TO DO THIS. You have to figure it out, you have to pull it together, you have to be the strong one. You were raised with amazing examples of how to do this and it is YOUR turn to be that safe place for someone else. So GET IT TOGETHER, MAMA. And sometimes, that tough self-love is all I need to bring things back into focus.
The long and short of this is, I think all of us have the capacity to rise to each challenge – our babies and families give us that strength. They empower us to be their advocates and their biggest fans. And that sense of purpose can you pull you through almost anything. But if you find your tank is empty, ask for help. Call someone to talk you off the ledge. Ask someone to come and help you (if that’s a possibility). Remove yourself from the situation and take a few deep breaths and come back to it when you are calm. And when you get those five minutes, write, read, sing, workout, put on Netflix, light a candle, take a bath, take a walk… whatever it is you need to clear the cobwebs and remind yourself that you can handle whatever life throws your way.