I went to therapy after work this afternoon. I'm seeing a new therapist, and while our first session was a fairly brutal recap of my life up to this point, today was more focused on present-day challenges. Specifically, this morning's mad dash to get to the kids to school on time and the absolute beating I gave myself over it.
I've written before about what our mornings are like. It isn't a single mom thing; it isn't a working mom thing, either. I once posted on Facebook that my walk of shame as a stay-at-home mom was having to get out of the car wearing pajama pants and slippers to escort a tardy child up the sidewalk and into the school office to sign in. We are a hot mess in the mornings more often than not. We just are.
I gave my therapist the general overview of this morning and told her about the anxiety and stress that lingered after the door slammed behind my son at drop off, cutting off my sincere-but-harried, "I love you, buddy!" He wasn't actually late--neither was his sister--but the mounting panic as the minutes ticked by had my heart racing. As I turned onto the street that would take me to my office, I said out loud in the now-silent car, "You are SO irresponsible!"
And with that, the floodgates opened. Everything I have ever procrastinated, every speck of dust and stray dog hair that needs to be wiped or swept from my house, every unpacked box and clean-but-not-yet-folded load of laundry, every unsent thank you note and unfinished errand and forgotten task and dinner that consisted of a bowl of cereal or frozen pizza--all the damning evidence that I am SO irresponsible!--rose up into an angry mob of accusation right there in the car with me and buckled themselves in as my passengers all the way to work. The photo at the top of this post probably looks like my youngest playing soccer to you; when I look at it, I remember that we showed up at soccer practice without her ball and had to borrow the green one from the coach. The look of reproach on her face when we realized she didn't have her ball was pretty much the same look I gave myself in the mirror when I checked my lipstick before getting out of the car in the office parking garage. I tried to shake it off and hit the restart button as I walked to my desk, but at 5:15pm as I sat in the chair across from my therapist and told her about it, all the condemnation and shame showed up again with a vengeance.
As I talked, I told her the worst part is that I know better. I realize it's a herculean task to raise young human beings and somehow keep all of us fed, clothed, housed, mostly healthy, and maybe even a little bit happy. And I know I sometimes manage to summon a measure of grace: in the middle of the whirlwind this morning, I looked back at my daughter in her carseat, which she will no longer need after this year, and told her how much I appreciated her cooperative, pleasant attitude in spite of the rush. The other day when my son was taking for-effing-ever to get his baseball gear together (which I asked him to do the night before), instead of yelling at him for making us late, I swallowed all my frustration and asked gently, "How can I help you?" He asked me to put his helmet in the bag and zip it up, and we were in the car 30 seconds later. I know I am doing the best that I can at any given moment, and I know life is like this sometimes.
My therapist let me get to the part where I acknowledged the inner critic that sounds so much like a few people I know who don't like me very much, people who once took sick pleasure in pointing out every flaw and mistake I made. I worked hard to get out from under their microscope, and I swore I would never give them any power over my life again, yet every time I come up against some real or imagined imperfection, they come out from wherever they lurk in my psyche to gloat. I know that is a problem and an obstacle to continued healing and progress. I told her that's part of why I'm back in therapy. She nodded yes and told me to go on.
She let me tell her what I knew about self compassion and about speaking to myself in the same gentle way I spoke to my son when he needed help, or offering myself praise for the things I do well like I gave my daughter for being cooperative and pleasant. She asked me to imagine my best friends riding in the car with me to work instead of the ghosts of all my failures and made me actually say out loud the things I thought they might say to me in those moments.
She asked me what I liked about myself, what I know I do well, and made me come up with something to counter the charge that I'm irresponsible and whatever else the inner critic decides to throw at me. "I'm doing the best I can" didn't pass muster; she said she wanted me to remind myself of something I AM, not something I do, since the things I do can change. So we made a list, and I left feeling a little bit lighter in that way that comes from dealing with hard things head on.
I am loving.
I am faithful.
I am hopeful.
I am creative.
I am growing.
(I'm also setting my alarm for ten minutes earlier and putting a timer on my son's shower in the morning. We'll get there.)
Mother, photographer, writer. Expert in making things up as she goes and figuring things out along the way.