This weekend after a particularly harrowing morning that included, amongst other disasters, my two-year-old "playfully" biting me so that I was compelled to drop him, which then led to him rolling into a table and cutting his eye, I decided I needed a self-imposed time-out.
"I'm going to get a coffee." I told my husband.
I didn’t have to say anything else. The coffee shop is nothing if not a sacred space where I go to check emails and stare blankly at white walls while sipping copious amounts of caffeine and trying to forget the horrors of my current day to day. My husband knows I only go when I desperately need to (at least once a day).
On the walk there, I dialed up my mother, returning a call that I had been putting off all morning. As the phone rang, I promised myself I would not report how chaotic things had been, but instead, channel an inner calm that is, at most times, all too foreign to me, and try to manifest that calmness into reality. Everything is great I would tell her. We're just enjoying a quiet weekend at home.
“Wesley split his eye open.”
The words were out of my mouth before she’d finished saying hello.
I heard her sigh on the other end of the line. “Again?” she asked.
I nodded, knowing she couldn’t see me, and gnawed on one of my fingernails.
“How’s Bea?” she asked.
My eight-month-old daughter is getting over pneumonia and requires breathing treatments 3x a day.
“Just fine,” I said. “Recovering, I think.”
I didn’t mention the explosive diarrhea that is an unfortunate side effect of the antibiotics she is taking or the hours of crying that I assume is a result of the double ear infection. Just fine. Everything is fine. Quiet weekend.
“Where are you?” she asked. “On your way to the coffee shop?”
And just like that, I was called out—right in the middle of my escape attempt.
“I just needed a quick break,” I said.
“You better get home,” she continued, “or something terrible is going to happen.”
Let me stop for a minute and fill you in on the fact that my mother is a notorious alarmist, and because she is the one that raised me, I tend to be a bit of the same. A couple of weeks ago a news story came out about a nanny in New York who had some sort of mental collapse and killed the children she was taking care of. It was one of those horrific nightmare stories that make you physically ill and then stays with you long after the media has moved on. I’d read something about it on facebook and promptly turned my computer off. I have enough anxiety as it is. My mother, however, called to tell me all about it as soon as she had heard.
“DO NOT leave the house while your sitter is there,” she said. “You can’t trust anyone else to watch your children!”
When I told her I didn’t want to hear the gory details, she cut me off with a lengthy description of the neighbor’s report that the mother’s screams could be heard throughout the building.
“Your children are only safe when your eyes are on them.”
And the thing is, she’s right (in my case, they are safer when my eyes are on them, whether they are ever really safe is up for debate, but I don’t want to get hung up on semantics). It’s just a matter of what level of risk I’m willing to take for a much needed breather. How terrible is terrible? What’s the worst that could happen while my husband is watching them and I’m staring at walls for an hour?
“I don’t care how hard it is,” my mother was saying, “they are at an age where you simply cannot check out.”
By this point, I had arrived at the coffee shop, ordered my latte to go, and was mournfully making my way back home. When I heard the screaming, I was still a couple of houses away. The voice was loud and easily identifiable.
“What did you do?” My husband was shrieking. “How much did you drink?”
Even before I made it into our kitchen, I knew what was happening. My son, the afore mentioned two-year-old who had earlier cut his eye on the coffee table, was standing there in his diaper, hysterically crying. My husband was shaking an almost empty bottle of Children’s Advil at him. Bea was sitting on the floor in the kitchen, watching, wide-eyed.
“It was for my booboo,” Wesley screamed. “Medicine for my eye!”
He pointed to his cut and grimaced, illustrating his point.
“We need to take him to the hospital,” I said, trying to stay calm.
“No!” Wesley screamed. “No hospital!”
We called Poison Control, and a very lovely lady there informed me that he could have finished the entire bottle and the worst that might happen would likely be a tummy ache. I guess the concentration is low for just this reason.
“He’s going to be okay,” she said, “at least for today.”
I laughed. For today. The truth is, I was too upset to cry.
Wes had used his potty stool to climb up on the counter and into the box of meds I had left out earlier in the day. He popped the cap off the bottle because I hadn’t screwed it on tightly enough the last time I’d given him some. So yes, essentially, this whole disaster was my fault.
And yet again, my alarmist mother was right. You don’t get breaks when you’re a mom, because, let’s face it, no matter how hard you try to do everything right, something terrible is always about to happen—whether it’s your fault or someone else’s, being a parent is living from one crisis to the next and every day you get to go to bed with all family members intact—or at least mostly intact—well it’s both a miracle and a victory.
Recently, I read an article that admonished parents to let their children fail. The author maintained that while watching said failures might be the hardest thing you’ve ever had to do, it will also be the most valuable lesson you can give them—learning how to fail with grace. And even though I’m thirty-five years old, and already a parent myself, failing with grace is something I’m still trying to master. Thankfully, these days, I get plenty of practice, and so far—or at least for today—everyone’s okay.
CARLY KIMMEL is the managing editor at http://www.thenervousbreakdown.com/
She holds an MFA in creative writing from UC Riverside and a BA in English from UC Santa Cruz. She lives in Los Angeles, California with her much funnier husband, Jonathan and their two small children, Wesley and Beatrix. You can find her on Twitter @carlykimmel