Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
Meltdown

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You walk into the kitchen past your husband, who is happily reading a magazine while he eats three kinds of cereal and a half-gallon of milk from his Jethro-Bowdeen-sized cereal bowl. You are annoyed by his eating for no apparent reason.

When you look into the cabinet you realize there is no coffee. There is plenty of cereal, and bagels, and even a few muffins left over, because you have made sure that everyone in your family has something they like to eat for breakfast, but you. You have forgotten to buy coffee.

And the tears begin to fall, because the last time you slept more than five hours at a stretch was during the Bush administration, and because you know that you are not functioning well, and because you know you have a good life, but you feel angry anyway, and because your emotions feel out of control. The tears fall because you realize too late that you are just not very well suited to this mothering thing, and that this is not what you imagined or planned when you walked down the aisle, or when you endured months and months of humiliating infertility treatments, or when you first held your squalling infant in your arms. You remember that the squalling didn’t bother you then, but 15 years have gone by and your babies are still squalling, and it bothers you now. The squalling -- the complaining, whining, and fighting -- is normal and appropriate for children their age. You know this, but it still bothers you and you feel guilty because it bothers you. And you wonder how it can be that you can both resent them for their noise and their mess, and miss them while they are in school. Then you worry about how lonely you will feel when they are grown and gone and the house is quiet all the time. And you remember that someone has left a smelly clog in the toilet in the hall bath and no one will plunge it but you. So the tears fall into your empty cup, and onto the crusty remnants of the oatmeal breakfast your children have left on the counter for you to clean up. And you wish there was some coffee.

You feel like your husband is watching you, and you look up at him from across the kitchen to see that he is, and you find that you must cry harder, because instead of seeing compassion on his face, you see only fear. Men fear tears. Instead of coming over to you and patting you on the back, or wrapping you in his arms to tell you that whatever is wrong it will be all right, he stares at you with wide eyes and moves backward in microscopic increments, taking his cereal bowl with him, and you realize that he loves his cereal more than he loves you, and that just makes you mad. If there was ever any hope of you asking for help in a calm and rational manner, that hope is now dead, and so you screech insanely at him, because your problems are suddenly all his fault. “Can’t you see that I am exhausted? Can’t you see that the house is dirty, and the yard looks like we live in a slum, and the children went to school without brushing their teeth? Can’t you see that I’m working as hard as I possibly can and I’m falling further and further behind? Can’t you see that I am falling apart?”

He looks at you, and you can see the calculations being made behind his eyes as he attempts to formulate the correct response. And there is silence, except for the sound of the blood pounding painfully in your head, and you understand that you are addicted to caffeine. Again.

You look back at your husband, waiting for him to say something wise that will solve all your problems. You are pretty sure he’s thinking that you must be expecting your period soon, and you are absolutely sure he is too smart to say so out loud. You hate him intensely for 30 seconds because this means he does not believe your feelings are real, and therefore he is absolved from causing your feelings, which in turn means he doesn’t have to fix them. And then you forgive him, sort of, because you know your hormones are raging, that even though your feelings are real to you, they may not be real. You know you are out of control, but you just can’t figure out how to shut your mouth.

So you stand there, knowing that you look like hell, idly wondering if there are any tissues around. Of course there are no tissues, because you are the only one who buys them, and you didn’t this time. You didn’t buy any tissues. They are still at the store with the coffee. You wipe your nose with the back of your hand.

He stands and says in a measured voice, as if he is dealing with a crazy person, or a young child, “Why don’t you take a warm bath and lie down for a few hours? The girls and the house seem fine to me. I’ll call you later,” and he beats a hasty retreat out the front door.

And you realize, as you stare at the back of the door he has just closed behind him, that you have been screaming at him because he has given you the life you told him you wanted, the life where you have a house and a minivan and children and no income of your own. Then you realize that you are not only a bad mother and a bad housekeeper. You are a bad wife, too.

You decide you must ignore your husband’s advice so that you can go out to get some coffee. So, you go upstairs to clean up a little, and when you look in the mirror you look tired, like an old woman really. There are deep wrinkles around your eyes. You have cried your crow’s feet to caverns, you need reading glasses, and now you wear a size medium blouse and you worry that next year you will probably need a large. You wistfully remember a time when you could look in the mirror and see a pretty girl, and you remind yourself that that time in your life is over. You are old now, and there is no coffee.

You consider, briefly, calling a friend to meet you for coffee, and then you remember that you have been neglecting your friends, in favor of the relentless needs of your children, and that they are all probably mad at you, or have enough problems of their own, and wouldn’t want to meet you for coffee, anyway. So you abandon the idea and throw your purse and keys on the floor and lay your head down on your pillow for just one minute, to clear your head. You wake up five hours later feeling better. After a bath and a few Advil you feel almost normal.

You have a few minutes before the school bus arrives, so you sit down to check your e-mail. You get a very sweet note from your husband reminding you that in the deepest, darkest, most secret place in the pantry, there is an oversized Special Dark Chocolate Bar. “That might sweeten you up a little,” he writes. So you raid your stash, and you feel even better, and you reply to his e-mail. You apologize, you tell him you love him, and you ask him to bring home some coffee.


Amy Fleak is the married stay-at-home mother to three who writes about love, marriage, and parenting in Colorado. To read more of her writing, visit her blog, Notes from the Bored Housewife’s Club at http://nfbh.wordpress.com.


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I finished this piece turned to my husband (who is watching the latest car/bombs/babes movie) and said this person has just written my life's story.hahahhaha
I love this essay, Amy Fleak. It was, for me, like looking into a mirror and seeing my own emotional truth. Thank you for putting in the work to make this moment of truth visible. Not to mention how grateful I am to know I'm not the only one with a dark chocolate stash (90%!) in the back of the pantry! All best, Marilyn
I laughed and belly laughed and grinned as I read your fantastic piece of my life in those aching hours that lead to years. A joy to read. Thank you. Patti m Hall
OMG! I could so relate to this. Thanks for sharing and making me feel less alone in my feelings of inadequacy of not being the perfect mom, wife and housekeeper. Gasp! No coffee! Now that is a crisis for sure! Glad there was a chocolate stash at least!
Wonderful job of catching the schizophrenic emotions of loving and being loved.
Thank you for this--made me laugh and cry. Mothers of three, unite! : )
That was really great - exactly how I often feel. And I'm starting my secret chocolate stash now.
This line really resonates for me: ..."because you know you have a good life, but you feel angry anyway..." Isn't amazing how our moods and emotions can shift so radically? Sometimes I want to will myself toward positivity and gratitude and equanimity (all worth striving toward, sure) but more and more I'm realizing the negative stuff comes and goes so quickly. My goal is to not take it out too badly on family members.
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