This essay originally appeared in our monthly newsletter for The Mom Hour podcast. To get our emails, subscribe here. –Meagan
The better part of my weekend was lovely and relaxing. I spent most of Saturday and much of Sunday with my new man friend while my younger kids were off with their dad. Around 1:00 on Sunday afternoon, I glibly created an online grocery order, applauding myself for the foresight – I’d waltz in around the time my kids were dropped off that evening, I figured, just in time to throw a quick dinner in the oven. I even threw a couple “wow” items in the cart, including a 16-pack of Eggo waffles and a can of whipped cream.
At about 5:00, just after the groceries had been delivered, Jacob texted me. “I think there’s something wrong with the freezer,” he said.
Of course I didn’t take him too seriously. If there’s anything that I, as a mom of older kids, have learned, it’s that any so-called “emergency” could actually have a variety of root causes from user error to simply inaccurate electrical diagnoses. As such, all emergencies need to be vetted with my own eyes before I bother freaking out.
Still, I did hasten my return home by about an hour, and walked in to find that not only the freezer, but the fridge were completely…warm. Not just ‘not functioning well” warm but “this appliance has not been alive for at least 24 hours” warm. Yes, friends: I ordered $150 worth of groceries to have delivered to a house without a functional refrigerator.
The kids and I kicked it into high gear, moving all the freezer items I felt could still be salvaged (sadly, that did not include several fillets of high-quality frozen wild-caught fish, an entire pork shoulder, or any of the several quarts of local peaches I’d helped pick, clean, and slice) into a cooler, while I attempted to triage the fridge contents without being overly-swayed by emotion (“But…but the EGGO WAFFLES! What about all these EGGO WAFFLES?”)
After force-feeding the kids a hearty dinner of said Eggos – because how could I survive letting $4 in frozen waffles go to waste in the light of losing $100+ in other foods? – we surveyed the damage. Maybe not as bad as I’d first feared, I thought. Many of the groceries I’d had delivered were pantry items; others, like the butter and eggs, wouldn’t go bad right away.
This morning, I woke up to a sitcom-level mountain of troubles. The electric cooler was too full and had failed to adequately cool the bacon. The kids were grumpy and slow to get up. I checked their school portals and found that, to a one, they are all “behind pace”: their virtual school experiences, which so far, if I’m honest, have been extremely disappointing, now seemed tinged with not just disappointment but danger: I’m failing my kids. Or someone is, anyway, and honestly, doesn’t the buck stop with me?
I then moved on to the stack of mail sitting on the kitchen counter, opened the water bill, and just about fell over.
Remember that toilet leak I talked about in an episode a few months ago, and how I believed it had led to a super-high water bill? Turns out, fixing it didn’t fix the problem, and my bill was even higher than last quarter – more than I sometimes spend in an entire year.
Still, what was a (mumblemumblehundred)-dollar water bill in the fact of all this other junk? I shrugged it off with something resembling aplomb, texted the landlord, and went about my day.
But then it came time to make a final decision about booking my room for our upcoming virtual retreat. After extensive (like, maybe overly extensive…) research it became clear that absolutely zero hotels in my closest big city are doing room service right now. I haven’t stayed in a hotel since January, and haven’t really missed it, but something about giving up that 9 PM club sandwich in bed while talking to Sarah bummed me out.
And friends, it bummed me out a whole lot…probably more than is really reasonable, in the face of everything else going on.
Recently I read that article about our collective “surge capacity” and how taxed it is right now (we mentioned it in a recent episode, too, so you might be familiar). The premise of the article is this: we all have an ability to deal with trauma, emergencies, and stressors when they are new and novel, and when there is a clear, present, and temporary action that needs to be taken.
But as time goes on and we become more and more removed from the original catalyst that launched us into action, we also start to lose our motivation, mojo, and mental ability to keep up with the sacrifices we’ve made and the stresses we’re experiencing. And we ARE still experiencing those stressors, and making those sacrifices, every single day…even if we no longer realize it.
We’ve been at this so much longer than we ever really dared to imagine back in March. The frayed edges are starting to show. We are hearing from so many of you via email, Instagram, and in our Facebook community: you’re missing your families, or your aging grandparents. Your little ones are getting (beyond) restless. You’re torn between showing up (online) for work and showing up (also online) for your school-aged kids. Your three-year-olds have apparently all decided to lose their damn minds at the same time. (Honestly, what IS it with three-year-olds right now?)
I think there’s something about the relentless micro-stressors we experience during an ongoing pandemic that can lead to a slightly skewed response to normal issues. Over a matter of a few hours I basically blew off the loss of hundreds of dollars in groceries, but I lost my mind over a few dollars in frozen waffles and all they represented. I had an absolutely crappy morning, including facing the music about my kids’ academic dilemmas and a ridiculous utility bill, but the thing that bothered me most was the loss of a club sandwich delivered to me in a fictional hotel room.
But here’s the thing: it’s all normal. Whatever way you – OR your kids – are responding and reacting to your current reality, whether it’s throwing a tantrum in the grocery store (you or your three-year-old, it’s all fair game) or breaking down in tears over some should-seem-slight disappointment, or reacting logically to economic stressors or work-home-school-life-politics-Zoom-infection-prevention-balance issues, it all makes sense because none of this makes any sense. Blowout diapers, toddlers, or three-year-olds are always a pain, but right now, they’re just the straw that took your surge capacity over the maximum…and that’s OK.
Here’s what I did today. First I went for a short run, because I know it always makes me feel better to move my body, even though I really didn’t want to (yes, it worked). Then I spent an hour researching the best club sandwich in Grand Rapids, Michigan, which I plan to have delivered to the Airbnb I ultimately booked for my end of the retreat.
It’s not the room service I always look forward to when Sarah and I travel together. Heck, Sarah and I won’t even be on the same side of the country when I eat it. But it feels like one small thing I can control, during a time when I can’t control much at all.
Here’s hoping you, too, can find one small moment of pleasure or satisfaction or a simple work-around to buoy up your own personal surge capacity this week.
And maybe, take a moment to pat yourself on the back for making it this far. You’re doing it, mama, and no matter how hopeless it sometimes can feel, the truth is, your surge capacity may be strained, but you’re still doing what needs to be done. Day by day. Month by month. Pandemics, tantrums, and three-year-olds, notwithstanding.