The title of this blog post is from an actual text I sent some of my girlfriends this summer. If there’s something that sums up my summer, it’s probably that text. By August, I was so exhausted that the idea that I had to do one more thing for my kids was just too much. So, as I sat watching Tommy eat an ice cream cone that was bigger than his head, I thought, “dear God, please don’t let him throw up. If he does, I’m going to have a mental breakdown.”
And hence, this text.
My friends all laughed and offered encouragement, because that’s what friends do. They knew I didn’t actually have suicidal thoughts over potential vomit, but they also knew that this summer has not been easy. It’s been hell.
I want to be clear here. It hasn’t been hell for my kids. In fact, I think they’ve basically had a great summer. They’ve seen all of their cousins on both sides and they’ve spent the rest of the time having sleepovers and pool parties. Claire made cupcakes and waffles and other treats constantly. Austin played more laser tag than he’s ever played in his life. Tommy learned to swim.
There were moments with my kids where I felt pure joy – sliding down a waterslide with them or watching them laugh with their friends. Everything was not terrible. But, if I’m being real, those moments were few and far between. Most days I had a breakdown, sometimes in front of my kids. Basically every day by mid-afternoon, I had some sort of anxiety attack about parenting or just missing Shawn. And don’t even ask me how I dealt with dinner or bedtime. It wasn’t pretty. There was a lot more yelling than last summer.
“Ugh,” I said to my friend and her husband one day, “I think my kids watched like six hours of TV today.”
“Oh don’t worry about that,” the husband said, “everyone’s kids watch six hours of TV during summer days.”
It’s not true. I know that most kids are not watching that much TV. But it made me feel a little better about my lack of structure.
Still, I have plenty of guilt about my sub-par parenting and my very sub-par attitude about parenting.
I have said many times that I just want to run away from my life. I’m not sure what this says about me. I know it wouldn’t actually make my anxiety any better and that ultimately I’d really miss my kids and my friends. I don’t really want to run away from the life I’ve built. When I say I want to run away, what I want to run away from is everything that’s become awful since Shawn died. I want to run away from bedtimes by myself every single night. I want to run away from being the only one who’s truly excited that Tommy can jump off the diving board. I want to run away from the anxiety. I want to run away from the grief.
This feeling – wanting to run away – is what has made me a sub-par parent this summer. Trust me, I’m the parent you look at when you want to feel better about your own parenting. I’m the one who’s likely to give in and let them get the ice cream at the ice cream truck when they haven’t yet had lunch. I’m the one who lets the kids watch television for the entire morning, and much of the afternoon, because I just can’t handle anything else. I’m the one who serves cereal for dinner at least twice a week all summer long.
I’m sure no one cares that I’m not a great parent right now. Everyone gets it. But you know who does care? Me.
I was telling my friend Becky about this the other day. I was lamenting the many hours of TV the kids watched that day and the fact that I’d just served a dinner that came from a box. “I know you feel bad,” Becky said, “but I bet when your kids grow up and look back on this time period, they will be amazed that you were able to give them a summer with lots of good memories.”
I hope she’s right. From my perspective, the summer was a shit show and one long anxiety attack. But my kids ate ice cream and built sand castles. They got to eat cereal for dinner all the time, and they learned a lot of new Minecraft moves. They had dance parties to bad pop music and their hair constantly smelled like chlorine.
They had just one parent the whole summer, and I was not a very good one. But we made it, or at least we stumbled together across the finish line.