You know better.
You know how to breathe, how to keep focus and approach with understanding over judgement. You know what things look like from her perspective. You try to remain cognizant of that. You fail more often than you succeed, and you can’t really celebrate the successes because that’s where the baseline should be.
You know better than to appear ungrateful. Come on, now.
You’ve been having one of the best weeks of your entire life. Time to stop being a miserable shit.
This week, you filmed for three days on a digital series that you wrote with your friend and writing partner. You’ve talked about it for three years, and finally you got it done. You wrote as yourselves and your friends, capturing the banter that everyone says they want to watch. You got an incredible crew, the mind-blowing talent in the room was fire, and every single person signed on for all the ridiculous you could sling into a script. They were all in. You raised $16,000 with two of the finest people you know, and you did it in 30 days. You just saw proof positive of all the people who believe in you enough to back you. You saw very clearly the people who ignored you (not the ones who couldn’t afford to support the project, but the ones who very clearly ignored you - you know the difference), and even that vision was a gift.
Hell, you went to a function that caused you physical anxiety and shaking and you made it out having had a pretty good time. People were nice, which was unexpected. Sure, you got way drunker than you meant to because of aforementioned anxiety, but you made it out ok.
One day after filming, you came home and your daughter jumped on you, clinging to your leg, saying, “Mama! I missed you! I haven’t seen you all day. Look! I’m a monkey bird.” Your husband hugged you and you both sighed into that really awesome moment of coming home to people who couldn’t wait to see you.
But your patience…oh, it sucks. Not just in the when-am-I-going-to-achieve-eternal-happiness kind of patience but the moment to moment patience. You cannot wait for people to help on a project, so you tend to do it all yourself. You just go and get it done so you don’t have to wait. You love learning, but hate when you don’t understand immediately and chastise yourself for it bitterly. Your leg never stops bouncing. You cannot stop checking time during a commute. A shoot schedule - for your dream project, mind you - that requires getting up at 3:30am will disrupt your workout schedule, and being on set means a lot of coffee and junk food. You aren’t patient with yourself about that, either. You just poke at your belly and wonder where your arm definition went.
Because you lack compassion for yourself and the world at large, the people who love you the most suffer for it. Your child is of the age where she asks for everything and then repeats her want no matter how many times you say no, using, “I’m just saying I want it,” as her defense for repeating the thing ad nauseam. Even while you’re giving her things, the ask is bottomless. It’s trying for anyone, let alone someone with very little sleep. You snap at her. A lot. You ask a million times for her to do something, and she asks you a million times for toys. You say no, and so does she. It’s a learning mirror of the worst kind on loop.
Your husband is more patient than you are. He’s a therapist. It kind of goes with the gig, but he was more patient when he was an actor and producer, too. But you can scarcely wait for the man to finish a sentence. You have things to do. You just made five more lists in your head while looking at this floor and oh man you have to clean this floor and also the laundry and how is he not done yet? He’s thoughtful and slow. You’re a freight train with anxiety.
Your schedules conflict so you’re passing ships. You both, essentially, single parent while being together.
After filming, you get one day. A one day vacation out of the whole summer, because that’s all your schedule and wallet will allow. Hell, you’re paying for it monthly, so you can’t even say your wallet is allowing it. But you’re gonna take it, goddamnit.
The vacation spot is a money trap for kids. An indoor water park with mini golf, rock climbing, a ropes course, and would probably have a pony stable if they moved the arcade. It’s the first vacation you’ve had in seven years, and the first one just for her. You try to cram everything on her all-access pass into 24 hours. She still asks for the things she can’t have, including more time. You say you wish you could. She’s understandably disappointed, but you cannot be asked again. You’re working so hard to get everything done and the asking never stops. She says again she wishes you could stay one more night. She says it ten more times.
“I understand that,” you start in a tone that says, “So help me God…”
“HEY. That’s enough. You’ve been unnecessarily harsh and cranky to both of us. Stop.”
Your husband just intervened on your daughter’s behalf. Against you. And your mood.
Before this, no matter how frustrating the asks and the back-and-forth of no, you and she were a team. Even earlier that day, “I’m on team Mommy!” she happily squealed on the ropes course she wouldn’t finish. She makes you sit in the backseat with her in the car. She goes through your purse and your clothes and wants to be close to you always. This? This was unprecedented. She needed protection. From you.
In sixth grade, we took a family vacation to Florida. It was while Epcot was still being built, and I was only with my father and one of my sisters. I remember hiding out during an electrical storm in Mexico, making sushi reservations in Japan, and thinking an interactive touch screen was the most futuristic thing I had ever seen in my life. I couldn’t understand how this place was so advanced in comparison to the rest of the world.
Mom didn’t go with us, and I don’t remember why. I just know that she decided to use a free hotel stay - that we got after a giant, buffet-sized salad bowl from the hotel’s Easter brunch crashed from the bussing cart and sprayed oil all over her white suit and wide-brimmed hat, ruining them - while we were gone. She didn’t tell my dad that she took that booking, and he couldn’t get in touch with her. Pre cell phones and all. So he drank straight vodka and took a bunch of pills to assuage his worry.
He tried to wake us up for a cruise we weren’t taking until the next day. He threw a suitcase onto the floor that he then tripped over, cutting his forehead just above his eyebrow on the corner of a dresser. He would have that scar until he died.
This was the only time I saw my alcoholic father drunk. I watched my sister, only two years older than me, take care of him and get him into bed. I don’t remember what he was saying as he passed out. When we got home, he cried and told us we should go to al-anon and he was so. So sorry. He didn’t stop drinking. My sister never forgave my mom, as though her being home would stop Dad from having a problem.
This is my family vacation memory.
You can’t hide behind the “she won’t remember it” defense anymore. Everything is a potential memory now, and you don’t know which good or bad moment is going to make the cut. You hide in the bathroom to cool down, as there’s no space in the Adventure Suite (where she has her own bunk beds and tv) to relax. You hear the balcony door slide open and close. You ask if they’ll go ahead to mini golf without you and you’ll catch up. You don’t think you want to be there, but you don’t want to be seen as the screaming, angry monster who won’t enjoy the last hour of kid-friendly fun before closing time.
Your husband and child come back into the room from the balcony, and your daughter has a sad and guilty look on her face. You stuff all of your self hatred down your throat with a hard gulp, and you all head down to have a “good time.” You pass throngs of happy children and smiling, encouraging parents in a pajama dance party taking place in the lobby. They’ve bought light up bubble wands for their kids from a special cart they brought out for the bedtime runway walk, and the adults are enjoying playing with things in the gift shop before saying yes to buying them for their asking children.
You watch her play mini golf and do an incredible job of climbing the rock wall. You warm up a bit, and you all realize you haven’t eaten. Your husband runs to get suburban chain dinner at midnight, since everything in the hotel is closed. You all sleep hard, knowing you have to leave early the next day. Vacation was less than 24 hours.
The next morning, you apologize to your husband for “ruining vacation,” a friendly softball of kind-of-joking-kind-of-not apology. That’s when he tells you about the memory you made.
Your seven-year-old requested to go out onto the balcony to talk to him. She asked to close the curtain so you wouldn’t see them talking. She quietly, patiently, and earnestly tells him that you get mad at her all the time. She doesn’t like it when you get so mad and she doesn’t know what it is she does so wrong, but she doesn’t feel like she deserves anger like that.
He says some other things about the conversation. Some jokes and some comments about how proud he is of her, being so open and trusting with her feelings to communicate them. You hear it, but you’re trying not to throw up. You’re cold. You’ve started shaking. The tears come out before you can banish them back behind your eyes. Your daughter is still asleep, but you can’t risk waking her up to the sounds of you crying. Bad memory. So you curl yourself into a ball, hyperventilate while you sob, trying to keep it quiet and hold your breath.
You were a team. The day before, she had just told you that she chose you as her favorite person. Both of these things, you know, can be simultaneously true. You can be her favorite person AND she can be very sad when you get impatient. But you can’t see both now. The only thing you can see is a severe split in your life. You know better, but your feelings don’t care about what you know.
You spent the week working on your dream project. When you come home, there is no talking about it. Your daughter talks over you and your husband tells you to wait. Wait until she’s in bed and we’ll discuss it, he says reasonably. That never happens. Either you fall asleep or he’s playing his game and really not interested in looking up to talk to you about a project he’s not involved in. He’s told you before that he feels left out of it. He’s also told you that he’s incredibly proud of you. Both can be true, once again. But in the world of your home, there’s no time to talk about work when there is camp to get to, playdates to set up, and bank balances to discuss and fret over. The cat needs to be fed, laundry needs to be done. Your little hot shot web series doesn’t get clean clothes. It isn’t important here in the moment-to-moment. The thing you have no patience for has no room for you, either.
Outside of home, many of your friends don’t have kids. The ones who do aren’t creating a digital series, writing plays, or producing shows. They’re hired as actors, something you are too impatient to wait for (because your phone doesn't ring as often as theirs does, and because you have no patience), and then they take pictures of the great time they have with their families. The ones without kids don’t really know your husband well because you hang out while he’s at home with your kid and not drinking. Because he doesn’t. Your friends they try to sympathize about scheduling with a kid, but…it doesn’t really translate. They can make plans in a second or casually mention “maybe we’ll have a hangout and call you.” They don’t hang out with you and your husband as a couple because they assume you can’t schedule with a kid. So your life is even more separate. They either jokingly gloat that they don’t have your problems (“This is why I only have cats! Ha ha ha!” “Sounds hard. I’m gonna sleep in!”), or they try and relate it to their nieces and nephews and other friends with kids who are nothing like you (“Oh, I remember when my nieces went through this. It’s gonna be fine. They love you! Kids are so kid-like when they’re your kid’s’ age. My best friend has two and a huge, stable income and she says it’s hard, so I already know everything you’re going to say.”)
So you experience a dream realized and your family isn’t there. You experience a family vacation without having anyone relate to why you’re so tired. You’re alone in both scenarios. And you can’t tell anyone about either side.
No one wants to hear it.
Fix it, yes. But not hear it.
You don’t want to talk about it.
Pretend it isn’t there, yes, but not talk about it.
You know better. You know that you cannot pretend feelings don’t exist, because they will leak out of you whether you’re prepared or not. They will build and explode and you’ll yell and want to sleep for days. You will see your daughter get sad and scared and go away from you to confide in her dad about it. You will see your friends try to be patient while you attempt to get better, but they say things like, “I mean, I’m glad someone kicked your ass into coming out tonight,” because they aren’t witnessing the severe depression and anxiety that you had to fight to get out the door. They think it’s your fault, and it’s yours to get over. Just get over it. Be patient. Be kind. Just breathe. Meditate. Practice self care. Play with your daughter. Platitude here. It’s all temporary. Things will get better.
Because you know better.