There are few things more dreaded in day-to-day parenting than illness. I don’t mean the kids being ill, although Lord knows that can be bad enough. No, I mean when you are ill yourself. There is no escaping the kids. You can’t take a sick day. It is pretty shitty, all told.
Extended shitty times invariably lead to things bottoming out for me for a while (see Getting Through the Day). This is probably the greatest of my many parenting failings: a tendency to gravitate to the dark side from time to time. Regardless of how perfect things may be in reality, something acts as a trigger and I temporarily sink. The trigger this time appears to be something as mundane as physical illness, coupled with the kids being particularly challenging and argumentative over a disappointing half term.
I’ve got some sort of nondescript bug which has totally turned me off food and really wiped me out. I don’t feel hungry, and I don’t crave the taste of anything: food and I have definitely fallen out. This is very unusual as I have a bad habit of treating food as a reward, to help me get through the challenges of the day. I deserve the cake because I’ve had to deal with several toddler meltdowns today; I am owed an extra portion of pasta because I’ve had to endure bickering for three solid hours this afternoon. And I won’t even get started on alcohol as reward here but, suffice to say, it features heavily.
This is how I face the day. Judge me if you will, but whatever works, right?
So, I usually do a vague version the 5:2 diet, eating very little on my two work days and stuffing myself stupid when I am surrounded by kids on the other days of the week. OK, so I don’t lose a lot of weight on it but it keeps things on a level and allows me to turn to food and drink for much needed solace when drowning in kids.
But this week I’ve not wanted to eat at all, forcing myself to swallow a few leftovers from the kids’ meals. I’ve always vaguely thought that it would be nice to be one of those people who smugly say they treat food as fuel. I take it back entirely. Remove the joy of food from daily life and it can be pretty miserable. Especially when your life is stupidly hectic and mindnumbingly, relentlessly repetitive, as life with small kids can be.
So, there we have it. Remove a small but significant reward system from life at a tricky time, add feeling pretty grim and totally out of energy into the mix and Bang! The trigger has been pulled. I’ve sunk. Days are to be endured, as I count down to bedtime. Mixing with the smiley inhabitants of toddler music group or facing the school playground is just that little bit harder. I don’t even want to look at people some days. Forcing a smile feels like the biggest effort that could be asked of me.
Can I just hide under the sofa until the world looks brighter, please? Could I just opt out of the whole childcare thing for a few days? Could I shut the bedroom door, put my headphones on high and pretend there is no-one in the house except me?
Escapism becomes the main priority. I resent being pulled away from it. Watching film clips on YouTube of exciting fake lives and gorgeous people, when I really should be doing the online food shopping. Listening to favourite sad tunes on a loop when there is a mountain of washing waiting on the bed for me to put it away.
For the sake of the adored small people in my life, I wish I wasn’t prone to these lows. I’d love to be always happy, bright and supportive, home-making play dough and baking cookies with them. But when I sink I can’t force that any more than I can force the smile to the well meaning Mums at toddler group.
I know that this post is far too honest for my own good, that I now have to face people who have read it who will give me ‘the look’, wondering whether to give me a hug or call a social worker. Personally, I’d avoid the hugs right now, unless you fancy a week without food too.
But I’m going to post this anyway, despite all that, and bugger the consequences. Because maybe it would help if we were all a little more honest about the crappy times and admit that the smiles are fake sometimes. It might make the bad times a little less lonely, a little more quickly dispelled. It might make it feel a bit more acceptable to be down just because you are, without feeling the need to apologise for it, when you have so much good in your life.
The kids are in bed now and the fact that I have been able to type this makes me realise I’m on the way back up. The circle of light at the top of the hole is getting a tiny bit bigger. It is almost a relief, but not quite. Not yet. You see, the bottom of the hole is actually quite a comforting and familiar place to be. The path back out, especially when surrounded by demanding little voices, is far more challenging than the way in. Going uphill always is.
But uphill we must go.