My husband went out of town recently, from Friday through Monday. I stayed behind to care for our three small boys, ages 7, 5, and 3. This was not some minor blip. This was an event, an anxiety-inducing terror, a punishment for something I hadn’t done. Really, it was because he wanted to go catfishing with his brother, who’d had a shit time recently, and I completely understood their need to get away and bond.
But I was still anxious as hell.
I do not cook so much as microwave. In the absence of another adult, my diet will degenerate into yogurt, protein shakes, and an occasional salad. So before he left, he cooked: pans of paleo brownies, Dutch ovens crammed with egg casseroles. He stocked up on instant food for the kids, like microwave mac and cheese, toaster pancakes, oven waffles. I had plenty of lunchmeat. I had lots of juice and rice cakes and squeezable applesauce pouches. He loaded me up on the staples, on bread and coffee and half ‘n’ half. I had muffins for breakfast (easy), numerous options for lunch, and was expected to eat out or call in food for every dinner. I had enough easy-bake provisions to feed the ravening masses for a week.
I’ll admit it: I do not function without my husband, Bear. My numerous mental diagnoses — depression, anxiety, ADHD — complicate this. My meds make me tired, and I need a nap most afternoons if I’m not going to bed with the kids at 8 p.m. I am easily stressed by the minor events of parenthood. I get anxious, for example, around clutter and mess. Without a regular schedule, I spiral into panics. And when I get stressed, I get mad, and when I get mad, I yell. We’re attachment parents. We don’t yell. So yelling throws me into a hell of guilt and tears and apologies.
On top of it all, my ADHD means that I don’t function in the same way as a “typical” adult. I do not adult well, you could say.
By the evening of the first day without Bear, I had left the ATM card I was activating in the ATM machine and drove off, prompting rage, and also prompting my 7-year-old to present me with a picture reading “YOU ARE NOT AN IDEEOT MAMA.” Normally Bear would have talked me down from this, assured me I wasn’t stupid, and found the card where I left it — turned upside-down in the center console of my minivan, underneath three pairs of sunglasses. I looked there twice, but well, ADHD. I found it the next morning and couldn’t decide if I should weep or laugh. I am not an ideeot.
Then my middle son needed a bath. He has a mohawk and product gets caked in it. But he hates having his hair washed, and started to throw down about it. I told him, well, August, you can get a bath or a haircut. He wanted a haircut. And I swear I thought there was a guard on the clippers, but there wasn’t, and the clippers kept dying. My 7-year-old gleefully crowed that August resembled Wilbur Wright, of the Wright brothers, because he looked bald on top. My husband would have nipped this little gem of impulsivity in the bud, but he wasn’t home. I looked at August’s poorly shorn head and cried. Bear would have stopped the crying, too, or at least mitigated it.
We stumbled through the next day all right. We hit the barber, who took August’s hair almost down to the skin in order to “fix” it. We went to the farmer’s market, and I only bought one overpriced, handmade stuffed animal in retribution for the catfishing. Bear would have talked me out of it. Then we stayed home, and I canceled the babysitter because I got anxious about going out without a set schedule. Bear would have assuaged that fear and set me packing off to the poetry reading alone, probably in something appropriately black and artsy. I just couldn’t manage it.
This isn’t to say I can’t parent solo. I’m a SAHM. I do it every weekday, but I have a set schedule to follow, routines to ground me, and a minimum amount of guesswork. I know what time my husband will arrive home, that he will pitch in during the “witching hour,” and help me haul our rambunctious kids to bed at a reasonable hour.
I only get nervous when I’m left with long stretches of unplanned time and when there’s no relief in sight. Because of my meds, I need rest. Those meds wear off, too, and it’s hard for me to tell they have until I’m yelling. I can usually calm myself down with the promise of two more hours, one more hour… (“Here watch TV until Daddy gets home, so Mama doesn’t lose her shit. So even when he isn’t there, there’s a promise that he’s coming soon.”)
It didn’t help that the kids asked constantly when he was coming home and bemoaned his absence. This made me feel unloved. They finally all had to inform me they liked Daddy and me equally. This was probably not healthy, but this was what my psyche needed.
It’s also the little, fiddly tasks that undid us. The internet went out Sunday night. I freaked out, tried to fix it, and finally gave up. When Bear called, I was in a towering rage at the cable company. He directed me to plug in the modem. I did. It worked. When the Roku wouldn’t find the wireless connection, he directed me, from 100 miles away, how to make it pick up the real signal and turn on the cartoon my kids were watching, Aaah! Real Monsters (I was feeling nostalgic). I couldn’t work the TV in my own bedroom.
And I was lonely, lonely, lonely, and terrified of break-ins (I do have an anxiety disorder). I made my 100-pound German Shepherd sleep in the bedroom with us, despite my fear he’d chew the furniture — a warranted fear, might I add. I triple-checked locks. I kept forgetting to refill the dog’s water, so they kept drinking out of the toilet, but I always knew that front door was deadbolted. A friend made some suspect comments to me about something I’d written, and as soon as I got out of her sight, I cried and cried and cried. Bear would have talked me down, hugged me.
When he came home, we went to lunch. He took the boys to the zoo while I napped. And a sense of order descended. The house wasn’t as clean — I made the kids pick up toys all day and immediately after play — but he cooked an actual dinner. I didn’t do anything impulsive, like hack off a son’s mohawk, nor did I need the German Shepherd to sleep with me.
He had a great time with his brother, and I’m glad. But with all my issues, the fun he had was not directly proportional to the weeping, the anguish, and the fear I suffered all weekend. We can function without him, sure, and he deserves a break too. No one died, though the 3-year-old leapt off the settee and hit an exercise bike, putting a nice bloody dent in the back of his head. I need my husband for moments like that. I need my husband for lots of moments, big and small, parenting and non-parenting. He’s a vital part of this family, and we don’t function well without him.
And I’m not ashamed to admit it.