I had one of those days a few weeks ago: we were running late for school, when we finally got in the car I forgot the damn keys, and I had to squeeze a good amount of work in between a school meeting and an orthodontist appointment. My phone was buzzing and vibrating all over the damn place with texts, emails, and calendar reminders. Laundry was behind, floors were sticky, and our fridge was literally empty.
I told myself to just get through my day and deal with the messages later, but I couldn’t help myself from looking.
What if I’ve forgotten something really important? What if it’s the school? What if my facial for later in the week gets cancelled and I have to resort to another way to soothe myself because damn, I need some soothing right now?
Each time I looked down, I felt a bit more nauseous because it was clear I had so much more to keep up with in the coming weeks than I had thought.
After driving an hour to my daughter’s lacrosse game and then shoving fast food into my family’s mouths, I was finally able to sit for a moment, trying to decompress by soaking up the sun and end-of-school-year energy. Another mother and I were discussing how hard it is to find a 14-year-old girl a dress that she likes. There is a big semi-formal dance coming up, we’ve both taken our daughters shopping a few times, and it didn’t end well for anyone involved. There were so many tears and neither of us could console our girls.
“I’m stressed,” I said.
“I hate this,” she said, adding, “Hey, are you on the committee to help out with the dance?”
“I’m not. I literally can’t keep up with it all. I know when the dance is, I know I’ll get her and her friends there, and that’s all I know,” I said.
“Thank God — me too. I can’t do another thing.”
Yes, she was speaking my language.
From there, we sat in comfort and enjoyed the rest of the game without feeling judged for not having the bandwidth to help with a theme, donations, baking, or decorating for the dance.
There are times I know I must come across like a bitch to other parents. But I’m really just overwhelmed, and can’t take one more thing.
My son brings home a permission slip for a field trip to the state park and there is never enough food in the house and it’s all I can do to make sure my kids have clean clothes each morning. We have three dentist appointments in a week, I’m refinancing my house, it’s my daughter’s birthday, and I need to get a copy of my son’s vaccination records to a summer camp.
Oh, and the car is due for an inspection by the end of the month.
I know this is life and everyone has these tasks to do. I don’t think I’m unique in these struggles. I’m not asking for favors or free passes, although I wouldn’t turn it down if it were offered.
I’m simply saying that there are weeks where I’m so overwhelmed with just trying to keep three teenagers happy, bringing my best at work, and making sure we have clean underwear to wear, that one little extra thing, like signing my son up to bring in a damn bag of pretzels to the class party makes me feel like a Jenga puzzle teetering on the corner of the coffee table.
The only thing I can do is pay attention to my task threshold. Once it’s met, I say no to everything that comes my way because I’m aware of what I can handle.
I know if I say yes, if I stretch myself too thin, I’ll be a forgetful mess of a woman who will be walking around with mismatched shoes and probably come down with a screaming case of something really nasty and contagious.
I’ve become pretty comfortable with saying no when I know I literally just cannot. But I still wince at times, knowing I must look like such a bitchy person when I ignore emails and don’t offer my time.
Perhaps there will come a day when the tide will change and I’ll have the capacity to be on committees, messages won’t go unanswered, and I won’t forget a thing.
But for now, my main goal in life is to keep the wheels turning. It’s all I can do to keep food in the house, make sure we don’t miss an orthodontist appointment (again), and for the love of all things holy, I need to help my daughter find a damn dress.
If I’m perceived as a bitch, I have to accept it. If I take on more right now, I’ll be looked at as a forgetful bitch, which I suppose, is worse.
My mental health needs to come first — after all, you can’t pour from an empty cup — and I can’t always be rushing around wondering what the hell I am forgetting, or how I appear to other people. More importantly, I need to be present for my family, and I can’t do that if I am constantly trying to people-please my way through life.
By saying no and knowing my limits, my kids get a better version of me, I get a better version of me, and because I feel more peaceful, I’m able to spread that around to other people.
That’s the story I need to write for myself at this point in my life. So, if you notice other parents are doing the same and perhaps you think they aren’t pulling their weight or are just an asshole, take a moment to consider they are probably just getting through their days trying to remember to breathe.
And to pick up a loaf of bread on the way home so their kids can have a damn sandwich the next day.