So far, I’ve managed to remain patient and calm. I’ve blown kisses from the front seat when she’s feigned injury. I’ve calmly explained that we cannot pull over because we are in a tunnel. I’ve opened the sunroof because she thinks it’s neat. And I’ve told her about all the fun things she’s going to get to do when we get to her daddy’s work, which is where we’re headed.
But at about an hour and 15 minutes, the high-pitched whining about wanting her bow out of her hair, and then back in her hair — when I cannot physically reach her hair — finally gets to me, and I snap. “STOP IT. I’M GOING TO THROW IT OUT!” I yell, holding the Hello Kitty bow out the sunroof. Her bottom lip juts out, and her eyes fill with tears as she begins to cry. “No throw out,” she begs me, over and over again. In order to assuage my guilt over having made my toddler cry, I turn the music up as loud as I can so I can’t hear her. She cries harder.
I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror, and I fill with shame. Who is this woman who just threatened to throw her daughter’s beloved bow out of a moving car because the child is struggling to sit still for multiple hours? Surely it can’t be me. That’s not who I am, nor is it who I want to be. I don’t recognize myself. I hate myself.
“I’m sorry I yelled at you yesterday,” I tell her the next morning. She may not remember, but I do.
Lately I’ve found myself wanting to run away. It’s what I do best. When things get hard and I feel overwhelmed, I go somewhere else. I’ve been watching “House Hunters” and dreaming about selling my home and moving anywhere but here, no matter how unrealistic. Charleston, S.C. Nashville. St. Thomas. Amsterdam. “Doesn’t that look great?” I ask my husband. “Wouldn’t you love to live there?” He looks at me like I’ve lost it.
I’ve got three cross-country moves under my belt. Each came at a time when I was depressed and life felt hard. I was sure that changing my location would make everything better. I could start over somewhere new and leave all my problems behind. But it’s different now; I have kids. Of course in reality, my problems always followed me to my new location. Wherever you go, there you are. But that doesn’t mean that my brain doesn’t go there still. It’s my M.O., after all. It’s hard to change something like that.
After dropping my daughter off with her father following the hair bow incident, I spend the next hour convinced that my family will be better off without me. I am seven months pregnant, but I begin to make plans to have the baby and then leave, abandoning my little family to what will surely be a better life without Mom. I’ll wait until the baby is six months old and not nursing all the time, I think.
I come home later that night and sit down with my husband to talk. “I’m scared,” I say. I tell him about my desire to run away, about the plans I’ve been making in my head. I explain that I’m sure they would all be happier if I were no longer there, how I want to leave them and start over somewhere new, alone and free. I tell him how afraid I am to say these things out loud because I’m worried he will think I’m unstable and regret marrying me. Instead, he turns to me and says, “My happy place is in the woods with no cell service. Everything you’re saying makes perfect sense to me.”
The next morning, he loads our daughter into the car and they wave goodbye, the two of them off on an adventure to Grandma’s house so that I can get the peace I’m so desperately craving. I decide that, just for now, I can stay. It may not be a new start, but it is a weekend of solitude, and I can write and sleep and just be.
Next week, I will start therapy. Next week, I will practice patience and struggle to find gratitude in the minutia of my day-to-day existence as someone else’s caretaker. But not today, not now. Today, I can finally breathe, even if it’s only for the weekend.
I watch the red car turn the corner and drive out of sight. I finally exhale; I am free.
Britni de la Cretaz is a freelance writer. Follow her on Twitter @britnidlc.
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