An Inside Job

Sometimes I think of my current life as being “on the inside.”

I am so completely immersed in my own family culture that I often have a hard time relating to the world at large. Sure – I can navigate a shopping mall or the grocery store as a seemingly “normal” person, but it’s a very Through the Looking Glass experience.

My true reality resides within the walls of my home, with its own set of rules…politics…priorities… All of which are dictated by the four and six year old inmates. I bark orders and shuttle people around town like I’m running the operation – but at the end of the day, I feel a bit like Patty Hearst with a loaded gun.

As I type this, I wonder if they’re asleep yet. Because I can make them stay in their room and keep quiet, but I can’t make them fall asleep. For some reason, this maddens me. I dragged those people up and down the streets of Key West and monitored their splashing in the pool for hours, and STILL at 10:30 p.m. they have the last word. Which is apparently three words: “we’re not tired.”

This is vaguely reminiscent of the first few months after my oldest was born. When people said, “get your sleep now – because you won’t get any after the baby comes,” I wasn’t too worried. Always an early riser, I never seemed to require the eight hours that everyone goes on about. I burned the midnight oil for years at work and earlier in school. What difference would a few nighttime feedings make?

Then I was introduced to Oliver, the baby who woke up every two hours for MONTHS. I have never felt so frazzled – so out of control. It’s such basic thing to control in life – your sleep. Even if you don’t need that much sleep, you still need it. And to have someone else demand that you wake up every two hours will eventually destroy any sense of time that you once had. It wears you down. Makes you feel like you’re losing your mind.

And then you just get used to it.

So it’s all very full circle. First, you decide when you wake up. And then you have kids and they decide when you wake up. Not because they want to ruin your sleep patterns, give you wrinkles and make you think you are going crazy – but because they are controlling their own sleep. It’s nothing personal against the parents – children can’t help it if we are required to feed them as newborns and monitor them as toddlers. Our sleep patterns are just innocent bystanders who were stupid enough to wander into the line of fire.

It’s the first step in a non-hostile takeover. Sleep becomes a privilege as opposed to a right. And you don’t even notice the shift take place. You simply assimilate.

Having a special needs child escalates this process since you already have to adapt to their personal quirks and deviations from the norm. How often have I felt the judging eyes on me as I carry my huge six year old out of a public place, attempting to sooth his agitation with murmured shushing, typically reserved for much smaller children… Like most other mothers I mentally give them all the finger and blink away traitorous tears. In convincing myself that the rest of the world can go to hell, I further descend into our own brand of normal.

And I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. But it’s somewhat isolating.

Sometimes you find other people with similar families though. You may look across a restaurant and lock sympathetic eyes with another mother who can’t seem to keep her children in their seats. Or you could meet them through school functions. Either way, these friends are absolute gold.

They don’t judge, but provide a line to the outside world. They entertain their own element of crazy – but the small differences remind you that you didn’t always threaten to throw out the Wii to get people’s attention.

Suddenly, you are reminded that the pretend world you walk through each day is in fact, real enough to the other pedestrians you pass. And that you may be able to rejoin that existence on some level. But it’s hard. You’ve been programmed – indoctrinated. You have way too many coping mechanisms in play.

But I do believe it’s possible. And it it’s probably inevitable over time. Children get older. They change – require you less – leave you to your own devices. Security becomes a bit lax and there are many more opportunities for escape. No one else will ever be able to break you out. But with planning, timing a even a little luck, you can orchestrate your own early release.

Exactly how do you do this? I’m sorry – do I sound like I have any idea? At the moment, I am living at ground zero of Crazy Town. It’s going to take a while for me to find a path out.

Besides – every family is different. So even if I did have a plan, it wouldn’t be of any use to others. We all have to find our own way.

When I first sat down to write this, I was feeling rather defeated. Taking children on vacation throws a bright spotlight on bad behavior, ineffectual parenting and general dissembling. Taking children on vacation by yourself is pure madness. And the hubris of it all just begs for a spiraling descent into self doubt. Who did I think I was, anyway? It’s one thing to take care of three children by yourself in the comfort of your own home – but when you’re on vacation, everyone is supposed to have FUN.

As far as my own little band of freaks is concerned, the current ratio of parent to child is achieving only a basic level of survival. Fun has been sporadic – and taken in turns. BUT there has been some fun. And that’s something.

Writing about life on the inside has helped. It’s made it all seem so commonplace – so obvious. And temporary.

Apparently, the children haven’t done ALL of the whining this vacation… I needed to peek out the window and see the rest of the world for what it really is. A mass of crazy families. Uncounted people who feel like they’re just surviving the day. Feeling defeated. But also having some fun.

I don’t put pressure on myself to make everyone have fun when we’re just moseying through our daily life. Why bother doing that on vacation?

As my children get older, I will slowly break out of our survival compound. There will be more breaks – more contact with the outside world – more fun. But in the meantime, I have to break out of my funk and just appreciate the smiles, the laughter and the ten minutes here and there that I can read a book while the kids play in the pool. I have to lighten up. And remember that there is more to life than arguing with picky eaters.

So I’ll start with sleep. Now that everyone is FINALLY (I checked) out. I think I’ll join them. And the only thing on my agenda for tomorrow is to step outside, feel the warm sun on my back and maybe even have a little fun.

13 thoughts on “An Inside Job

  1. secret agent woman

    Oh man, there is nothing like being out in public to make you feel like a terrible parent! I still have those times and mine are certainly old enough to know better.

    And the first part of your post zapped me back to the first sevral months of my oldest son's life He was also one of those babies who was up every two hours. I walked around in a cloud of pure exhaustion.

  2. Christy

    I hope you got out and had some fun! This brought tears to my eyes and really made me think twice – about NOT judging other parents, no matter how weird I think their behaviour is, I really have no idea what their life is like, nor they, mine. Argh.

    We're having a rough day here at mi casa but now I'm really going to try to find a little bit of fun in the rest of the day. Maybe?!

  3. katie t

    yes. yes! we have NO idea what another's life is really like or what they are going through.

    with having my own special needs son, carter, holy hell can it get crazy.

    case in point. boston.

    when we have flown in the past there have NEVER been any problems. not so much on this trip. every noise on the plan made him nervous. because the attendant had shown the "mask", he was determined that there was going to be a fire and we'd go down. freaking out, in fact.

    his new "issue" is the fire alarms, smoke detectors, and within MINUTES he knows where EVERY one is in a building. he thinks they're going to sound off and that noise just bothers him so.

    anyway, point is, i was so frustrated, SO UPSET, that he was determining our trip. "we can't go there cause he'll…." so i just had to finagle a way to get him to not be bothered. i had to get creative but it worked and we got it handled.

    i have learned to not give a rats ass about what other people think. if i did, i'd go INSANE! our little families should be our lives and what is most important.

    anyway i'll stop but i know and understand how you feel…and i don't ;)


  4. Jill

    My last 9 months have been pure survival. Seriously – every little thing I do. From cooking meals, to keeping the rental house tidy. Sometimes it's all I can do to make it through the day with the 3 kids, dog, and no relief in sight!

    Commiserating with you my friend. Can't wait to do it locally!

  5. Brenda Logan

    Kate – I can so relate! With 4 kids in two different age groups (tweens and toddlers) and trying to homeschool…all on a shoestring budget, I am at my wits end sometimes. But then I take a deep breath and realize that this is the season for this mommy stuff. Sooner than later they'll all be too cool to be around me, and I'll be begging for their company.

    Being a mom is the hardest job there is. Sometimes I wish I could say, "I quit!" But, you can't. You're the mom and you just have to keep on truckin'. The love we receive from our kiddos is a much bigger reward than a paycheck could provide.

    We moms are all in this together. Our reward in heaven will be great….I hope! Keep your chin up, gal. :-) And besides, you got to go to Key West. That is awesome in and of itself.

  6. Connie

    In my experience…vacation is never a vacation for Mommy.

    IT's more work and I'd rather just stay home.

    Mommy vacations by herself when she can….

  7. Amy@Bitchin'WivesClub

    Someone once said to me "If you're traveling with children, it's not a "vacation" – it's a "trip." Couldn't agree more, and well said about how it throws ineffectual parenting into the spotlight.

    Hope you have a wonderful day today. I found that extra ice cream made everybody a lot happier when we were on vacation last week. It aggravated the heck out of my husband, but the rest of us loved it. :)

  8. Heidi

    Your posts about Oliver have been very helpful for me. There is a boy in Ben's class that has special needs and what you've written and shared here has brought understanding and insight. I'm grateful for it. I suspect that you've done that for many people who read your blog – making us less judgmental and more considerate…as we should be.

    After we 'vacation' I always need another vacation. As Amy said, it's a trip.

    Love your writing, Kate.

  9. Issas Crazy World

    I can relate to this more than I can even begin to tell you. I keep thinking it should be easier for me, as I share custody. But in reality it's not.

    I tend not to judge others in public. I've had it done to me, many a time. Oh yeah. An ADHD over stimulated, sugar crashing meltdown in a seven year old…is well a spectacle in public. But I know I have been judged many a time.

    I do hope that you were able to enjoy your vacation.

  10. Loukia

    Since becoming a mom, I never ever judge other moms. I have had melt downs in public more often than I care to admit. I yell at my children. I lose my patience. Sigh. It's hard, being a mom. A look of sympathy from another mom would mean so much at times like that. Kate, you're an amazing mom.

    Sleep is something I'm used to not getting anymore, again, since I became a mom. My kids don't go to bed early. Early is 9, but usually they're alseep at 9:30 or 10. My three year old sleeps with me, in my bed. My husband sleeps with our five year old in his big bed. I wake up, whether I like it or not, when THEY wake up. Sometimes, it's SO SO tiring. The sleep thing, though. I can't sleep train them. I don't want to try CIO, and by now, I think it's too late for that, anyway. I actually love sleeping next to my three year old. He's so little still. I know I'll miss these days when he's older. I do wish, though, that my children, or at least my five year old, could lie down on their own after we read books, and let me walk out of the room before they're asleep. They've never fallen asleep without one of us lying down beside them. This is a LONG process!

  11. Anna See

    I hope the vacation turned out well. This was such a great post. I could relate to it A LOT.
    "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle." Plato

    And that battle could be as small as getting a kid to wear socks to school. I know.

  12. annechovie

    Kate, You are nothing short of an amazing writer with the ability to communicate so clearly and effectively, that I can almost feel your emotions. You have a great gift as a Mother, too. I admire your determination, spunk, commitment and raw honesty. I hope that when I become a mom, I can still be as creative and patient as you are. Have a very Happy Mother's Day and we will def have to meet up "for reals" one of these days!! xo


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