Motherhood Is Hard On Control Freaks

I performed yesterday for Baton Rouge’s production of Listen To Your Mother, and it was amazing. If you are interested in seeing a video of the performance, there will be an official copy uploaded to YouTube soon and I will be sure to post about it here (unless I look like a damn fool, in which case I will never mention it again).

Here we go.

I … am a control freak.

Therefore, motherhood has always been a struggle for me. I lie awake at night mentally preparing for the next day, scheduling and planning and strategizing, and without fail, something always goes wrong. Papers are forgotten, shoes and keys are misplaced, and someone always has to poop at the worst possible time.

Yet day after day, I continue to try to control the chaos. It’s like I just can’t learn how to let go. But, as well all know, life has a funny way of teaching us lessons that we really don’t want to learn.

It was the day before school was scheduled to start back after Winter Break, and the kids and I were having the best day we’d had in weeks. I’m fairly certain it was because I was giddy with excitement to send them back to school, and they were equally as giddy at the thought of returning. Either way, we were having fun.

I was standing in the middle of the living room minding my own business when one of my children jumped onto my back, throwing his arms around my neck. I fell backwards, hitting my head on a piece of furniture.

The emergency room doctor diagnosed me with a concussion: a traumatic brain injury that altered the way my brain functions, because that is the kind of thing that happens when you grow up and decide to become a mom.

I don’t remember much of the weeks that followed except that I kept trying to do laundry and my husband kept telling me he would take care of it, but he didn’t display the same sense of urgency that I have, so the cycle continued. I kept trying to do it, and he kept trying to stop me.

He insisted that he would feed the children breakfast and ordered me to stay in bed. I laid there obsessing over what he might be feeding them. Did he rip open a box of Cheez-Its and let them go to town? Or worse — Oreos? Were they getting enough fiber? Were they hydrated? Would he remember to pack their lunch boxes?

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Robbie takes good care of me.

I tiptoed down the hall to listen, and every single time, I was caught and put back to bed.

This was hard.

I was put on “brain rest.” Do you know how impossible it is for a mother of three to rest her brain? I pushed earplugs into my ears and stared at the white walls in the dark for many more hours than I was comfortable with, and realized as the minutes ticked by just how much of a control freak I really am.

People kept telling me not to do things. “Don’t look at screens,” they said. “Don’t read. Don’t think too much. Don’t drive. Don’t write. Basically sit in a dark room by yourself and stare at the window until you feel like jumping out of it.”

I got tired of being told to relax. Sitting on the beach with champagne is relaxing. Massages are relaxing. Going to Target alone is relaxing.

Recovering from a concussion is not.

At my follow-up visit, my doctor said, “You seem a little on edge.” Well, maybe I’m on edge because every time I let my guard down a child jumps on my back and concusses me. Maybe THAT’S why.

Mom

Me and my amazing mother.

There are 5 stages of grief when a mother is sidelined due to injury or illness.

Stage one is denial. I was in that stage for a solid 2 weeks, trying and failing to continue mothering as if nothing was out of the ordinary, all the while doing things like squirting ketchup into my toddler’s sippy cup.

Ketchup and juice are totally the same thing.

We acquired a pet during this stage. My family tells me that a stray cat showed up one day, and I am the one who suggested that we buy cat food to properly feed her.

I have no recollection of this.

Stage two is anger. This was when I realized that I was not going to be able to power through a head injury like I did with, say, a common cold. Moms don’t take sick days, and I did not have time for this. I. Was. Pissed.

I put a mug of water in the kitchen cabinet and waited for it to heat up so I could make some tea. I drummed my fingers on the counter, waiting impatiently for the timer to ding. When it didn’t, and I realized what I’d done, I was angry.

When I forgot our yard man’s name, I was angry.

When I went into the house to write him a check and couldn’t find the checkbook that was in my purse, I got angry. And then I forgot what I was supposed to be doing, and never returned outside to pay him.

Stage three is bargaining. If only we hadn’t had all of these children. If only I hadn’t turned my back to my child that day. If only my husband hadn’t taught them how to wrestle. Someone should have stressed that we NEVER TRY TO WRESTLE MOMMY.

I should have never let my guard down. But now it was too late, and I still could not recall our street address, and I was positive that I was going to have the dumb until the day I died.

Stage four is depression. I OWNED that stage. I really rocked depression. At one point, my hair smelled like old socks and I didn’t even care. During this stage, I actually enjoyed staring at the ceiling and walls.

My family members, who fancy themselves comedians, tried to help me see the bright side of things.

“You’ve been different ever since the accident,” they said. “You keep insisting that we call you Harmony.”

They called me Tina for a full week.

Stage five, the final stage, is acceptance. I accepted that my memory may never be quite the same. I accepted that we have a cat now, and her name is Magnolia, and every time I load our kids into the minivan I have to keep her from jumping in.

I accepted that this is the new, quirkier me.

I accepted that I will always be a control freak, and life will always find a way to put me in my place, because I chose to become a mother.

And motherhood is really hard on control freaks.

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Photo credit: Whitney Andrus

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Progress Report

Backing away from writing even though I didn’t want or expect to (because of my concussion) has forced me to focus on the little things in life that bring me so much joy. I miss working SO MUCH and I will eventually get back to normal, but I am trying really hard to choose joy in the meantime.

It’s hard not to when she’s staring right at me.

Pepper

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When Mindfulness Sucks

My child accidentally concussed me on January 4. It’s an interesting story that I am saving for my Listen To Your Mother audition next month, so I won’t go into it here just yet.

For some reason, even though I couldn’t remember my own birthday, I totally thought I was fine. “You don’t need to take me to the hospital,” I said to my mother-in-law (who is a saint). “I’ll be …”

Then I trailed off. And I was slurring.

“Did I already tell you that you don’t need to take me to the hospital?”

She steered me into the car.

For a full two weeks after my injury, I insisted on trying to carry on with my normal activities as though nothing had happened. I remember almost none of it. It was almost exactly like that time I had about five too many mimosas at brunch and thought I was still okay to drive, and then I backed into another car trying to get out of my parking space. Everyone who was dining on the patio turned around and stared. I was mortified.

BAD, TERRIBLE, AWFUL LIFE CHOICES.

Clearly, I was not fine after suffering a head injury. I was saying things I normally would not say, and doing things I would not normally do, and after embarrassing myself all over town it eventually it sunk in that I really was not going to be able to “power through” this.

And then I got really angry.

The anger phase sucked. I couldn’t exercise, I could barely drive — I say “barely” because I could manage to putt 10 mph for two blocks to get my smaller two to preschool every day, but anything faster than that triggered my vertigo — I wasn’t supposed to look at screens. I did anyway, until I ended up in the emergency room a second time (pictured below).

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Brain injuries make you do stupid things like smile when you’re in the hospital.

I missed writing. I missed my online communities. I missed feeling connected to the world outside of my home.

I was alone, with nothing to do, a lot.

I had time to think. SO MUCH TIME TO THINK. At first I was like, maybe this is a gift. Maybe I can learn from this. Maybe I need to work on becoming more mindful.

And then I realized … mindfulness sucks. Mindfulness blows. Mindfulness is the worst possible thing when you are a writer who is unable to write. I had the most amazing, deeply profound thoughts.

And then I forgot them.

Because I had a concussion.

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