I don't drink coffee, but I'm definitely a coffee person. That is, I do not--cannot--seem to function gracefully without a peaceful, quiet, reflective period in which my brain slowly warms up to speed and I can ease into my day. Maybe I knit a little, or read a chapter of a book, or check my email. Sometimes I blog. Often, I take a deep breath, assess the disaster around me, and make a targeted "to do" list so I can feel like I have a goal and a small amount of control over deciding how to get my day under control.
Unfortunately, I am not always granted that elusive luxury.
Doubly unfortunately, although it's easy to dismiss such moments of personal re-centering as a luxury, they can be a quite important necessity.
I forget who coined the phrase, but it's caught on enough to have become part of our stress-management lexicon: refilling your cup. The metaphor is to a vessel of liquid from which other vessels are filled. If Momma is a cup full of helpful energy and the children/chores/relationships/emergencies are "thirsty"/demanding--Momma's energy/love/time gets poured into the children. That's how Mommas work. But sometimes, there's nothing left in the pitcher...and the frequency and intensity of the incoming demands do not let up to give Momma a moment to go refill it.
It's easy to chirp advice about refilling that cup. To advise a mother of a newborn to "sleep when the baby sleeps" or a SAHM to "take time for yourself". Um...while that baby is sleeping, Momma might also do something crazy like have her first shower in three days...or run the dishwasher so she can get closer to remembering the color of her deeply-buried counters. And "time for yourself" DOES NOT EXIST for SAHMs...especially those with preschool or non-schooled children. I cannot remember the last time I took a shower or, criminy, sat on the toilet without fielding questions from the other side of the door.
Side note: Want a bedtime story for Moms? Check out Five Minutes Peace by Jill Murphy. It's funny because it's true. Sigh.
I find that it can be a struggle to keep my cool/grace on days which start with me hitting the ground running. I want to set a good example for my children about handling stress and overwhelming feelings, but then I have a day when I slam the refrigerator door because of The Last Straw, and all I can do is weep (at least I'm learning to do that "on the inside" instead of openly...that helps with the "I'm screwing my kids up by setting a bad example" guilt). I don't have time to complete a thought, or take a refreshing walk, or sit down with my list, or even utter a desperate prayer of supplication, because I'm being bombarded by several new (and often conflicting) demands simultaneously. And my cup is empty. And NO, damn it, sometimes I cannot fill it without tangible HELP.
A friend of mine is a homeschooler and blogger and I love her dearly...and she's honest about her own moments of feeling overwhelmed by the chaos. But all the same, she posts these lovely snapshots with her knitting in the foreground and her children playing happily in the background and I want to know how the hell she pulls that off. Why aren't HER children climbing her? Why aren't they, like mine, demanding her exclusive attention? Is it an illusion? Or has she discovered how to put that space in her day...to gain their cooperation in giving Mommy those few moments to refill her cup? I've tried begging and reasoning with them. I get a lot of blank stares. And sometimes laughter. Mommy is so silly...
On the other hand, my best friend has a newborn. She is not the type to complain, so when she does express frustration I realize it must be pretty serious. And we live about 500 miles apart. I'm not able to come hold the baby so she can shower/nap/go for a walk/pace in the backyard and scream for a little while. All I can do is offer her these useless "refill your cup" platitudes that mean nothing without the support to do so. I feel impotent to help her...and a little humbled and nervous when I realize that in less than three months, I'm going to have my own chaos compounded by a newborn. When they empty your cup, it can be quite literal...but I hesitate to say more without this turning into a full-blown discussion of the breastfeeding relationship. Let's just say it's going to get even more difficult to recharge, and more important for me to be able to pull myself up by my bootstraps and keep on keeping on anyway.
I am very lucky in that I have a supportive partner. He knows. When he walks through the door and sees that look on my face, he reaches inside his own depleted stores of energy and whisks the kids outside to engage them in a yard project or ball-toss or anything. Sometimes it helps. Sometimes I'm still angry because all it does it remove one demand. I'm usually cooking dinner and tidying up at that time, so it's not like I get to sit down...but at least I get to handle some of the stress in relative silence, and that's a step. Other times, I just go on strike. Like this very moment. My kids have been cleaned and fed, but I am now engaged in consciously ignoring them. Part of me is full of disappointment and regret and guilt. Part of me realizes that the simple act of me trying to articulate just why I'm frustrated actually helps to dissipate some of that frustration. Maybe it's only a few drops, but that's way better than a totally empty cup.