As it turns out, it was the dust bunnies that defeated me. I never thought something so innocuous, something so insignificant, something so non-threatening and soft would be my downfall. But there I was, down on my knees, the length of my arm sweeping back and forth under my couch, trying to catch all the dust bunnies and bring them out of their hiding space. And as I gathered them all up, I looked down at the pile of dog hair, and snack crumbs and who-knows-what-else and just started crying—actual, full on, noisy crying. Because I felt like my life was going to hell.
Or, at least, I felt like the life I knew was going to hell. This sounds so dramatic, I know. But the dust bunny incident happened after a week of working fourteen-hour days and coming home to sleeping children, stacks of unread mail, an absurd number of unanswered personal emails, and an accusingly empty refrigerator. I suddenly felt like all the things that I used to have time for, the things that I used to do without even noticing, were now going undone. And these were things that I wanted to do, things that I needed to do. I needed to keep my house as clean as it had always been. I needed to have a kitchen full of food. I needed to make time for all of these things that I’d always had time for. Didn’t I?
I don’t want to sound as if I believe in the myth of the super mother or that I think women should have to feel like they are failing if they aren’t on top of absolutely everything. I just know that I was on my knees crying over the fact that my babysitter might be tempted to call Child Services out of concern that my children would be swallowed up by the mutant dust bunnies that had developed under my couch. Which is ridiculous, completely and totally ridiculous, but still how I felt. As a single, divorced parent, I also hold myself up to a maybe absurdly high standard of who I need to be as a mom, because I feel like society already raises a skeptical eyebrow my way. And so all of this pressure, both internal and external, had contributed to my current state of emotional precariousness.
It totally sucked. Especially because I want to be the mom who says a giant Screw you! to anyone who questions my choices. I really do. I love those moms. Instead, I’m the kind of mother who questions her own decisions a million times more harshly than anyone else possibly could. So when I realized that I had left the house for the third day in a row without remembering to brush my teeth because I had been so busy making breakfast for the kids and folding laundry and paying bills and doing the slew of other little tasks that I used to do whenever I felt like it, I felt like crumbling a little. But I popped a couple of Altoids and went to work. It was only later—at home again with the dust bunnies—when it all came out.
And it felt good. It made me think of how my kids cried as toddlers when they were frustrated by something out of their control. They would cry and cry and their faces would get hot and red and wet and they would cry even past the point of knowing what they were crying about. Then the cries would soften into hiccups and they would quiet down and move on, sometimes feeling embarrassed about all the noise they had been making. My toddlers would accept the situation and go forward anyway. And that’s really how I felt. A little silly, for sure, and a little melodramatic, but better. Because sometimes, when I feel my inner 2-year-old come out and want to scream about how hard this is and how this isn’t always fair—and I don’t just mean being a working parent, but being a parent at all—it’s a good thing, an essential thing, to let it all out.
When my kids were little and had these crying spells, I would sometimes wish that they could just get over things more quickly. That all these little things weren’t so important to them. But now that I feel sometimes like I’ve reverted to that toddler state of learning the ways of a new world, I suddenly get it. All these little things? They are so, so important. It is important to figure out both how to compromise and how not to feel compromised as I’m creating a new reality as a working parent for my family and myself. And so that’s what I’m slowly, and sometimes tearfully, trying to do. One dust bunny at a time.