Hey, Tobias, I Think We Might Actually Be Winning!

This is from a rough time in October. I sat on it for a while to see if it still felt true even when I was less stressed. Yup.


On Monday morning, Max’s little heart messed up again: too fast, ineffective. The problem self-corrected an hour later, so we didn’t need to call an ambulance. Even without that level of drama, though, there’s still plenty of the kind of excitement that visibly ages a person. We look relatively calm as we decide on the logistics:

  • Frida will walk herself to school for the first time. Lunchbox packed, backpack loaded, hat on, and out the door she goes.
  • Tobias stays with Max while I pack an overnight bag for the hospital, then he’s about to be late for an important meeting at work so he jumps in the car. He can leave early to pick up Frida from school if needed. Via phone as he’s driving to work, we decide to monitor Max for an hour, then call an ambulance.
  • I gather Max’s medical records folder, some snacks, diapers, etc., help Max throw up in the sink (it happens when his body gets too stressed,) and take Max’s pulse every 5 minutes, documenting the results so that we can share them with the cardiology team.
  • Max’s pulse returns to normal a few minutes before the deadline, so I call a taxi instead of an ambulance to take us to the hospital. We go in for an EKG, schedule a follow-up because of some abnormalities, and are discharged before lunchtime.

All’s well that ends well, right? Except that there’s the other work, too. I need to exercise, get some fresh air, get my head on straight. So does Tobias, and so do Frida and Max. I need to give Max’s teachers, grandparents, and various doctors an update on his status. I need to figure out how to get done the work I’d planned to do that morning. I whiplash between a deep sadness that Max is so fragile, and a glorious appreciation of every non-shitty moment; meanwhile I need to reorganize the week’s meal plan because while we were at the hospital, I didn’t get the prep done for Monday’s dinner, and fuck it anyway I’m too tired to cook. That means throwing away mussels, and that means Tobias giving me a hard time about food waste, and that means me feeling furiously under-appreciated and also embarrassed about not being able to manage everything I want to be able to manage. I know, we all know, that stress brings out the worst in us: after a shitstorm like Monday morning, I feel like I deserve a treat so I eat too many cookies and feel grumpy and fat. Awesome.

I find that the work it takes to focus on the moment, to let go of unimportant bullshit (how close am I to my goal weight? how clean is my house? how well-behaved are my kids?) and to focus on the good stuff (how does my awesome body feel right now? how lucky are we to have the things we have? how kind, funny, caring is my family?) is work that I don’t have energy for when I’ve used my energy trying not to scream at the taxi driver when he says that we’re lucky that we have sons, right? (NO, YOU STUPID MOTHERFUCKER, AND LUCKY IS NOT WHAT I FEEL RIGHT NOW – YOU’RE TAKING MY SON TO THE CHILDREN’S HOSPITAL, REMEMBER? I AM GOING TO STARE POINTEDLY AT YOU UNTIL YOU APOLOGIZE. Which actually only took about two seconds, and I think he really meant the apology and hopefully the backpedalling he did is a permanent change of perspective, but I still didn’t need a feminist apoplexy in addition to the my-kid-is-passing-out-because-of-heart-failure parts of the morning.)

So it’s manageable in the moment, and yet it’s too much overall. When I take myself off to Munich the following weekend because Tobias and I can’t stand to be in the same room, a reasonable jury would find that the culprit is the stress of the situation with Max.

When Tobias is in a sad situation, he feels sad. When the situation is frustrating, he feels frustrated. When I am also in a sad and frustrating situation, I need the people around me to help me see the beauty and joy in everyday life. I try to do this for Frida, and for Max, and when another sad, frustrated person comes home from a tiring day at the office and lets their sadness and frustration show, I have very little comfort left to give.

I’m writing all of this down here because I think that if we can predict these cycles, we can manage them better. Max has an episode? Expect:

  • Frida to need something physical to do (we raked leaves this time, it was perfect.)
  • All of us to need more sleep in the following few days,
  • carbs to sound good for about 4 days,
  • crying jags, teeth grinding, new pimples, fussy appetites, stinky feet (possibly unrelated,)
  • time to address marital problems no sooner than a week later.

It’s been a week. Let’s get the kids to bed, then change into our best pjs, listen to music and crack walnuts. Let’sĀ find some moments to appreciate together. Let’s be amazed at all that we get done. Let’s be as generous with ourselves as we would be with friends who were trying to manage a situation like ours. Let’s realize that, every moment that it’s not actually broken, we’re making it work.


One thought on “Hey, Tobias, I Think We Might Actually Be Winning!

  1. Oh Betsy this is so spot-on and wise! I call this snowballing (in the way one would build, say, the base of a snowman). When a situation requires a ton of energy/stress, and I get tired, it’s easy for me to look around and just add on things…how is our house always a wreck? And why do we use ziplocs? I should be earth-friendlier. And soaking beans. And able to jog. My god, I am unfit. Other people enroll in dog training? Good Lord, even our dog care is sub-par.

    For me, it’s definitely not a time to examine my marriage. Because my score-keeping is both overzealous and inaccurate. I can see only the perennially un-loaded dishwasher and not count the firewood chopped or the trash cans dragged uphill.

    The pointing out the beauty in life piece is something I think about a lot. My whole life I have considered myself someone with a certain kind of skill, to kind of lighten moods, set an upbeat tone. Cypress tends towards melancholy–he’s a sensitive soul–and I feel like his despair is mine to manage. Sometimes I find myself talking myself into rallying the family. Like, you can flip this. You can make this fun. Think of a game. Get them moving. Time them on a made-up course running around the tree to the fire pit. It should be fun–what a gift, motherhood! But I can’t help feeling the burden of it at the same time. Like I’m some kind of insane cheerleader for life, constantly pointing out things we could do, see, make, play. And I don’t know what I want to change, or if anything needs to change, really.

    Anyway, thank you for your insights! And I give you all the points in the world for even entertaining the thought of cooking mussels for dinner. Know that somewhere in upstate NY, my children were eating steamed broccoli and ravioli. Because they don’t know mussels exist. ha!

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