Babies, I’ve Had the Blues

The last couple weeks have been rough.

Sure, here on Hot Breakfast it’s been all “I’m making soup” and “Tell me what books to read.”

But behind the scenes there have been some gray clouds. Collapsing onto couches, big sighs, crying over laundry baskets, that sort of thing.

Rory’s not the only one who’s been crying around here.

Now before this starts sounding too much like a Cymbalta ad, let me say that I’m not depressed. Depression is serious business, and I would neither deny it nor belittle it. And I know there’s some of that in my DNA wound up with anxiety and a little OCD and an inexplicable devotion to the Today show and God knows what else.

But I’m fairly certain that it was just the kick-off of my annual Holidays Funk.

(Not to be confused with my holiday party dancing, aka “make it funky.”)

This should’t have surprised me. As I mentioned before, the Most Wonderful Time of the Year is, for me, the Most Overwhelmed Guilt-Ridden Self-Loathing Time of the Year.

Ho, ho, ho!

The funk started right before Thanksgiving. It didn’t help that it was also the Most Wonderful Time of the Month. I used to believe that hormonal cycles didn’t affect me beyond the occasional pimple. But people, the day after Thanksgiving, I stood over a mountain of unsorted laundry with a toilet brush in my hand weeping about the endlessness of all the chores and feeling completely insane. Five minutes later, bam: menses.

The conclusion of PMS helped my mood, but it didn’t fix it. I was gloom and doom about everything around me. I was driving Pat crazy. I was actively taking steps to shake it off, but still it lingered.

Last Friday, the funk finally broke, though it took the better part of the day. I awoke glad that it was the last day of the week, but dreading it nonetheless. Rory had been up crying until almost 1 a.m. (Pat, to his credit, pulled the late shift. I think he got sick of me hissing “When are you going to fix that door knob???” every time it creaked as I tried to sneak out of Rory’s room.)

As Pat left for work, I saw the day stretching on endlessly before me. I wished that I, too, were showered, dressed and walking out the door with a travel mug of coffee and a destination.

But instead, there I was, standing in the kitchen in my pajamas gulping coffee, watching the kids fight over a plastic hammer and wishing I had a time machine to take me to 5:00. Or possibly 2015.

I did not refer to my happiness commandments.

But I did do a few things that made a big difference. Based solely on my experience, I give you

8 Steps Out of Funky Town

1) Get out of the house. When I’m feeling down, it’s tempting to stay in my pajamas until noon and park the kids in front of the TV. But there’s nothing better for the mood than a change of scenery, especially if it involves fresh air and sunshine. The kids and I headed to the playground.

2) Phone a friend. It’s a lifeline for more than just game shows. Usually when I’m blue, I avoid people; I’m annoyed with myself, why should I subject anyone else to my gloominess, or have to fake being happy? The key is to reach out to a real friend, not just an acquaintance. You know, one to whom you can say, “Ugh, things I have just been really crappy lately.” I texted one of those friends who has a son around Noah’s age to see if they wanted to meet us at the playground.

3) Take a nap. Sweet Lord above, is there anything better for a mood than a nap? I’m lucky that Rory still naps in the afternoon, and Noah is old enough that I can give him the crazy eyes and say “Mommy needs a nap, go play,” and he goes. I snuck in a 20 minute nap Friday afternoon, and was like a completely different person afterward. The clouds parted, sun shone down and a bluebird may have landed on my shoulder.

4) Get out of the house (alone). Okay, this one’s not always possible. I am fortunate that with my mother-in-law now living nearby, I can ask her to come over for an hour so I can run a quick errand. I know a lot of moms who take turns watching each others kids for these kinds of escapes. Pay a neighbor kid if you have to. Whatever it takes. Just. Get. Out.

5) Cut the shopping list. Yes, giving gifts to others is fun. But it’s also my number one source of stress during the holidays. Turns out, my sister feels the same way. We both agreed to skip buying presents for each other and each other’s husbands, and just buy for the kids. Of course, now I keep seeing things I want to get her, but it’s a relief not to HAVE to.

6) Add to the shopping list. This year, we “adopted” a family through our church to help out for Christmas. It’s a mom and three little boys – the older two are Noah and Rory’s ages, and then a little baby. With all due respect to my children, I am enjoying shopping for these kids more than anyone in my own family. I suppose their reaction to the Lightening McQueen sweatshirts, holiday pajamas and winter boots might be “Clothes aren’t gifts!” just like my kids, but I can always imagine that they will like it. At least I know their mom will be happy. And I’m sure a fire truck and some blocks will sneak in there, too.

7) Have some fun.  This should be a regular part of any day home with two little boys, right? Nope. I may not work, but my to-do list has no less than 14 items on any given day: make a dentist appointment, order Christmas cards, plan Noah’s birthday party, buy milk, return the rug (I’m embarrassed to admit that my bad rug choices and/or rug neuroses have made “return the rug” a perennial item on the list).

And where are my kids during all of my to-doing? Often lost among my frantic scribbles or standing right beyond my iPhone. Some days I spend more energy trying to find ways to keep them occupied so I can do my own thing than I do actually playing with them. And those days usually result in the boys whining and me feeling irritated and unfulfilled because not only did the kids drive me crazy, I still got nothing done.

One night last week, 5:00 was creeping up and I was anxious to get dinner started. It had been a rainy day, so the kids were inside all afternoon, jumping on the couch and spilling milk and knocking over chairs and collapsing in tears and generally causing a lot of under-the-breath cursing and vows to return to a full-time job with significant overnight travel.

Finally I decided we had to get outside. So we bundled up and headed into the yard, where it was still wet and almost dark. The kids wandered in the grass while I sat on the deck looking at Facebook on my phone. I was done for the day.

Then Rory wandered up with an acorn cap and motioned that he wanted to put it on my head like a tiny hat. This reminded me of a book we’ve been reading, This is Not My Hat, where a big fish chases (and eats; it’s pretty dark) a little fish who stole his too-small hat. I told Noah to grab the acorn off my head. I put down my phone and chased him into the yard, growling like a rabid, er, fish.

This is not a picture of our “This is Not My Hat” game, aka “Throw Balls at Grown-Ups.”

The next thing you know, we’re playing a sort of dodgeball, with all three of us running through the yard, screaming and laughing and throwing soccer balls at each other. By the time Pat got home, I was sweaty and out of breath. We were all in such good moods. And “Throw Balls at Grown-Ups” is now Noah’s most-requested game.

8) Good enough/accept joy. After an almost two-year break, I recently started going to yoga again. While it’s great physically (and God knows I need all the strength, balance and flexibility I can get with two boys using me as a pack horse day after day), it’s been the meditation aspect that’s really helped me.

One Saturday morning, in the midst of the funk, the yoga teacher asked us to think of our “intention” for the class. I tried to pick a mantra that would help me focus my brain. It took me most of the class to land on one, but then it came to me: “good enough.” (I only now realize that I may have been subconsciously drawing on Stuart Smalley.) The next week, a new mantra floated in: “accept joy.”

These two ideas go hand in hand for me. When I’m constantly feeling that nothing around me is how it should be, I get bogged down in unhappiness. It prevents me from seeing all the good that’s right in front of me.

I spend a lot of time thinking (and writing) about all the things I want to improve: my parenting (half-assed), my eating habits (less sugar), my workout routine (more running), my resume (lame), how I spend my free time (less TV, more books), my decorating abilities (no curtains, cold floors), my crappiness as a friend (someday I will reciprocate those dinner invitations).

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be better. Self-improvement gives us confidence and pride in ourselves, which are both good things. But there’s a point where I have to give myself a break and say “I’m good enough.” My parenting is good enough. My clothes are good enough. The house is good enough. The Christmas presents are good enough. Our situation is good enough.

We have everything we need. Everything else is as good as it needs to be.