As adults, most of us feel an obligation to our family and friends to hold it together. Raw emotions are seen as a sign of weakness. We are all supposed to be strong, have faith, don’t worry be happy. We spout cliches about bootstraps and big girl panties.
I feel this pressure even stronger now that I’m a mother, because now I need to be an example to my children, specifically, my girls. I am supposed to be showing them how to be brave, strong, and independent. Leading by example, I am to teach them how to stand on their own and how to be part of healthy relationships, with friends, family and lovers.
Life sucks sometimes.
Adulting is hard and it doesn’t help my kids at all if I make them thing that big, real, hard emotions are bad, to be suppressed or hidden and ignored.
Most days, I do okay showing them that feelings happen. Most days, even in the heat of the moment, I manage to show them how feelings can be felt, processed and reacted to in a healthy manner. Even if my reactions start out wrong, I can typically rein it in and talk to them about good ways and bad ways to handle things.
Not this past Saturday morning.
This past Saturday morning, I was up at 6 am. With coffee in hand, I fixed ballet buns and double-checked dance bags for shoes and protein rich snacks and water bottles. I kissed the Mr. and the Lil’ Man goodbye, being careful not to wake them. The girls and I piled into the van and headed off to our first dance classes. As we reached the end of our street, I could feel my chest getting tight.
Three excited girls were laughing and singing to “The Greatest Showman” soundtrack. The sun was bright through the trees and the sky above a shade of blue we hadn’t seen in weeks. The atmosphere in and around the van was light and vibrating with excitement.
There I was, behind the wheel of my near-death bright red minivan, chauffeuring my three daughters to their (and my own) first dance class at our local theater and every last ounce of me was struggling to stay on the road, breath held, eyes squeezed half shut in an effort to hold back the snotty cry welling up inside.
I made it past the small bridge in our town, and past the bank. As we passed the house we used to own, the one on the corner with the burgundy shutters and the azaleas that I hated, the walls around the well begin the crumble and the tears ran so fast my shirt was getting wet.
It took a full song and a half before my sweet 14 year old noticed that Mom was doing some heavy breathing exercises. I had sufficiently dammed up the water but regaining a normal breathing pattern was still a struggle. I shook my head to say “Yes, I’m fine” which suddenly created a new tsunami of tears at the realization that I was NOT fine and I was lying to my kids.
So, I fessed up. My nearly-adult daughter found a Wendy’s napkin the door and offered it to me. I patted my eyes, caught my breath, and said “Actually, I’m not fine, but it’s okay.”
I told them how sometimes so many things happen at one time,
and how sometimes those things seem to pile up at once,
and how sometimes those times make sleeping hard,
and how no sleep makes processing and dealing and handling harder,
and how sometimes, no matter how strong you are, how brave you are, or how much faith you have,
you just need to let yourself feel.
scream in a field,
head bang to a heavy metal song,
shred a napkin,
lose you’re breath exhaling all the feelings.
Take time to be hurt, or angry, or sad, or frustrated, or lonely.
Let it out, and let it be.
Then you can inhale, take a fresh breath, get a new perspective, put on the big girl panties or find your bootstraps, unholster your faith and keep swimming.
I fell apart.
They saw it.
They also saw me be okay.