Lately, I’ve started to feel the effects of my seasonal depression. I’m tired all the time, can’t seem to motivate to do even the usually enjoyable things, and I feel sad…a lot. Since it’s currently a struggle to keep moving through things, I thought the best thing to do would be to focus on the positive as much as possible. So here are three scenes from the last few days and my attempt to pull them together into a sort of reminder of what is still working.
I pick Free up from her after-school program and bundle her into the car so we can head to gymnastics. She’s hungry as she often is when I’m shuttling her somewhere. Digging through her snack cooler, she rejects everything: fruit strips, cereal bars, an apple, sunflower seeds, even the granola bars that she usually loves. I haven’t made it to the grocery store in over two weeks, so the favored chex-mix and cheez-its options have run out. She sighs heavily, disappointment oozing from her every pore. I offer her a container of peanuts. She takes it, drops it, and every single peanut falls gracelessly to the floor. I’m tired and hungry for those peanuts myself, so it’s a surprise how nonchalant I am. She, on the other hand, freaks out, jumping up quickly and scooping up the peanuts like her life depends on getting them back into the container pronto.
“Honey, are you ok?” I ask.
“Mom, I’m so sorry. I’ll clean it all up. I know you work hard to keep the car clean. I’m always making messes. I’m so sorry. And now I’ve wasted all the peanuts. ”
Now it’s my turn to sigh. She’s clearly upset, and what seems to me like an over-reaction was probably brought on by some earlier over-reaction of my own to a previous mess.
“It’s ok, honey. It’s just an accident. No big deal. Everyone makes mistakes. Thank you for cleaning it up.”
She relaxes, and we clean the rest up together.
Free and I are sitting in a Mexican take-away joint. We are sharing my chicken burrito while we wait for her quesadilla. I wonder what’s taking so long; we’re almost through the burrito, and Free’s cranky and antsy as she waits, picking out the black beans one by one and shifting constantly in her chair. “Mom, please ask where it is!” she finally explodes, just at the point where I realize they have indeed forgotten her order, and I am indeed quite unhappy about it. I look up to say something just as the cook discovers Free’s burned quesadilla as he goes to put in another order. With good humor and a booming voice, he calls out to her.
“I’m gonna make you a new one. You can have this one too if you want; maybe you can use it as a Frisbee!”
Free beams. In an instant, her mood shifts. When the new quesadilla is ready, the cook almost runs to the table, gets down on his knees, and presents the plate eagerly to her, flashing his biggest smile. “I’m so sorry this took so long.”
“That’s ok.” Free shyly smiles back.
I’m flustered and upset, having received an infuriating text message from my ex—and having responded in kind. It has happened before, but it never fails to upset me. We go along for weeks, sometimes months, with everything fine, and then one of us tips the delicate scales by saying something careless or blaming the other for something innocent. Our lack of communication about anything other than the business of parenting Free sets us up for occasional misunderstandings, lack of empathy, and some lingering resentments. Although I know I’m lucky to co-parent with someone I trust completely to love and care for Free as much as I do, it gets testy sometimes when one or both of us gets overwhelmed with the parenting work we do in separate pods. The other can become a target. We have to be careful. This time, he wasn’t, and it unleashed tension in me that had been building from a number of sources.
I close my phone and get in my car. Opening the garage door, I turn the car on and throw it in reverse, gliding out into the driveway…and directly into Newman’s car. It takes a second for me to connect the sound of contact with my own actions. I freeze, then stop the car, then pull it forward again, flinching as the same scraping sound reverberates. I get out. I can’t bear to look and instead rush to the kitchen where Newman is making bacon and eggs for his son. “I hit your car,” I cry, sobbing as all the frustration of a few minutes ago finds a new target: myself.
Newman follows me out to inspect the damage. Long scrapes trail down the sides of both cars. His mirror is broken, hanging down limply like a bruised bloom. Red shards of the shield to my tail-light dot the driveway. I feel heartbroken, mostly because I have let down this man who would never have done something so completely stupid. I didn’t even look before I backed out of the garage.
If it were my car he’d hit, I know I’d feel annoyance, weariness at the thought of having to deal with another thing, worry about the cost, and serious doubt about his common sense. If it were his own car he’d hit, I know he would have exploded with self-directed anger. I direct all of those things onto myself and wait for his reaction.
I don’t wonder until later, when the only things that have come forth from him are love, comfort, and understanding, why I expected the worst. Perhaps I was preparing myself as a strategy to protect myself if it came. How lovely it is, then, when your expectations are disrupted and hope rises.
Mistakes all offer an opportunity, if you can get to it. It’s a gift if you can turn negativity into quiet or giddy appreciation, like the cook did for Free. Accidents happen, but if we can just pick up the peanuts without losing our ability to smile, we might just be ok.