The Edge of Parenting

This is a true story, and i share it because i think it’s important for all parents to know that when they have these errant and bad thoughts, they aren’t alone.

Heinlein once said that it takes a human mother to bear a human child. But human children have the uncanny ability to channel the behaviors of animals far less civilized. At various points, they bite like vipers, they get mean like chihuahuas, or they scream like howler monkeys. I have personally seen my children become grizzly bears, wild boars, snapping turtles, and during their teenage years, weasels. And a human mother (Or father) isn’t always equipt to handle these biological morphings. Sometimes, we need help. It doesn’t mean we are bad parents, or bad people. It just means we are human.

My middle daughter, who turns 21 today, was born when i was living out of the country. Our area of the multi-service base was rather small, and we were a tight-knit community. The fenced in arrangement of identical cement block duplexes was a safe haven, and our children could roam and play with a freedom that few neighborhoods afford nowadays.

When she was still an infant, my daughter caught an ear infection. Up til that point, she had been a fairly easy baby – Mostly happy with very little screeching. However, anyone who has ever had an ear infection knows that it is misery. My poor little weedling had a crazy high fever, couldn’t sleep, couldn’t nurse, and was in terrible pain… As was evidenced by the incessant, ear-splitting screaming that cut through every part of my body straight thru to my heart. I’m talking the kind of high-pitched siren that shatters glass, cracks dental fillings, and makes dogs wince and run for cover. Medicine, iced teething rings, cool baths, soothing music, rocking, walks… Nothing made it stop. And i’m not talking a couple hours here. This went on for days. Literally days. I knew it wasn’t her fault, but I got closer and closer to the edge of my sanity. The passing vision of my head exploding gave way to more realistic pictures of me taking a hammer to my head. Or putting a muffler over her mouth. Anything to make the noise stop.

I ended up reaching a point where i could feel my internal switch begin to flip. I was shaking and almost in a panic. Thankfully, something in me spoke up. It was like  a pair of hands were guiding my own as i put my possessed, screaming daughter safely in her crib, pulled up the side rails, turned around and walked out. Walked out of her room and out of my house.

Four doors down was one of my closest friends on base. Her husband was the unit’s corpsman (Medic, for you non-service folk). And she had two teenage daughters.

I walked in her house, sat down at her kitchen table, and said, “Can one of your daughters please go to my house?”

She later told me that i was white as a sheet. She immediately sent one of her daughters over.

Then i cried. I cried because i felt like a terrible mother. I cried because i couldn’t take the screaming. I cried because i was so afraid. Afraid i was going to lose it. Afraid i was going to snap. Afraid i was going to hurt my daughter out of my own frustration.

At some point, she had called her husband, but while she waited for him, she listened. She made me a cup of tea. She told me i had done the right thing to come get help. She empathized. She calmed me. And then her husband came home and gave me the most wonderful gift.

Foam ear plugs.

He explained that they would not drown out everything, but would take the edge off. He echoed his wife that i had done the right thing to get help. He asked me some questions that i now know to be a screening, to determine if i needed further care.

An hour after i had walked out, i walked back. I found my friend’s daughter rocking my baby, who was still crying, but less so. I was renewed enough not to need the ear plugs yet, but i was glad to know they were there just in case. I hugged the teenager who came to my rescue. I packed my daughter up in her carriage, grabbed another set of plastic keys (The little monkeys in the area were forever stealing those and sippy cups out of carriages and strollers) and set off for a walk.

That was the one and only time i ever felt the need to leave. But i am grateful that i could. That i had friends to call upon who would help without judgement. Because we have all been there (If you haven’t, you will be). It might be an ear infection, or the terrible twos, or it might just be you –   Short-tempered from a bad day at work. We all get near that switch. It’s important to know what options you have in those situations. To know how to keep your children, and yourself,  safe. To know where to find professional help if it becomes a recurring problem. And to know that recognizing those moments is crucial and doesn’t make you a terrible person or mother. In fact, it means we are paying attention, and hopefully it makes us more sensitive to the moms that come after us so we can offer help before they get to that point.

In any case, if you are a mom and you are close to the edge, reach out. To friends, to a counselor, to your pediatrician… Someone. And don’t feel badly about doing so. It is better to ask for help than to cross that line.  Your little heathen animals will challenge you ever chance they get. That is part of their job. Take the challenge.

And don’t hesitate to call in reinforcements when the challenge is too great.


*** If you are needing help, google parenting  groups and / or social services in your area. If you are in crisis, dial 911, call your local hospital or mental health facility , or try 1-855- 4A PARENT (1-855-427-2736) to reach the Parents Anonymous hotline. There is help out there. These are only a few of the options. 

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