You've heard of "hitting the wall," the point of complete exhaustion. Unfortunately, I've used that cliche far too often the past nearly ten years of full-time single motherhood. As of today, however, I have a new stock phrase to call upon to describe the same condition though, if possible, a more severe version because it suggests a fatigue so incapacitating that one cannot even avoid striking a living creature while driving down the road! When you hear someone say "I hit the wall," you think to yourself I hear you, I know what you mean, I've been there. But when you hear someone say "I hit the deer," you really pay attention. "You WHAT? You hit a deer? You actually hit a real deer? Oh, my God! Are you okay? Is the deer okay? Is your car okay? That's really scary!"
No kidding. It IS really scary. I know because it happened to me today. (FYI, I am okay. The deer appeared to be okay as it continued bounding toward the woods with its companion. And my car also seems to be okay.) First off, the accident was completely unavoidable, and it ended in the best result possible given the circumstances. Here's what happened: I was driving the speed limit from my town to the neighboring town when two deer leapt into my path at a bend in the road. I had a split second to brake, if that. Swerving would have been extremely dangerous and surely would have resulted in striking the first and larger animal broadside or going off the narrow road. I did not consider turning the wheel in that brief moment. Thank God no one was coming in the opposite direction or we would have wound up in a two-car/two-deer pileup! I could have been killed. As it was, I just clipped the backside of the second deer. If I'd had more distance between my vehicle and the animals, both deer would have cleared my front end. Unfortunately, they were just too close to me.
Though not at fault, I feel that hitting the deer was truly the culmination of a spate of unpleasant events that have plagued me for a while now. In other words, it is an apt metaphor for where things have been heading. They have been escalating, and not in a good way. I'm referring to a child's behavior, the condition of our home, and my financial situation among other aspects of my unpaid job singlehandedly managing this household of three. But many other unusual and undesirable events have also been happening since the beginning of the year. In no particular order, they include incurring nearly $3,000 worth of automotive repairs and car-rental fees, running out of gas on the highway, losing heat in my home during Nemo, forgetting my wallet at Staples (resulting in an hour-long anxiety attack and missed Easter egg hunt), losing two different earrings two days in a row, being put on Facebook probation for sending too many friend requests, and dropping my iPad on the pavement before stepping back onto it. Plenty more oddball occurrences have befallen me recently. These are just the ones I remember off the top of my head!
Why does this keep happening? For one, I am a person who seems to be a magnet for drama. It has pretty much always been this way. However, it has intensified considerably since becoming a full-time single mother and has grown even more pronounced of late to the point at which if someone had asked me if I thought I might hit a deer today, I would have laughed wryly and answered "YES!" -- as unlikely as that scenario would have been and considering the fact that I had never hit a deer before in my entire life.
Yeah. It has gotten that bad.
Motherhood can be grueling, and if you don't have a spouse or partner assisting you (and providing a second income!) or a support network of family or friends -- even just a few or one reliable person -- willing and able to give you free help when you need it, then 24/7 single motherhood IS grueling. Period. (Of course, if you have loads of money to hire substantial at-home help, then all bets are off. You are the apple to everyone else's orange. Lucky you!)
The single-mother experience ebbs and flows, though for me personally I am still waiting for the flow. For most of the past nearly ten years of it, I have fallen into the former category. Since I have lived in my present community twice as long as my previous two, I have had an easier time finding people to pitch in the past few years. I have made better friends here. Still, I really don't like to ask for help (who does?), and I try not to do it if at all possible.
Single motherhood is very intense for me just about every single day. My boys are in elementary school -- third and first grades -- so my reality is homework, school projects, field trips, evening programs, sports teams, martial arts, playdates, sleepovers (for the uninformed, seven year olds do have sleepovers), birthday parties, and more. As if that's not enough, throw in acting opportunities separate from school and many miles away (even out of state) and multi-day camping trips all over New England, and you have a pretty good idea what we are up to year-round. The schedule is full. Scratch that, overloaded. And it is nearly always about my sons. (Note to self: see if you can tweak that a bit.)
But while I am the facilitator of all of the activities -- the person who finds them, registers for them, pays for them, buys the uniforms for them, keeps track of the schedules for them, drives my sons to them, watches them, sometimes helps at them, and prepares my boys for them (playing catch, choreographing a piece, reviewing spelling, correcting homework, etc.) -- I also have to fit in my own life: teaching, getting ready for class, critiquing student work, blogging every ten days, accepting an occasional extra job or focus-group opportunity for spare cash, and submitting query letters and manuscripts and more to agents and editors in an ongoing effort to get my book-length memoir published. Yowza! Of course, there's also washing laundry, putting it away, buying groceries, making meals, packing lunches or lunch money, picking up the house, teaching right from wrong, comforting and disciplining, taking my children to dentist and other appointments, and on and on.
It is an endless list and the reason why being a mother is the hardest job in the world. Given this backdrop, it is crucial for mothers of all stripes and especially single mothers to apply the brakes once in a while so as not to "hit the deer."
Go out to a matinee. Have lunch with a friend. Walk on a beach. Have a massage. Take yoga. Wolf down a decadent dessert. Leave on a girls' weekend away and do karaoke in the local bar. If it feels good, makes you happy, relaxes you, or provides a brief escape from your daily pressures, then by all means indulge yourself. Do it as much as you can.
If you don't practice self-care at least once in a while, you will go "crazy." Maybe not in the clinical sense (though maybe you will) but surely in the teetering-on-the-edge sense. The mother, particularly the one without a partner or other free help, will feel like she is living inside a pressure cooker or vise with pressure bearing down on her from all sides. It makes her depleted, irritable, and unable to tolerate anything else thrown her way such as a flat tire, missing car keys, or petulant child. Her sense of calm and equilibrium will be replaced by excessive anxiety, imbalance, and a disordered mind. Regretfully, I know this state intimately. Take my word for it: it is horrible to experience.
Don't let yourself get to the point of hitting the deer. Carve out break times to give you pleasure and find moments of peace so you can manage to keep the crazy away . . . or at least at bay.