Days like today as a mom, as a human I give myself permission to feel the soul-crushing exhaustion it is to be a parent.
We should have known, as my husband and I drove down our quiet farm town road and encountered nothing but flashing trucks with “slow work ahead” signs and massive delays, that we shouldn’t even have bothered trying to have a romantic Diner lunch together while the kids were at school.
We sat down, and no sooner did the waitress disappear the school called. If I’m being truthful, I didn’t answer. Every time the school calls, I panic thinking the kids are hurt. I decided I wasn’t going to interrupt our lunch over another call about an IEP modification or the lunch money account I forgot to fill (because I’ve got a thousand OTHER things on my mind and I forgot, again.)
But sure enough, today was the day I SHOULD have panicked. The voicemail was barely translatable. It was the nurse, and she was erratic, “Something, emergency, something, Gene is hurt, something… get here now. “
My whole body flashed hot, the nurse (who we’ve really bonded with while Francis spent the first 3 years in her office between his asthma and allergy troubles) is not one to panic.
My husband, trying to be calm for both of us, asked for our food to go. I was clawing my way out of the restaurant, pushing through the crowd at the check out counter.
The ride was torture, it took us 24 minutes to get to the school. Each minute that ticked by I relentlessly abused myself, for not being home, for not trusting my instincts, for going out to lunch, for not homeschooling, for being a terrible mom. I began to fray. Somehow I convinced myself it was my fault he got hurt at school. (Parenting is fun, isn’t it?)
When we arrived, I got a sense the whole school already knew about Gene. The main office secretary asked if we were picking up ‘the little guy that fell’. In the nurses’ office, I really felt my empathic cords stretch. Everyone was talking. My skin prickled with fear wrapped in discomfort. The school nurse, the other kids in the room, my husband, and Gene who was now launching himself toward me in full-blown tears… were all talking. I reached for Gene.
But other than his sweet little face, everything went dark. I couldn’t see anything. All I could feel was me trying to escape my own skin. Sounds went dull, shapes blurred, colors hazed… I felt terrified and nauseous. The nurse insisted on showing us Gene’s gaping head wound. I recoiled. Unable to look, feeling my own head throb in response. My poor little guy, the pain he must have felt. It was too much. All of it.
Suddenly, my oldest appeared in the door frame.
Francis added to the voices that lined the air, I did everything to focus on him, “Mommy! I was so scared, I saw a little girl holding his jacket and backpack, and knew something was wrong.”
His math teacher appeared behind him telling her version of the story. More voices.
My body started to tremble and suddenly I was in every Charlie Brown episode ever, “womp womp womp…. “ Every voice was like a hammer in my head. And it wasn’t because I didn’t want to listen, but because I couldn’t listen. My whole system was shutting down. I had to get Gene and get out of there, I couldn’t find any social tact but could feel a panic attack stirring in my belly. I could NOT let that happen. My head pulsed and my throat burned, the noises got louder and I had to fight myself from placing my hands over my ears. I started hating myself, my design, my flawed system. I just wanted to scream.
I really forget sometimes just how easily my anxiety can flare, and how my neurological wiring can spark without warning. I forget all the ways my body works extra hard to compose itself in emergency situations.
But when I looked at Gene’s worried eyes and knew I had to find a way, for him.
We took him to the office and signed him out when the principal appeared. “Oh no, is this the little guy that fell in music?”
More voices, my heart quickened and ears went numb. Maybe it wasn’t even me, maybe I was processing all of the frenzy and emotion for Gene. I tried politely smiling at him and scooted us out the door.
In the car, my husband and I were finally able to talk to Gene. The most confusing part of the story was the fact that he fell standing still. The nurse’s words floated into my mind, “He wasn’t doing anything, he was just standing there” (Apparently I did take in SOMEthing.)
Gene told us he fell over while playing a game called “Bluebird” and mentioned the classroom was hot.
“Do you think he overheated?” My husband suddenly looked more worried.
The more I thought about it, the more I wasn’t sure, as many stories as there were, there was no real information. We had to assume he may have passed out, which brought about an entirely different level of concern.
Thank goodness for my husband’s composure. He called the doctor, sent pictures to the on-call nurse and got the word our pediatrician insisted we go to the hospital for staples. Then it was my turn to pull it together. (A blog for another day…)
I wish somebody had told me years ago I was an empath. And being an empath meant I could take in a room of sensation in one fleeting moment. That processing information REALLY meant my whole body has the potential to go into overwhelm, and as a parent, this is not always ideal, but as a person, I have to honor this is the way I’m built.
In that nurse’s office, I processed everyone’s concern and worry. When I think about it that way, it does give me peace of mind and I hate myself a little less because I couldn’t see things this way if it weren’t for my empathic-ness. All that bodily overwhelm translates to an outpouring of love and support for Gene. Once I can perceive this, it’s soothing to me. He is a part of a community that rallied around him to get him where and what he needed to feel safe.
As for me, I pulled it all in, until it was safe to diffuse it. Of course, taking care of Gene is my main priority, but knowing how my body moves through these situations is important too.
Sometimes I wish it were different, but then, I wouldn’t be me.
Gene and I both sat quietly together at home while he retold the story. Finally, I was able to tend to him the way he deserved. I rubbed his hair, comforted him, and allowed him the space to move through the event in a way that made sense to him. It was quiet for a while, which was just fine for both of us.
In the end, that’s all we can really ask of one another, to understand everyone goes through things differently, there is no right or wrong way, just allowing someone the space to feel what is right for them is the greatest gift possible. Even if it means, giving that permission to yourself.