I’ve just pulled a double all nighter. Unlike in the late nineties this wasn’t all sex, drugs, rock and roll; more snot, baby crack and screaming.
You I’m exhausted.
In all honesty, exhausted doesn’t even begin to cover it.
Before my toddler became ill with a run of the mill viral infection, I had already hit a level 6 pain and been struggling with a virus that sent me into a flare up. Could I stop, rest, recover? Unfortunately not. I’m a solo mother of four, there is no stop. On top of that, June is birthday month, so I have had multiple cakes, parties and sleepovers to make and host, or cancel and feel once again that my health destroys all fun. I kept our plans like an idiot; i had my rostered rest times and go to bed at 8pm most nights. That should be enough, I hoped.
I don’t get to just stop. I don’t get to pass the ball off to someone else when I need five minutes, or ten, or a lie in.
I have been a single parent before, back when my older children were two and one, but many things were different. Firstly I was immunosupressed. Those transplant drugs had been miracle workers for over a decade, until they began to kill my kidney. I still got sick, but not like I do now. Secondly, I had freed myself, finally, from a relationship riddled with domestic violence. That in itself involved a major recovery process for a young mother. A good friend of mine recently reminded me of an incident he witnessed when my son was weaning, to demonstrate to me just how far I’d come.
On this particular morning some friends had stayed over, my boy was around 9 months old and I was feeding him purée. As babies do, he blew raspberries, spat it all over me and the room while simultaneously kicking the bowl out of my hand onto his fathers lap. This resulted in a smashed bowl of baby food covering the wall and a smack around the face for me, for not controlling the baby. My friends called the police and helped me leave. Unfortunately on that occasion I wasn’t strong enough to leave forever. It took me another couple of years of explaining away the odd broken bone and regular bruises, to stop blaming myself and finally get out for good.
Regardless, my ex continued to have a regular relationship with the children for over a decade. He never harmed the children physically and I didn’t believe he would. I had time away from the relentless exhaustion of being a single parent, to work and play. To rest and recover. We managed to make it work for a very long time, until circumstances again changed and the courts with the help of the police and cafcass placed the children solely in my care with protective measures for both them and I in 2014.
That’s how I came to be solo parent for those guys. With the younger two, in simplified terms my ex can’t cope emotionally with being involved, despite being offered endless options and scenarios to enable him to regularly see the children. He can’t, or won’t, who knows anymore. Having left another controlling relationship years previously, I’ve learnt that there is no reasoning or amount of polite pragmatism that will resolve that situation anymore. When a parent consistently puts their own needs before their children’s, they aren’t ready and there is nothing to do but wait it out, hoping for things to change and mediation to happen.
Undoubtedly I have been through the mill, partly by my own choices, partly due to an unwritten path that lay before me, decided by the past I had not reconciled until this past year. Either way it bought me to here and now, doing my best to keep going, but hitting the wall anyway.
I find it difficult to put into words how tough it is to be in so much pain, while four other humans have to be the priority. I have been a parent and doing this for 17 years now. I’m experienced but tired, emotionally drained by the background rumblings that continue with the children’s fathers and the fallout that causes for my children. I have to be the constant, steering the ship at all times, positive, strong, kind, compassionate and relentlessly understanding when all I want to do is scream and shout my own truth.
I don’t. I won’t. That’s pressure in itself.
Last night it got too much.
After two hours battling an angry, poorly toddler having been awake 56 hours straight, I broke down. I sat on the stairs and cried and cried. I don’t want to do this anymore. It’s too hard. I just want to only worry about myself for once. I want to look after only myself for once. I can’t ever, ever do that. I’m not strong enough to do this. I can’t take it anymore. I’ve got nothing left to give. I feel so alone. I can’t do this. I just want to sleep. Please. I just need to sleep.
Through the tears I was sensible enough to message my boyfriend telling him “I’ve hit the wall, I can’t cope”. He dropped everything and spent the next two hours listening, encouraging and supporting me through my continuing battle with a hyperactive militant toddlers bedtime, counselling a worried ten year old and calming an angry teenager.
He didn’t for a second judge me.
He told me I was the strongest woman he’s ever met and that despite what I believed I still have something left. “See,” he said, “an hour ago you felt you had nothing but you’ve just survived a little longer, you’re doing it baby. You always find that little bit more. I believe in you. You are stronger than you know. You’ve survived worse than this and smashed it. I know you can do this, just keep going baby, I love you.”
I reached out for help. I set up practical, physical and emotional support for the next 24 hours. Thank goodness I did. I don’t think I’ve felt such a failure, for a long time. I’m proud and stubborn and that holds me back so much sometimes. The fear of my health being used against me regarding the care of the children is overwhelming . My solicitor told me “people get ill all the time, no court in the land can judge you for that. In fact raising four incredible children alone whilst struggling with your own health is something that makes you stronger not weaker, in the eyes of the court”.
I should write that down and stick it on my wall.
Both exes have attempted to shame me due to my health, using it as evidence that I’m not a good enough mother. I need to stop believing those words when they are written. The simple facts are that I am here. I am present. I am trying. I am committed. I put them before myself. I am doing my absolute best for them despite my health. I find a way to make it work, and get what needs doing both practically and emotionally, done. I am learning to ask for help when I need it. I am raising children that are smart, kind, polite, sensitive, funny and full of trust and love despite being spectacularly let down by someone they believed in. I have navigated the minefield of continued healthy positive contact with the extended families of the children. I have put the time in. I am not perfect, but I try my best, always.
I have earnt the respect of my children, family and friends by doing so.
One crack in the armour. One moment of weakness. One temporary breakdown.
A terrible couple of hours.
Does that undo all the thousands of hours I’ve kept going when my body hurt so much I wanted to cry? Does it negate all the love, security and memories I’ve created when I’m dead on my feet? Does it eradicate the hundreds of hours I’ve sat and listened, wiping away streaks of tears, when my own heart is secretly breaking and all my energy is gone?
Of course it doesn’t.
It makes me human.