Last Monday afternoon, I sat in my therapist's office & described our weekend. How Ethan was a whining, demanding, crying beast, and how I, in turn, cried the whole way home from Santa Cruz on Saturday afternoon, after a failed attempt of Fun! Family! Bonding! at Natural Bridges park and the fall/winter migration stop of thousands of monarch butterflies. Aside from the fact that it was too late in the season and instead of the vibrating throngs of butterfly wings perching in the trees, we saw only a few fluttering loners, Ethan complained of being tired, hungry, tired, bored, wanting a play date, hungry, wanting a play date, tired, and hungry from pretty much the moment we took the key out of the ignition in the parking lot to the time we pulled back into our driveway 3 hours later. All legitimate and age-appropriate complaints and demands, I know. But the consistency with which Ethan expresses his displeasure at all things, all the time, had finally frayed my nerves to the point of no return and behaving like a child myself (not proud of it, people; just being honest), I stomped off up the monarch trail, muttering, "fine. We'll go home. So much for fucking fun family bonding. Whatever." (I like a kicky alliteration when I'm being melodramatic), and proceeded to have a pint-sized nervous breakdown on the way home, where I cried to Husband that I feel like all I ever do is try to make the kid happy & its never enough & I'm tired of my life consisting of getting through one of his melt-downs just to wait for the next one.
And then Husband said something that kind of blew my mind & hammered out clearly for me the difference between us. "Well, when Ethan wasn't melting down, we had a nice time." To which I replied, "But he was melting down every. five. minutes!" Then
Yoda Husband said, "Yes, but the five minutes in between each melt down were really nice, weren't they?"
Of course, just like my child, when I'm mid-melt down myself, I can't see the forest for the trees, so instead of considering Husband's point, I simply cried, "No, it was all miserable because I just kept anticipating the next fit of tears from him."
Husband was kind enough to let that sentiment lie where it fell and we were silent the rest of the way home. He was kind enough not to point out to me what I figured out as we drove the rest of the winding way home through the Santa Cruz mountains. My reaction to the situation was my own responsibility. My perspective. My expectations. I have joked in the past that I have a bit of a Clark Griswald complex--I build up all events in my mind to such an extent that no reality can live up to the fabulousness I conjure up in my mind; vacations, family visits, outings like this one--I have this vision in my mind of ideal family bonding and when the situation falls short, I feel personally affronted and let down. It's charming, really.
Anyway, after I explained the whole situation to my therapist and we explored why I felt the need to respond like a 4 year old to my own 4 year old's tantrums (that is a whole can of worms you just do not want to hear about), she said to me, "You know what I might do if I were you? I might take some time & head back to Santa Cruz on my own. To reclaim that experience and create a more positive memory for yourself."
And the thing is--I had already done that. On Monday morning, after dropping Ethan off at preschool, camera bag perched on my passenger seat, I headed back up and over the Santa Cruz mountains, back to Natural Bridges. The whole way, a little part of me was chastising myself for the frivolousness of spending an entire morning meandering the cliff walk, taking pictures, watching pelicans and surfers when I could have been at home doing laundry, cleaning the litter box, doing the grocery shopping. But an even bigger part of me kept telling me it was okay to take that time for myself. That its okay to take a break from the housewife/mom routine every once in awhile and remember who I am. Or, at this point, re-discover who I am might be more fitting.
After a couple hours at the shore, I drove inland a bit to walk around the downtown area. I finally bought actual 35mm film for my mini-Diana camera & had lunch outside at a little cafe. And then I drove back to reality, feeling like a totally new person, at least for the time being.
From the Natural Bridges state park down to the lighthouse park:
Dear Urban Outfitters: I know I should be too old to be enchanted by your kitchy novelty items like orange elephant piggy banks and brightly colored baby buddhas, but I can't help myself. I promise not to wear your clothes and try to be a trendy hipster, but I am going to keep loving your amusing array of tchotchkes, okay?