Having too much empathy for my kid, and then, not enough

Pluck
Kim Schomburg

Tonight we are going out. Whoopee! I am thrilled. Jeff and I are going to see a taping of “Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me,” one of our favorite public radio shows. I know – how geeky are we? But we’re pumped. 

However, this means leaving Teddy at night. Fortunately, I am leaving him with someone spectacular – a friend who is a wonderful mom to a little girl Teddy’s age, who is so extraordinarily kind that she will watch my kid and put him to bed after taking care of her own and another little boy all day long. I don’t know why she’s doing it, but I sure am grateful. 

I have no doubt in her ability to take care of Teddy. I wrote out our bedtime routine, but I don’t really care if she follows it. I mostly hope Teddy is not too crazy for her. He’s been in a bit of a state lately. 

I just wish I could explain to him what’s happening. I mean, I know I can explain it. I just wish I could be sure he understands. 

It’s this same dilemma I wrote about last week. Because of our childcare situation, Teddy is around Jeff and I all the time. He rarely has anyone else put him to bed. So I fear that tonight will be pretty stressful for him, no matter how wonderful the caregiver is. 

The last time we went out, the babysitter told us that he cried, “MAAAma! MAAAma! MAAAma!” for a long time. Of course, he woke up happy and cheerful the next day, like always. I just feel bad for my little boy, thinking of him wondering where his mother has gone. He’s perfectly fine. But his loneliness makes me feel sad. 

And then there are times when I am not so empathetic. 

Like two nights ago, when my husband had to intervene on Teddy’s behalf in the middle of the night because his mother was crazed. It had been several nights in a row of no sleep. I don’t know what’s up with this kid – Wonder week? Teething? 18-month sleep shift? In the end, it doesn’t really matter, because it all means crying all night long and no sleep. 

I had reached my limit. I was exhausted, but somehow, I couldn’t fall asleep. My brain was on like a light bulb hanging in an empty room. Just on. My husband and child snored next to me, and I lay there and cried. I cried because I was tired. I cried because I am lonely. The lead poisoning stuff, my work being so up in the air, and many days in a row of being with a crabby toddler who seems like he won’t be happy until he can crawl his way back into the womb and never be separated from me again. 

He was hysterical. I bounced him. I rocked him. I sang to him. I nursed him. He returned to hysterical every time I tried to set him down. I was confused about whether I had a toddler or a newborn. Except this newborn is 25+ pounds and wrestles like a baby tiger when he’s upset. 

I put him down on the bed, quite forcefully. I was done. I sort of dropped him, and he bounced lightly on the mattress. I yelled, “Why are you doing this to me? Leave me alone.” And I sat down and cried. 

Jeff intervened. He took Teddy, and then he took the next day off of work, because we were both in such a state that he was worried about us. 

I hesitate to write about this because I fear you will think I’m a bad mother. What kind of mom yells at her kid in the middle of the night? 

But the truth is, sometimes I am out of empathy. Other times, I am overflowing, and the thought of his little face on the verge of tears brings the to my own. But other times, I am spent. And lately, that’s been a lot. 

I think this is motherhood – the growing and pushing and pulling of myself. Stretching myself to make myself stronger, bigger, more flexible. But it hurts sometimes, you know? Sometimes I feel done with it. I do not want to be any bigger or stronger than I am right now. I would like to go back to thinking about myself more, other people less. I would like to spend less time taking care of people. 

And yet, I am here. There is no going back. I must keep growing. Because if I don’t, it just means more crying in the middle of the night, and that wasn’t fun. So, grow I must. I will let this child push me and pull me over and over again, like taffy that is sometimes pliable and other times, cool and brittle. I will figure out what boundaries I need to set in order to still be able to have empathy for my little guy, who I truly love more than anything, although there are moments when I feel like he’s a parasite devouring me from the inside out. Is this motherhood? I hope so. Somehow, I am surviving.

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