Bourbon in the bathtub
Just like there’s no crying in baseball, is there no crying in motherhood?
I had retreated to the bathroom, as bidden by my husband, after I threw an adult-size temper tantrum about … everything. I ran the bath extra hot, poured in coconut oil Epsom salts and swished it with my hand. I picked out some music on my phone.
I tried my breathing GIF. Nope. Still despairing. Still angry. And still sort of wanting to be righteous and indignant about it anyway, damn it!
My rocks glass — bourbon, simple syrup, lemon — steamed over and started to sweat.
I sunk in, even though it was a little too hot, relishing in the fact that something was hotter than my temper.
After dealing with an emergency surgery, a complicated recovery, bumps in entrepreneurship, a large-scale home renovation and kids who have seemingly entirely lost their hearing — not to mention the fact that 2019 actually lasted at least three years — I had HAD IT.
It was a time-and-sleep-starved anxiety-anger cycle. I knew that.
But also: I don’t know how to fix that. Someone is always awake at our house. I have a business to run.
I wasn’t looking for a Goop recommendation. I was looking for real relief. But the dirty little secret is that this system just isn’t set up for working parents. Or most parents. There’s no time to think or sleep or have a moment to yourself, a night out, a vacation.
There’s literally nothing left, is what I remember thinking.
I recently read a piece by Ella Dawson that brought tears to my eyes. In There Is No Cure For Burnout — a mega-essay about her painstaking decision to quit her stable job to preserve her sanity — she recounts her own experience with the very real phenomenon.
At one point in her essay she says: After all, you can’t untoast toast.
That’s it. I was toast. I was afraid that I’d somehow run out of mama magic — what I subconsciously defined as this preternaturally abundant well of empathy and patience and love and whatever else you somehow, some way, inherit when you become a parent.
I was trapped by my own unattainable standards. And I felt like I failed. Everybody. Big time. Like, Get a grip, Katie. What mom melts down and yells at four other astounded faces around the dinner table? (Well, a lot, it turns out.)
I stayed in the tub until the bath went cold. I heard my husband lassoing children into jammies below. I got out, put my own pajamas on and sheepishly joined everyone.
We herded pitter-patters to bed. I crawled in with our oldest, Ruby, and she tentatively asked if I’d read from our Magic Tree House book. I read an extra chapter and then I turned to her and apologized.
I was not my best self today, I told her. I was not the best mom I could be. And I never want you to worry. Mom and Dad have everything under control. I’m sorry that I took my bad day out on all of you.
It was an oversimplification, but still true.
It’s OK, she told me. You’ll do better tomorrow. And I love you no matter what.
I don’t think a bath cures all. There’s still anxiety and ennui and, yeah, sometimes I’m just angry. There’s also love, and acceptance, and the joy that comes from things like watching my son learn to write his name, with a big dancing R that looks like it’s going to groove right off the edge of the page.
I took a couple more baths that week. It’s not everything. But it’s a start.
Katie Dohman lives in the Twin Cities with her three kids, two pets and one husband. Follow her home-renovation adventures at instagram.com/dohmicile.