So, my son. He is just over two years old – you know, the beginning of the infamous “terrible twos,” so-named because this is the time when toddlers start to express feelings in all sorts of inappropriate ways (also known as, “tantrums”). Theoretically, this happens because the toddlers don’t yet know otherwise and haven’t learned how to manage their emotions.
My son has these outbursts – he actually becomes inconsolable and entirely hysterical, hyperventilating and such. So far these haven’t happened in the candy aisle at the grocery store (are NYC grocery stores big enough for a candy aisle?) or in the car seat as I try to buckle him in (what car?), but instead they happen in the stroller when we are walking home at night and he can’t see the moon (darn you, clouds), or at home because I took the corn out of the bowl and put it onto his plate.
(And we are talking MAJORLY upset, people. Out of control and sucking in air too fast and choking on saliva and tears everywhere upset. Hysterical upset.)
But the thing is, I’m not surprised.
I’m not surprised because it all makes so much sense.
He’s just like me.
Of course he’s upset if things don’t go his way, when he doesn’t get what he wants. And of course he feels all these things – the disappointments and the losses and the desires and the frustrated plans – more strongly than he can understand.
Of course he does.
So do I.
I feel all things strongly, sometimes too strongly. I am not amazingly flexible in my plans and I don’t always understand my emotional reactions to things. I see myself in every fit that he has, in every tear and punch and every struggle to understand. And in all the desperation he feels at his inability to get those feelings out.
And I’ve always been this way. I remember writing about it in my journal when I was probably thirteen or fourteen years old – I thought it wasn’t “normal” to feel things as deeply as I did. I remember feeling so acutely how much I loved the people that I loved and how sad I was over the things that I lost and how incredibly nostalgic I was over the things that were. Life hurt.
Today, I am deeply moved by so many things in life – the hard things and the beautiful things and the ugly things. They all affect me profoundly, and sometimes, unbearably. Everything has layers upon layers of meaning. Sometimes I understand, and sometimes I don’t. I still cry a lot. I maybe hyperventilate less.
I see my son feeling things strongly and I watch him experience the wave of helplessness that comes with those strong feelings, and I totally get it. And I also totally get it when he tries to hit things or kick things or jumps up and down hard on the floor. He’s feeling more than he can handle. He needs an outlet.
I’m no different.
Lately I’ve been learning what happens when I don’t have an outlet. I’ve been learning that – consciously or not – I used to build these “outlets” into my life, work them almost thoughtlessly into my weekly routine. But slowly, with marriage and then especially the children, these things have disappeared. And my inner life has started to unravel. My self-control is disappearing, my temper is flaring, and my hopelessness is building.
I used to tell people that if something is important enough, you’ll make time for it.
Well, I still believe that’s true – but I’ve also realized that sometimes we don’t always know which things are important to us in a necessary way. And sometimes when we spend our days constantly responding to the demands of small children and maintaining a home, it’s easy to forget how important these things are. And then it’s SO EASY to talk ourselves out of making the time.
I’ve barely seen my husband in a week. I don’t want to go to a yoga class now! We haven’t had time together as a family of four in forever. Why should I go for a run by myself? I’m so exhausted at the end of the day – I certainly don’t want to go make small talk at a party.
And soon enough – whoosh! – those things are gone. No more running or yoga or prayer times or listening to music or zoning out or sleep. Just coffee and to-do lists and feeling frantic and overwhelmed and exhausted and hopeless and worn-down-to-the-bone.
And I end up with a very short fuse and a very quick temper and a whole lotta impatience and suddenly I’m not the wife or mom or friend or sister or daughter or Christian or writer or musician I want to be, and I’m just barely surviving, hanging on to the end of my rope, crying on the couch and drinking for dinner.
I need my outlets.
It is really necessary for me to get regular, challenging physical exercise. It is really necessary for me to find a way to practice stillness so that I can breathe and pray. It is really necessary for me to get uninterrupted and regular REM sleep. It is necessary for me to have time – even five minutes – alone each day, without a child holding onto me or following me around, and it is necessary to have time to reflect and journal each month.
I’m feeling more than I can handle these days, and I need to do something about it.
So I’m rediscovering my outlets. Because I’ve still got that two-year-old within me, the one who feels too much and doesn’t know how to handle it and starts to hyperventilate. But now I’m a mom, too, and I can’t just throw myself repeatedly on the bed or kick at my stroller and cry. I’ve got to figure out how to do what’s necessary for me, so that I can do what’s necessary for all the other people in my life.