We’ve all had days when it feels good to unload on someone else: a secret we’ve been carrying, a ball of anxiety knotting its way through our digestive tract, a fear, an embarrassment, a hazy memory of dancing on a table after that shot of tequila…
If we’re lucky, we have a friend or a spouse or a parent who listens. They take on a bit of our worry, making our own burden a little bit lighter. They absorb it.
Like a sponge.
As a mother, I’m an expert sponge. Seriously. As a wife, I’m pretty good too. Actually, I think I’m an all-around decent sponge. There are times though when it feels like my sole job in life is to be a giant sponge. There to sop up excess emotion and tears, to take a little anxiety or unhappiness onto my own shoulders. I shift. I accommodate. I rearrange the already heavy pack on my back so I can add another load like that ass from Buckaroo.
Mother, wife, daughter, sister, friend. This is what we do for one another, right?
Most of the time I don’t think about it too much. I sop. I absorb. I soak up everyone else’s worries and anxieties like a boss. And usually there’s enough time in between major spills to dry out. But every now and again you’re sopping up one mess after another, absorbing one hurt after another, mopping upset and stress and baking cupcakes and trying to figure out where this new fear of the dark came from and making sure football socks are clean and calling your mom and double checking that your son’s sandwich doesn’t have cheese and because God forbid he have cheese it’s the end of the world and freaking out over the news and–
Basically you’re taking on water from so many directions you get saturated.
There are only so many leaks you can plug. After all, even sponges have their limits. Without time to dry out they disintegrate and fall apart in a big, crumbly mess.
Ideally, there should be a sponge-share agreement, whereby you take turns. Most of the time this works. My husband and I seem to have an unspoken understanding that only one of us is allowed to freak out at any given time. If I am in free fall, it means he needs to be up to bat. And vice-versa. Two parents in meltdown is never a good thing.
But life is life is life and things happen and unpredictability and everything else and sometimes there’s only one sponge left in the cupboard.
When this happens, I recommend a week by yourself in a sunny location to dry out.
Of course all you usually get, if you’re lucky, is five minutes in front of a 200° oven while you stir the casserole you made for dinner. The one you hope has enough in it to shut everyone up for a few minutes.
That is, just enough time to dry out enough to sop up the next mess.
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THIS. This is one of many reasons why teachers need breaks. Without them we become so saturated we no longer can pivot when necessary, be as empathetic, or sustain ourselves and our families.
I teach seniors and juniors in high school. The stress as they are nearing graduation (or not); dealing with life choices about prom dates, colleges, relationships, military commitments, coming out, etc.; and taking on bills and other adulting for the first time — some days I feel like I’m up to my septum in teen anxiety. The last half of the spring semester can take a flying leap.
Add in a recently retired spouse who left teaching 8 months ago after 37 years and feels the void; elderly parents and in-laws who are making decisions about downsizing homes they’ve cherished for 50 years; kids who are either recently married or recently new parents, and a best friend who retired, sold nearly all of her belongings, and hit the road in an RV with her hubby 10 months ago….
There have been days this past year where deep-breathing exercises, the mantra *This, too, shall pass,* snuggles with the new grandchild, or the rare Mental Health Day spent buried in a frivolous novel, hiding out in a movie theater, or curled up in the fetal position sans phone or news programs has been required.
And that’s okay. It allows me to go forth and soak up another day. As you said, it gives others the opportunity to step up for awhile and bear the load.
Here’s wishing you all you need, Dina, to be able to wring it all out and begin anew.
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I’m ready to take on some of your burden, even if it’s just the catharsis of writing it all out and having someone read it and pay attention to it. Go and smell that baby’s gorgeous baby smell and dry out. I know you’re coming up on the ‘wet season’ in school, so make sure you are ready to soak it all up. And then enjoy that break!!
Bless you, Dina.
Spring Break—10 days of glorious No Schoolness—a few days with the husband, some time with the grandkids, and new car shopping, starts at 3:17 PM tomorrow.
So I’m here for you.
Apr. 2 begins the Daily Emotional Gauntlet run until the end of May. Write some great stuff for all of us then, will ya? 😘
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Very good! The comparison of a holiday in the sun to 5 mins in front of the oven was brilliant x
Love this. It reminds me of a time of life when pretty much everything that could possibly suck totally did – finances, mental health, parenting, marriage, everything. My husband and I would often say to each other: “I’m done. Right now you be big and I’ll be little.” Thankfully we were mostly able to take turns, because the days when neither one of us could be “big” were terrifying.
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You be big and I’ll be little. That’s perfect.
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