How Down?


Scott and I have always loved the Albert Brooks movie Lost in America. In it, there is a scene in which Albert Brooks discovers Julie Hagerty gambling away the last of their nest egg in a Las Vegas casino:

She: We’re still down!
He: How down?
She: Down.

About a year ago, each night after putting T to sleep after yet another exhausting day, we would look at each other with stricken expressions.

Me: We’re still down.
Scott: How Down?
Me: Down.

During that difficult time, I often felt lonely. It seemed every other mother I knew was posting pictures on FB of the beautiful organic seasonal dinner party she just threw (to which I wasn’t invited), using some table linens her three perfect kids decorated themselves with stamps they carved from potatoes. No that their kids were at the dinner party. Because they were sleeping. SLEEPING!

I spent a lot of time crying in the car and feeling hopeless. Forget trying to get on the waiting list for a good kindergarten, I was starting to think about getting on a waiting list for a good rehab. I felt unequal to this task of motherhood. It’s not that I wasn’t grateful for all of my blessings, I genuinely was. It’s just that some of the time, I was also pretty disappointed by life.

Tariku’s school aide, until recently, was still going to class with him one day a week (mostly because I was used to hanging onto her like a life-preserver), but a couple of weeks ago she called me and said, “Look, this just isn’t necessary. He’s doing amazing. He really doesn’t need me anymore.”

Then yesterday we drove down to see a circus that should have been an hour away. We left an extra hour early but still wound up late, because we got off at the wrong exit, landed in the worst neighborhood of all time, and got caught behind a police barricade. True story. And do you know what? My son was the calmest, most content person in that car. It used to be that the slightest deviation from any plan would set off an epic tantrum. This time, he was just singing and playing with his transformers and occasionally asking random questions like: If this isn’t the Cretaceous period anymore then what period it it? I honestly have no idea what parents did before google. Did they have to actually be smarter than their kids?

Now that the crisis has abated, I’ve noticed that every one of the mothers I placed on a pedestal has, at some point in this year, been down.

How down?

I recently witnessed the mom that I consider the height of PTA-going, Martha-Stewart-crafting perfection nearly have a nervous collapse, when Tariku accidentally kicked a ball of paper mache in her garage (because it looked like a ball and not like a Halloween costume in-progress). No joke, I thought I was going to have to call 911. And later she was like, I’m sorry, I’m just stretched so thin.

Meaning, y’know, I’m down.

Maybe I was really never that isolated to begin with, it’s just that all I could see were differences and not similarities. Which is to say, I have been down before and will, I’m sure, be down again. But the next time it happens, I hope to remember not to look at everyone else’s potato stamps and see them as evidence of my aloneness at the center of the universe.

4 thoughts on “How Down?

  1. The biggest thing I have learned as I have been entering adult-hood (entering is the key word here because I’m pretty sure I will never be completely an adult)is that not many people share the bad, they just share the good. So if you talk to people or look on any social media site and see only happy, positive things in someone’s life, it is simply because they rarely share the negative. I know a few couple’s that make their relationships seem absolutely, without a doubt like it’s a fairytale and if you didn’t know the details you might assume it IS that way, it definitely is not. They have just as big, sometimes bigger problems than myself. You are NOT alone, just remember, most people want to seem put together, perfect and above all the crap, they aren’t. They just are too afraid to show the world just how really NORMAL they are.

  2. I just finished your memoir and loved it. I was turned on to it because we’re an adoptive family in Minnesota, waiting in Ethiopia at around the same time you guys were. We’ve moved on from Ethiopia to adopt Frank, now three, from Korea. I wanted to say I loved the book and loved the blog. Your honesty is completely refreshing.

  3. This is a lovely piece. When I feel so isolated and unlike anyone I know, I can’t think that anyone could possibly feel as cut off as I do… maybe they do? Lovely words here, thank you.

  4. Yes, one can try to avoid all the crafty mom blogs, but if the moms in your circle ARE the crafty mom bloggers then that’s trouble!

    Anyway, as a full-time-out-of-home-working mom of 6-year-old twins who are each especially challenging, I can relate. After getting them to bed is usually when I begin my self-imposed guilt trips about how I lost my patience or my temper that day. We are not “Down” at the moment, but I’m sure we will be again.

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