I have always dreaded – yes, dreaded – going to the kids’ schools for any reason. This is hardly something that is acceptable among the “good moms” who are judging me in my head. What kind of mom would avoid their kids’ schools like the plague?!? Apparently just me. I have limped my way through various required functions and class parties over the years, but it has not been fun. And I’m sure it has been even less pretty to watch.
Recently, though, my middle one (E) has been pushing to have me come to her school for lunch. Just a regular, every day lunch. It’s shameful to admit but she has asked me before and I’ve come up with vague reasons for why it wouldn’t work, and then I would hope she would simply forget about it. (I’m wincing as I write that because it seems so absurd and ridiculous – not to mention how awful it sounds. Again, what kind of mom would do that?!?)
But lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about their childhood and how it could have been different if I had started really working on my depression earlier, or if my parents had given me even the tiniest little tools for emotional health, or if my husband and I hadn’t moved around so much. There’s a LOT of guilt associated with all of that – more guilt than I can tackle at the moment. But, all of these thoughts have made me more aware of what the kids might need from me.
So… lunch it is. I made a date with my daughter and she was over the moon. Mommy was finally going to come to her school for lunch. She wanted me to bring her a happy meal with Sprite – a very special treat.
I, on the other hand, was far from over the moon. I didn’t know what I was – but I knew that there was a lot of churning in my gut and in my head over this silly lunch. (Therapist Me interjects that I shouldn’t call it “silly” because that’s being dismissive. Noted.)
I was nervous on the day of the lunch. I wasn’t sure what to wear – don’t want to look too fancy, or like I live in lounge pants all day, want to strike just the right chord of comfortable, yet sophisticated, fully connected mom. I don’t even know what those clothes would look like, but I’m certain I don’t have them in my closet.
There’s nerves over what to wear, and how to register in the lobby so they can make sure I’m not a pedophile and I do have full custody rights to see my daughter. Do I have to sign in at the office as well? Where do I sit while I wait for E’s class? Do I really have to put the tacky visitor sticker on my comfortable-yet-sophisticated-fully-connected-mom shirt that I chose for just this occasion?
I’m nauseating myself just writing this – can’t imagine that anyone could enjoy reading it. So I’ll fast forward. My daughter was SO excited to see me. Jumps, and giggles, and all the visuals you associate with a happy 1st grader. We had a fun lunch – she with her happy meal and me with my carefully selected lunch. She didn’t fawn all over me like I expected – she just seemed happy and content to be there with me while she continued on with her lunch chatter and business as usual. Thankfully I’ve had enough therapy over the years that I can recognize that as a sign of a healthy, happy kiddo, and perhaps even give myself a little bit of credit.
After lunch, I walked out to the car and collapsed. Sink totally in the seat and take deep breaths hoping no one is in the car next to you kind of collapse. Why? Why did that one little lunch take so much out of me?
The answer, I realized, was anxiety. Honest to goodness anxiety. As I sat in the car, I realized that I had been worried and anxious about things the whole time I was at lunch. It struck me so much that I wrote all of them down. 15 things in 30 minutes – that’s a different thing to be anxious about every 2 minutes. Some examples:
– I fumbled around at the security kiosk and fed my driver’s license into the machine the wrong way. I’m sure the security guard could tell that I’m not a regular – I’m the terrible mom who never comes to school for her kid.
– E’s happy meal came with a toy. The other kids were squirming and getting out of their seats to see the toy. But, the kids are supposed to stay in their seats. Should I not have brought the toy? Is Jeremy going to get in trouble because he got up to see the damn toy that I brought?
– E’s teacher didn’t seem very friendly. Is that because she thinks it’s odd that I never come to school?
– Susie needed help opening her yogurt. Can I help her with that or should I let the lunch ladies do it? Would it be bad if I helped her open it but I didn’t have plastic gloves like the lunch ladies do?
Argh. I can’t even bring myself to continue. All of this sounds so pathetic and miserable. BUT, there were some powerful insights for me.
The first was that I have anxiety. This was news to me – which is hilarious in retrospect because it seems so obvious. How could I have not realized this all along? I think I put myself in the “depressed” bin and stopped there.
Second, it’s no wonder that I haven’t liked lunches at the kids’ schools. 30 minutes of non-stop anxiety in an environment that is not at all comfortable for me? Who would choose to do that to themselves?
Most importantly, I realized that none of my lunch anxieties really had anything to do with E. For the short moments here and there that I could focus on being with her, I was happy to be there. She came home from school that day with a colored note thanking me for coming to lunch, and I really, truly felt good that I had done it for her.
I always had such shame and guilt associated with the fact that I didn’t want to attend these school things. I felt awful that I was the kind of mom who disliked her kids so much that she couldn’t even eat lunch with them. So to realize that my resistance to lunch wasn’t at all because of E herself? That was HUGE. It didn’t help solve all of the other issues, but it quieted some of the voices in my head that were telling me that I was a monster of a mother.
Whew. If you’ve gotten this far, thanks for reading. And make a date for lunch with your kid this week. 🙂