Dear Elisabeth: Why I Wrote Myself a Letter

In a particularly challenging season – two young children, a new house (our first) that came with a delightful set of very expensive “surprises,” and a husband traveling out of the country 50% of the time – I felt like another crisis was always around the corner.

Often, it was.


A week after moving into our new home we discovered a set of plumbing issues that required jackhammering our basement floor and excavating the front lawn. I was spending hours of each day on the phone with our insurance company, my husband was any number of time zones away, and it was December. A very, very cold December.

There were concerts to attend (and bake for) and since it was our first Christmas in a home, we were hosting family from around the world. We had a giant hole in our basement floor, no mattresses for our guests, and a gaping wound in our front lawn. I lost 10 lbs in less than a month.


Everything felt hard. I woke most days feeling nauseous. I struggled to choke down food. I fed my kids boxed Mac n’ Cheese and put on a family favourite – 1966’s How The Grinch Stole Christmas – the night we discovered a hairline crack in the foundation that was allowing the tiniest trickle of water to drip into our office putting a halt on our scramble to lay flooring before the guests arrived.

The company arrived; we managed to get enough mattresses. Christmas Eve happened to involve fever and vomiting.

Late Christmas Eve, our poor, exhausted, sick little one. And yes, that is a pretend Dr’s kit scattered on the floor. We spent months with one or the other child sick almost constantly. Oh preschool/elementary germs, how we hated you.

We made the best of it, and I can look back on happy memories from that time. But it was also very traumatizing.

I felt like I had to keep all the balls in the air – contractors, kids (who were perpetually sick), Christmas decorations and gifts – and I didn’t know how to cut myself some slack. Some days I honestly thought I couldn’t make it through another hour, paralyzed by the stress of it all. I wanted to be all and do all and couldn’t.

And the place I felt the most guilt, as I suspect is true of many women: my parenting. So I wrote myself a note and posted it, with blue sticky tack, to the back of my closet. Here’s what it said:

Dear Elisabeth,

You are a good Mom. End sentence. If you’re reading this, it probably means you’re having a rough day. That’s all this is – a rough day. You will survive this. The kids will stop yelling, you will get to sleep, the house will look clean again. I promise.

Here are some suggestions for the-kids/life-are-literally-making-me-crazy-Elisabeth:

  • Let the kids watch a movie. Watch it with them if you want. Or don’t. Either way is fine.
  • Take them somewhere they can play and you don’t have to participate (McDonalds Play Place, the library).* clearly pre-COVID.
  • Feed them cereal for supper – it is the easiest meal you can prepare. And they’ll eat it. Without complaining.
  • Let the kids watch a second movie if you need more time off. This will not kill them, render them brain-dead, or affect their ability to grow up into functional adults.
  • While the kids watch the movie(s) – take a shower. A long, scalding one. Blow dry your hair. It’s relaxing and you won’t hear them if they start to fight.
  • Drink a cup of tea. Eat a spoonful of peanut butter.
  • Look up books on Goodreads, or order books from the library. You like books and they make you feel like a genuine adult.
  • Clean up something – a drawer, a counter. Put something away. Start a load of laundry. But only if you feel like it. You’ll be back to normal soon and the laundry can wait. I promise.
  • Make an easy recipe – baked oatmeal or black bean brownies are a good place to start. You can always freeze them and it will make you feel productive.
  • Run the dishwasher even if it’s not full. Then have Abby empty it.
  • Read books to the kids. It’s good for them and you.
  • Give the kids a snack. They like snacks. And you need them to like something you do. This also will not kill them. This does not mean they will end up obese as adults. It’s just a snack that will help you maintain your sanity. It’s some raisins, not mind-altering drugs. There is a difference.
  • You can put them to bed without reading a book or singing a song. There will be another bedtime when you have energy to do more. They’re fine. Don’t let the guilt creep in.
  • Ask “What would make this easy” for every decision. Do that. You’ll be back to making life more difficult than it needs to be tomorrow. Give Type-A, control-freak, overwhelmed Elisabeth the day off. She needs it.

And remember – ultimately, you can only control yourself. This too shall pass. Hang in there.

Hugs from,

Elisabeth


I haven’t referred to this note in a while; it’s still plastered to the wall behind a smattering of robes and long dresses. Life has changed: my kids are older, my house is less vindictive (though I’m no less daunted by renovations), and my husband hasn’t left the country in well over a year. But it’s funny to see some of my strategies peeking through: giving myself permission to stop trying so hard, including the choice to opt-out.

And, when all else fails, there is always the cereal-for-supper option (or PB&J).