Every night, I begin screaming on the inside around 5 o’clock. The trigger begins around 4:45. Here’s how it goes:
“Mom, I’m hungry.”
“Mom, I want a snack.”
“I know you’re hungry. You just had a snack an hour ago. I’m going to start dinner soon.”
I begin whining on the inside. I want them to not ask me for anything because they’ve been asking me for stuff, food, help, drinks since 7 am. I want a little bit of a reprieve. I want help. But nobody is coming to the rescue for another hour, at least. I begin to want to cry.
Fifteen minutes later, I’ve made it into the kitchen and am pulling veggies, cans of beans, maybe some pasta, or leftovers out onto our shiny counters. The whiny-dialogue begins again, only this time they’re in the kitchen, underfoot, in the fridge, in the cupboards, at the counter:
“Mom, can I have some yogurt?”
“Mommy, I’m thirsty. Can I have some hot chocolate?”
“I’m making dinner right now. Why don’t you go build a train track while you wait?”
It is not an angry “no”, for neither of my children direct rage or fury towards me. Instead, theirs is a response full of self-pity and disbelief. Their whine cries, “How on Earth can you expect me to survive the next half hour while I wait for you to prepare the bounty of food you intend to place before us on our table?” Verbatim.
Sometimes I’m fine. Sometimes I can tolerate everything and this common refrain rolls off me like oil in a hot pan. I move through the evening calm, unperturbed, amused even, that this is my daily grind. Every once in a while, I even enjoy it and I think, “These are treasured days.”
Other times, I’m not fine. Those times, I feel suffocated and this refrain sticks to me like hot iron and I’m treading, trying to keep my head above water. My heart beats fast and I take a sip of wine and it doesn’t help. My head still feels light. I’ve been known to walk out of the room and suck in big gulps of air. I want to feel the air at the bottom of my lungs because that’s what feels best.
I want to feel my lungs full of air. And I know exactly why. Full lungs and partially full lungs are the difference between a mediocre run and a great run. The start of a run is a battle of wills. My mind needs some clarity and my muscles fight viciously against my method of attaining it. I hear things like, “I didn’t eat enough food” or “I’m thirsty” or “I didn’t sleep enough” for the first few minutes. After beating through that jungle, I spend the next few minutes trying to sync my feet and breath. I like taking 5-6 steps for every inhale and another 5-6 steps for every exhale. Depending on terrain, I try to maintain this rhythm. It is a song I have been fine-tuning for three decades. Sometimes it’s more of a jazzy, interpretive piece. I’ll know where I’m going but have no idea how I’m going to get there. I run at an irregular pace and my breathing is inconsistent. Those runs are usually mediocre, sometimes good. Those times, I'm struggling for rhythm, and before I know it, it's over. Other times, my run is an opera. Those days are my favorite days. Every step is a melody, perfect and pure and sure. On those days, I breathe deep and my lungs fill up, expand into deep, massively stretched bladders of air and my back releases pent up tension and my face relaxes and I can just keep going forever. I have been known to smile stupidly.
At five o’clock, I try to mimic the latter. But it usually doesn’t work. I clearly need pharmaceutical intervention.
I talked about the witching hour with my neighbor one night. I admitted how confounded I felt, unable to maintain control of my emotions at the clock ticked towards five and everybody begins to lose it. My neighbor, an older woman who raised two girls alone, said simply, “Oh, when my girls were young, I wanted to wipe the 5 off the clock.”
I took a deep breath. I wasn’t alone. Other mothers shared my experience and felt the same way! I am not crazy or incompetent or an asshole parent. This experience is just part of this season in my life.
Not long after ourconversation, I accepted an invitation out to a Mom’s Night Out. I hadn’t been out in a while and I freaking needed to get out bad. I asked my neighbor if she could watch the kids, and she obliged happily. When she arrived that night, she smiled and told me I looked nice. She took my hand, placed a $20 bill in my palm, and said, “Have fun.”