When Mama Ain’t Happy….

Greetings from the beautiful coast of Maine! This is a picture of me doing my impression of a dorky, middle-aged tourist mom at Pemaquid Point, where we went this afternoon for some lighthouse peeping, crashing-surf-watching, seaside rock scrambling and dorky picture posing.

In my defense, I had been wearing sandals, but changed into sneakers for rock scrambling purposes. And I put on a little sweater, because it was chilly. And the sun is in my eyes. Plus, Alastair took the picture from a weird angle that foreshortens me such that I look like a pregnant troll. (Thanks a lot, honey.)

I look happy though, don’t I? (Say “Yes, you look as happy as any pregnant troll could be, given her condition and her bright, white sneakers.”) And I am happy. In fact, I noted my mood — on my nifty Mood Tracker iPhone App — as an 8 out of a possible 10.

Now get this:  Two days ago it was a 3.

So, yeah, you might say my moods are fucking with me at the moment. (For more background on my mental health saga, read this. Long story short: I have bipolar 2, which has been more or less under control and not an issue for a year and a half. And, yes, I talk about it openly and mostly shamelessly, even though it’s scary, because I think more people should. In fact, I like to think I inspired Katherine Zeta Jones.)

Anyway, for the past several weeks, and increasingly over the past two, I have been all the hell over the place. One day, I’m feeling absolutely fine — I think I actually had a “10″ day last week — and a day or two later, I’m trudging around like a zombie. Groaning. Looking like hell. Eating people’s brains. Well, eating more carbs than usual, anyway.

Obviously, this sucks. And, also obviously, I’m going to talk to my doc about all this when I see him in the very near future. But what I’ve been particularly aware of during this recent see-sawing is just how much my mood affects my attitudes toward and interactions with Elsa and Clio.

Bottom line, I am just not nice to them when my mood is under 7. I am short-tempered and impatient and intolerant. It’s like A.) I forget that they’re kids and, therefore, sometimes do dumb, frustrating kid things and B.) I forget that I’m a parent and am, therefore, not supposed to respond to their behavior like an annoyed fourteen-year-old. (Example: Clio playfully waves her Curious George doll in my face and I swat it away saying, “Hey, stop it! What are you doing? Why would you do that?”)

And then, what’s worse (maybe?) is that then I try to pull myself together and pretend to act parental (whatever that is; if I’m in an extreme zombie state, I can barely connect with my maternal instincts), and maybe I’m normal and patient and even nice for a few minutes — I’m trying really hard — but eventually I snap again. Either I yell, or I just start to shut down and zone out. And, in either case, I fear the girls are thinking: “What just happened? Why would you do that?”

I hate that I am confusing them in this way. I hate the idea that I am some kind of minefield to them. And I hate the thought that this might be sticking with them. They’re not two years old anymore — which is the last time my depression was bad. They’re four. They will remember things.

Of course, it’s not just me. Not surprisingly, when I’m in a crappy mood, and not parenting at my best, the girls aren’t at their best either. Sure, it’s somewhat colored by my zombie-perception: they seem worse than they’re probably actually being. Still, I really do think that when mama ain’t happy, well, ain’t nobody happy.

And that sucks.

And then, along comes a day like today, when everyone’s feeling good, and we’re singing songs in the car and making jokes and climbing on the rocks by the ocean and having conversations about seagulls. And doing halfway decent parenting: Today I told the girls if they could get through the whole day without any potty talk (there’s been a virulent outbreak of it recently, especially on the part of Miss Clio, who has been finding a way to work the word “butt” into every other sentence, e.g. “Oh, Mommy, I love your butt”) they’d get a quarter. Alastair downgraded this to a nickel; he thought I was contributing to inflation in our household. They ultimately didn’t get their nickels, but (ha ha, but) they tried really hard, and are eager to try again tomorrow.

Here’s hoping they succeed — and that for the rest of this little vacay, my mood stays at 8 or higher.

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