It was one of those mornings.
My girls were waiting out another 2-hour school delay despite roads that were clearer than they had been all week. The dogs were barking to hear themselves woof, and the cats were fighting through the laundry room door. I was preoccupied with innocent giraffes, the quality of water, the threat of more snow, and the loads of laundry heaped into mountains. Our youngest daughter then reported symptoms of some type of disease (“My head hurts when I cough and that makes my ear ache and then my throat cracks.”). My other daughter panicked that she might’ve finished the wrong Math workbook page. A stack of overdue library books collected dust on the stairs.
I stood at the front door, waiting for the car to defrost. It’s against the law to leave a car idling without a driver in the front seat, but I didn’t care. Arrest me, please. It’ll be a vacation. I caught a harrowing glimpse of myself in the hall mirror. My skin was a dull yellow color. Not quite yellow jaundice, but close. I looked tired, even though I had slept like a log the night before. My hair, newly colored, looked like I had slept like a log the night before.
After driving my daughters to school and wishing them well in their half-day ahead, I came home and treated myself to more misery: potato chips and French onion dip for breakfast. Leftover birthday cake for lunch. A Diet Sun Drop soda for a mid-afternoon snack. A handful of Skittles to make my stomach forget about dark chocolate frosting. I watched an hour of Olympic coverage that featured every country but the USA, and then I read depressing articles about unwanted animals taken to a local shelter. I fed my dogs pepperoni rolls to bribe them indoors. I’d pay for that later.
Later. That means I’d set myself up to stay miserable when the dogs get stomach cramps and threaten to ruin our wood floors.
WHY, WHY, do we do this to ourselves? When life is messy — not really bad…just frustrating — why, oh why, do we insist on punishing ourselves even more? Why do we belly-flop into a pool of bad choices just because we’re in a foul mood?
It’s called self-sabotage. Women are particularly good at it. I’m in contention to win the gold medal.
Experts say there are several signs that mothers, in particular, are in self-destruction mode. The number one behavior is….
1) Wild eating: Instead of uncovering a problem and dealing with it, women cover it up with potato chips, dip, chocolate cake and a diet soda. Emotions are stuffed away — literally — with food. In my situation, I was angry about something I had read on Facebook. Instead of posting my outraged thoughts, I quieted them through the gnashing of teeth as I crushed chips into dust. The healthier behavior would’ve been to write down my rant in private, and then rip it to shreds. But no, I ate a half-pound of Lays.
2) Pausing: Two-hour school delays rewire my brain into thinking the day is shot. I can’t do x, y, or z because the girls will be home until 10:15. I’ll have to pick them up at 2:45, so what’s the point in starting anything? In the MONTH the girls weren’t in school due to snow, wintery temperatures, chemicals in the water, and a holiday that I’ve already forgotten, I became a bit of a vegetable (since I wasn’t eating one). Experts preach that procrastination is the gap between good intentions and actual activity. But doing things now means mental clarity later. Get on it!
3) Hiding: I’m certainly not going to impress anyone with yellow skin and flat hair. Since laundry procrastination had prevented the donning of clean khakis and a pretty top, I opted to stay home and eat junk food in the warmth of a ratty sweatshirt and yoga pants. Not that I had any intention of doing yoga. But when we dumb ourselves down, or refuse to fix ourselves up, we get into a mindset that potato chips and cake don’t really matter. We’re already a mess. Instead, we should put some energy into our appearance so that we trick ourselves into feeling confident.
4) Fascination: After my letter to Mark Zuckerberg about the “Look Back” video that made fall in love with Facebook all over again, I realized that my addiction to everyone else’s news often ruins my day. More than often, it clouds my judgment. I’ve always been hooked on news, but someone’s political rant isn’t news. It’s just someone else’s problem that I’ve allowed myself to become a part of just by reading it. Like alcohol and drugs, like hoarding and compulsive shopping, an addiction to social media makes otherwise strong people (women) doubt themselves. Someone’s perfect-looking kitchen makes us hate our whole house. Another person’s gourmet meal makes our children appear neglected. Someone’s dream vacation makes our day trip to the Huntington Mall feel like punishment. Health experts remind us that stepping into other people’s lives can ruin our own. Unplug.
So what’s the answer? Why are women – mothers - their own worst enemies? Those same experts say it’s because we’ve lost sight of the big picture. For years, we’ve been instructed to live in the moment. But now, it seems like an immediate reaction could lead to a lifetime of regret.