My throat feels raw from yelling.
I'm outside in the night air, leaning against the side of the house, my breath puffing white in the cold.
I count backwards, trying to calm myself down.
I get to 2 and the image of Finn's red crying face surfaces. Guilt crushes me in its unforgiving embrace.
It's only 6:15pm on a regular old Wednesday, and I'm spent. My insides feel like cracked glass; I'm one shout away from crumbling.
There was nothing usual about today. No great victories or traumas. It was a series of swells - up, down, up, down. I tried to ride them out - I did try, didn't I? - but finally my reserves ran dry. I was already running on fumes when Finn spit at his sister, and it was like a match to gasoline soaked rags.
I stuff my hands deeper into my jacket pockets; I'm shivering, but I'm not ready to go back inside. I just can't. I can hear them bickering; Greta's high pitched whine screeches now look what you did! and something crashes to the floor.
My Gentle Observer, the one who shows up when I can't get a grip on myself, starts whispering to me:
They feed off your energy, Ellie. When you go south, it all goes south. You can't lose it like that.
But I can't NOT lose it! I whimper in protest. The constant push-pull, the endless requests to hurry up, slow down, stop that, come here, do this, don't do that, get in the car, get out of the car, listen to me...... I'm just a nagging shrew. Nobody listens to me, anyway. I feel invisible. Oh, God. It's always so TEDIOUS. And IRRITATING.
It's tedious and irritating right now, the Gentle Observer corrects me, kindly. It will pass. Just like all the joyful moments, the surges of love you feel from out of the blue. It all passes. Breathe and wait.
But I yelled at him, I sigh. I mean I REALLY yelled at him.
So go apologize for over-reacting, but don't let your guilt make you over-apologize. Not every molehill is a mountain.
I think about this morning - was it only eight hours ago? - when Finn sat bravely in the dentist's chair, one leg crossed demurely over the other, craning his neck as much as he could to keep his eyes on me while the hygienist pecked away at his teeth.
"I am worried, Momma," he had said as he clambered out of the car. "But if I can see you, I'll be okay."
I think about Greta's eerie silence at breakfast, how I coaxed her to cough up what was bothering her as she pushed pancakes around on her plate. "Two people want to sit with me on the bus, and yesterday Lisa said if I sit with Janet today she won't be my friend anymore. Then Janet made me tell her what I was talking to Lisa about, and said she wouldn't be friends with me if I sat with Lisa." Tears started streaming down her face. "I don't know what to do," she said through hiccuping sobs, "I like them both and now they are both going to hate me."
I think about how I held her close and spoke soothing words of encouragement and advice into her ear. We came up with a plan of action, and then I wiped her tears and flashed her a thumbs up as the bus pulled up at the end of the driveway. She gave me a confident smile, and squared her shoulders as the bus doors closed shut behind her.
See? says the Gentle Observer. You're not invisible. You're the center; the heartbeat of the whole operation. You can wallow so easily in your mistakes, let them grow like a cancer, and yet you overlook all the goodness.
Breathing deeply, I start walking back inside, my footsteps crunching in the snow. I get to the sliding glass door, reach out my hand to open it, and stop dead in my tracks. Through the glass, I see Greta and Finn lying on their stomachs on the floor, knees bent and crossed ankles swinging back and forth. Greta is rubbing Finn's back, and he is drawing a picture. Their heads are bent together, temple to temple.
I slide open the door and step inside.