And now it’s time for a breakdown!
My five year-old son, Max, broke his leg on September 6th, the day before school started in New York. In a very “I’m not a regular mom, I’m a cool mom” move, I’d finally acquiesced to my children’s summer-long begging and taken them to a trampoline park chain, the kind of sensory overload panic room that costs $50 a head for the privilege of jumping into a communal ball pit while wearing special non-slip neon socks you were just forced to buy. We’d only been there half an hour when Max ran over to a trampoline that was occupied by several others, launched himself into the air, hit the surface, and instantly crumpled. He was shaking and screaming. “Mom!” he whispered through tears, “I think I just broke my leg!” I scooped him up, dragged my older son Sam out of a massage chair, and called a Lyft to the nearest hospital, forgetting Max’s shoes in the process and cursing myself for having signed a waiver absolving this norovirus-coated hellhole of any liability. Max wore his little highlighter-yellow grip socks to the emergency room, where we stayed for three hours, until, finally, X-rays confirmed that he had in fact fractured his left tibia in two places, from simply… landing wrong. He was in great spirits by then, a dose of Motrin having knocked out the pain, but I was bereft. He couldn’t walk, which meant he couldn’t start first grade as planned, certainly not the next day and maybe not for weeks, or even months. It was after 5 pm on the literal last day of summer break. I was so close.
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Like most people, I am on a lifelong, hero’s journey-style quest for that ever-elusive psychological siren, peace of mind. This is especially hard for me as I run quite anxious by nature. I’m like the human equivalent of a tuning fork that never quite hits the right note no matter how much I work on my pitch. I’m medicated, I work out, I listen to Ram Dass meditations or fall asleep to “classical piano dreamscapes” that sound like Glenn Gould on shrooms. I eat THC gummies at night that seem to lift the anxiety off of my shoulders like someone taking my coat at a party, and yet, the effects are short-lived. In my sober daytime life I am almost never relaxed, my brain full of worries and to-do-lists and ideas, my body always tense, on constant alert. My feelings vibrate close to the surface, as visible and vulnerable as the blue veins that pulse under the thin skin of my wrists. My mother’s distant cousin is actually a palm reader, and years ago I casually showed her my hands at a party. “You feel everything,” she said, examining my palms, which resemble tissue paper that has been crumpled into a tight ball and then flattened out, criss-crossed with hundreds of delicate lines (while the rest of my body looks 40-ish, my palms could easily pass for 85). “Everything affects you so deeply,” she told me, and I nodded, smiling politely, as if I didn’t already know.
This is all to say that I have not handled Max’s accident or the sudden wrench that it threw into my fall schedule with the utmost grace. I was okay at the hospital, but by the time I was cleaning up the dinner dishes at home later that night I was a burbling mess. I couldn’t stop crying, and I couldn’t figure out exactly why I was crying so much. After all, my child was going to be just fine. This was not a terminal diagnosis or a lifelong disability. I work flexible part-time hours from home, so I wouldn’t have to take time off or risk losing my job to care for Max while he healed. First grade wasn’t exactly AP Physics; it could wait. But I was thrumming with anxiety, fear, and self pity. After years of not doing much creative work apart from the copywriting I do for money, I had finally decided to focus my energy back on my career once the kids went back to school, and had spent August feverishly filling a notebook with ideas for both a mystery-thriller novel and a new collection of personal essays. Ever the Type-A control freak, I had even typed up a schedule in which I carefully sliced my precious solo time (four hours and fifty-five minutes of freedom a day once drop-off and pick-up travel was deducted) into tantalizing morsels of productivity: a little housework, a few trips to the gym, but mostly writing, writing, writing. I’d been hitting a wall (or, more accurately, banging my head against it) for awhile, feeling like I was giving every ounce of myself and my energy away to other people and entities--mostly to my children, who arguably deserved it, but also to friends and family, clients, strangers, the dishwasher, the washing machine, and the dryer, which lately had been malfunctioning so often that we were barely on speaking terms. It was almost like I could see my ambition and my talents (at least the ones that don’t involve making Baby Yoda-shaped pancakes or folding tiny shorts) staring at me from the shelf they were sitting on, gathering dust alongside the fire extinguisher and the extremely ill-advised DIY Brazilian waxing kit I purchased during quarantine. What are you waiting for??, my neglected muses seemed to ask. Are you a writer or a fucking handmaid???
So Max’s broken leg wasn’t a life-altering trauma so much as it was the last block gingerly removed from the wobbling Jenga tower of my mental health. For a week afterwards, I wept daily. My mood could turn on a dime. I felt like a dangerously live wire whipping around in a hurricane, although I think I kept this mostly hidden from almost everyone except my husband Jeff, who under the best of circumstances is not very comfortable talking about feelings, especially when they are shouted into his face by someone who looks like the reaction gif of James van Der Beek crying. Against his will, Jeff is frequently subjected to a one-woman show of impassioned monologues with titles like “I Do Everything in This House And No One Notices,” “Allow Me To List All of My Life Struggles in Alphabetical Order,” and “I Have Not Had Any Time for Self-Care, So Now I’m Going To Reenact The Scene From Muppets Take Manhattan When Miss Piggy Starts Beating a Trash Can to Death With a Scaffolding Pole.” This is probably not fun for him. And it is really not fun for me (although I do love a good self-righteous monologue!) On social media, where I try to be as emotionally honest as possible while still being funny, I obliquely referred to having had a week “of small menty bs,” using the blithe Gen Z slang for “mental breakdown” to make it sound like it was no big deal. But it is a big deal. I’m housebound, carrying my child and his heavy-ass fiberglass cast up and down stairs, bringing him a plastic bottle to pee into so as to minimize my stair-climbing, and dragging him around in a wagon I bought from Target that gives me a little peek into the lives of the Oregon Trail oxen, who spent their days hauling sickly, ungrateful passengers when they weren’t wandering off or getting stolen by thieves or drowning when you tried to ford the river. When I’m not managing his bowels or doing manual labor, I’m trying to write or clean or read something online while getting asked for snacks every ten seconds, or having my presence requested in the living room to join him in the deeply educational activity of watching YouTubers play Minecraft while screaming (the YouTubers, I mean; my screams are mostly silent).
Joan Didion--also an avid YouTube fan, I’m sure--once said “I don't know what I think until I write it down,” and I guess I don’t know how I feel until I write it down. And what I feel, if the above is any indication, is a fucking mess. How am I doing? As Dorinda from RHONY once put it so succinctly, not well, bitch! Max hasn’t been able to go back to school in person because his school has no elevators or extra staff to carry him around, and the process to apply a 504 plan (to accommodate students with disabilities) will take longer than it’ll take for his cast to come off--in exactly two weeks, but who’s counting? Ha ha ha. I’m not attempting to teach him anything because I simply cannot face another bout of homeschooling post-2020, so he’s mostly watching garbage on TV from a supine position on a crumb-covered couch while I scroll past Instagram ads for microdosing ketamine, which I seem to be getting a lot of these days, as if my phone knows I’m in emotional free fall. I’m still thinking about my books but not actually writing them, which is the creative equivalent of blue balls. And after three years in our apartment I saw a mouse for the first time in the kitchen last week, so now whenever I need to cook or access food (it’s cool, only 287 times a day) I enter frantically tapping my feet with my eyes closed, like I am rehearsing an extremely unfortunate single white female version of Bring in 'da Noise, Bring in 'da Funk. So, don’t worry, I’m totally fine, you guys.
Just another non-fatal injury on the trampoline of life!