My vacation to the dark corners of my soul

Matt went out of town for a job interview.  On a whim, to compensate for my anticipated loneliness at home, I decided to meet up with my brother and his family from Tennessee in Nauvoo, Illinois.  I have traveled by myself with the children before, but it has always been to a parents’ home, where there were lots of helping hands.  I figured I could handle it.

I was wrong about myself.

My post title might be a little over-dramatic, but it didn’t take me very long into the trip to realize that I don’t have the fortitude for such journeys.  I can’t figure out what made it difficult for me.  I do things alone with my children all the time.  My husband works full time and goes to law school at night.  Practically everywhere I go is by myself with children in tow.  But something about this trip kicked my trash.

Believe it or not, the seven-hourish car trip was not too bad, thanks to a stockpile of snacks, toys, coloring books, and the modern wonder of DVD players.  We arrived at the little cabin on the banks of the Mississippi River that, by providence, I had randomly discovered online.  The sunset view in the evening gives a (false) sense of peace and quiet in our little family cabin:

DSCF0031

My kids were out of control.  Was it because of all the time in the car?  Was it vacation excitement?  Was it the fact that dad was a thousand miles away?  I don’t know, but I’m quite sure that I was useless.  Imagine a cabin with three children, ages 6,5, and 2, totally unsupervised.  Try to get a good picture in your mind of the energy, chaos and noise.  Now add a frazzled mom in the picture running back and forth barking things like, “Stop screaming,” “Hands to yourself,” “I said put on your pajamas,” and “Get in bed now.”  Repeat four thousand times.  Here’s the weird thing: that mom was invisible.  No one listened.  No one responded.  The anarchy continued unphased by commands of the might-need-to-be-institutionalized-soon mother.  I even spanked.  I don’t spank.  I don’t think anyone was harmed by my whimpy whacks, and certainly no one was deterred by them.  I had feelings of rage and despair that I think might rival much more intense and life-threatening activities than readying children for bed.  I finally “succeeded” and they were in bed, but I was left simmering in my own dark feelings.  I hated that I couldn’t control them, and hated more that I couldn’t control myself.

This scenario repeated itself several times throughout the trip.  I’m sure my children were just being “normal,” but I felt like they were just so disobedient when I would ask them to stop something over and over and over again.  And then this yucky feeling of failure and anger and disappointment in myself would become heavy.  There were lovely moments in the trip, too.  Natalie and her cousin dressed as pioneers, and could they be any cuter?

DSCF0036We had studied the Doctrine and Covenants in preparation for our trip, and the boys were excited to visit Carthage Jail, the location of the prophet Joseph Smith’s martyrdom.  Can you sense the affection they felt for Joseph and his brother Hyrum as they clamored to this statue when we arrived?

DSCF0026And Natalie returned again and again to this statue of Jesus Christ.

DSCF0042We have a tradition of a donut-picnic at the temple whenever we travel:

DSCF0045And there’s no denying that the cousins loved each other’s company.DSCF0044So in all fairness, I have to say it was a good trip, and I think my children will have good memories, and perhaps even some key testimony-building moments, but for me… well, for me, I saw the ugly side of myself– the impatient, not long-suffering, and definitely not joyful and carefree side of myself.  And the I’m-a-fool-if-I-ever-think-I-can-do-this-alone side of myself.  I felt like such a dork when I would visit these historical sites and think of the sacrifices the early Saints made and the trials that they would endure as they tried to live their faith while faced with real problems.  My issues seemed so stupid by comparison.  So the trip was one of those refiner’s fire, soul-shaping adventures for me.  The kind that hurt a little, but you know something better can and should become of you.  (And the kind that makes you think that just maybe you should put your kids in time out for a month when you get home.)

Perhaps the most poignant moment for me was when I got lost on my way to church.  I was trying to get directions over the phone, but the kids were being loud and silly in the car, and my phone lost signal.  In a moment of peaked frustration, I turned around and yelled, “EVERYBODY QUIET!!!”  I am not a screamer.  But I screamed.  My children all froze in place and looked at me with wide eyes.  We silently continued toward the church.  Natalie said quietly, “Mommy, you scared me.”  I was so upset (again, mostly with myself), and the thought occurred to me that perhaps today, more than any other time that I could recall, I really needed the Sacrament.  I was acutely aware of my weaknesses, and boy, did I need grace.  I needed the power of repentance, the assurance of forgiveness, and most of all, a new start.

One of my favorite statues I saw at the visitors center in Nauvoo was this depiction of the Savior walking on the stormy sea:

DSCF0043When I think of those waters as my stormy feelings– the darkness, the chaos, the difficult-to-harness anger, I know that the Savior is the one who must calm the elements.  I need him.  Again, the lesson of my “vacation” hit home– I cannot do this alone.

We’re back home, and we survived.  Next week I’ll probably think it was a fun trip.  It was great to see my brother and his family.  My testimony of the prophet Joseph Smith and the restored gospel was strengthened.  In the meantime, Matt is helping me remind our children why they should listen better, and we’ll work on that as a family.  Because another vacation like that one, and I might lose my mind.

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21 thoughts on “My vacation to the dark corners of my soul

  1. What a great post. I have traveled alone with my kids a lot and it is never easy. I always end up praying to remain sane. But my faith in the Savior gives me hope that with his help I can overcome my own weaknesses.

  2. It is always hard when we kind of lose it, I get so disappointed in myself for the very same things….we have a running joke in our family about ‘mom cussing’ because that is a sign of an ultimate low point…..I am sad to admit it happens.

    You’ll appreciate this, though. My sister had kind of lost it with her daughter (who was, I can attest, being naughty) and her little girl ran in the bathroom to hide. SHe told my sister when she went to smooth things over, “mom, don’t do that! You sound like Miss Hannigan!” (yes….she is an “Annie” fan.)
    My sister told me that was a major low point for her!

  3. The feelings that you describe are what I feel a lot when we have a bad day here at home. When I feel that no matter what I do, the kids won’t listen. Then when I do yell and get mad, I have the exact feelings of self loathing and irritated more at my self then the children. Then they do something and the same thing happens on that day and it gets worse and worse. That is why I wished to be the perfect mother to figure out how to handle those situations and to not have those feelings of being mad at myself. Great post, it is nice to know that other mothers that seem to have it all together have really bad days too.

  4. 2 years ago I took at husband-less trip with a 4 year old, a 2 year old who was barely potty trained, and a 9 month old. I can sum it up with my mom’s comment a few weeks later: “I saw you doing a lot of the things I did that I wish I hadn’t.” I still get a sick feeling when I think about that trip. Like you, I learned my limits. I can give you some hope, though, as I have successfully traveled with kids and no hubby several times since then.

  5. What a fun vacation for your kids, and you are a very brave woman to go through that trip on your own. Thank you for always sharing a spiritual spin with everything that happens in your life. It really helps me to keep my mind focused on the eternal and not temporal.

  6. I tend to think that anytime I got out of bad days without wanting to beat the children is a good day. I have had many “EVERYONE QUIET!” moments and I don’t feel too guilty about them (yes, I realize that I am not an ideal mother, perhaps even a bad mother in the eyes of people who read this. Oh well). Sometimes the children need a reminder that there are times when, in order for mom to function, they have to be quiet (and a bit scared of mom). We are told that we must “fear God,” so I think that it’s ok for the children to develop that same “fear” of parents. Not the fear that mom is going to hurt them, or that mom will stop loving them, but the fear that their actions have consequences. It’s the only way that I could handle having kids that would eventually turn into teenagers.

    You’re just a WAY better person than I am to have even read the scriptures to your kids in preparation for a trip. I am scum.

  7. I certainly have moments, and even days, like that. At those times I feel like I have to constantly re-evaluate what I am doing, and how I could be doing better. But I only allow myself to feel like crap (for being mean to my kids) for one minute. Then I pick myself back up and work a little harder. But it is VERY difficult, isn’t it?

    Anyway, I’m glad you were able to visit Nauvoo. My kids loved Nauvoo. But Aidan hated Carthage Jail. He kept asking when we were going to leave that yucky place. And he was only three years old!

  8. We all have “dark”moments as mom’s. Learn, don’t beat yourself up, and move on to do better another day. Sometimes I think we have these days to see where we can improve, sometimes I just think children can drive you insane. :) The best part…even when we lose it…our children still love us. We will also always love them.

  9. This is a beautiful post. Probally your best. Sheri Dew said that sometimes we have trials to see if we really beleive the Lord will help us. You do. I loved your attitude of turning towards the Savior when things got dark. Your acknowledgement of needing the sacrament and needing him – that is excatly what we are supposed to do. That is what tells me about who you are. Not the yelling and spanking. I yell. Loud. Its that Zion thing I dont have down yet. Yeah-in my Zion – we yell.
    I LOVE LOVE LOVE the picture of your children with the Prophet. As you know – he loved children, and I know he loves yours. and You. Good Job. I mean that.

  10. You know I love you, Stephanie. But I kind of think your kids are too young for what you just described. I’m pretty sure this is why you ended up feeling so bad. I promise that if you’ll just give them a few years, you will be able to travel with them and have these neat kinds of experiences together.

    I’m in awe of young moms and everything they try to do, practically from birth! But you really do have years and years to fit in all that great parenting; it doesn’t have to happen in the first 8 years of life!

    Glad you’re home, safe and sound.

  11. Oh, if I had a nickle for every time I’ve lost my temper as I was trying to create a blissful Sunday (yes, the irony is never lost on me). I, too, am grateful for the Sacrament. I used it very heavily this Sunday and pray for more patience.

    And yes, I totally relate to the are-words-really-coming-out-of-my-mouth? feeling, when you’re talking but the kids don’t even flinch. Thanks for making me feel like I’m not the only one! :)

  12. I just drove 4.5 days alone with 5 of my 6 children,(ages 17, 14, 9, 9, 9) –from NC to Utah. Parts were really lovely. Parts (mostly involving my 14 year old) were really unbearable. This is the 4th time I’ve made this trip, always without my husband. Some years have been easier than others. This year when people have asked me how the trip has been, I’ve said that it has been bi-polar. I just pray that my kids will remember the good parts and forget some of the worse parts!

  13. I know I’m not brave enough to attempt a trip like that alone. No matter how testimony-building it might be. Because I am an invisible mother, too.

    The few times I’ve spanked my daughter, I’ve cried afterward right along with her. Those times, and those freak-out-on-Sunday-morning-right-before-church episodes remind me to take a step back and breathe … and ask someone for some help so I can have 5-10 minutes alone. without hands sticking under the door of the bathroom or voices yelling mom from another room. because sometimes, you just have to have a little time to yourself.

  14. Welcome to my life. If you weren’t already such a great Mom you wouldn’t have even noticed. We were supposed to be in Nauvoo this past weekend. Wouldn’t it have been a hoot to see each other at church!?

  15. Thank you for the amazing, honest, poignant, heartfelt post. I can hardly take my brood (7,6, 8months) to the grocery store without feeling like I’m going to scratch my eyes out, and you take yours 7 hours away by yourself? You’re amazing. Having recently completely lost my temper with my seven year old in the locker room of the swimming pool because she was treating me like I was invisible, and then spending the rest of the day feeling like I was, quite possibly, the most inept mother in the world, I can very much empathize with the way you were feeling. I just hope that someday, when they are grow up and less likely to pull things off the grocery store shelves, that they will realize that I did the best I could.

  16. Yes, things were crazy, but we’re glad you went! :) You’re right–in spite of the frustration, Nauvoo was great, the temple was beautiful, the pageant was inspiring, and I have a cool ring made out of a nail… :)

    I know Amelia & Nicolas LOVED to play with their cousins, and that’s at least half of why we went, so thanks for coming Stuh! Next time we’ll stay in the cabin with you: save money and help contain (or add to) the chaos. :)

  17. You know, I’ve had ALL those exact same thoughts about myself. I’ve been to that dark place and confronted all my worst weaknesses and faults. It hurts. It’s agony. A different kind of hurt and agony the early members of the church suffered but still…there’s a parallel there.

    I’m firmly convinced that some people in this world need to experience more physical trials, and some emotional/spiritual. I definitely fall into that latter category. For whatever reason, the ways in which I need to grow and strengthen are best accomplished by internal suffering. And I think that’s why I became a mother. Because NOTHING brings on the internal suffering like parenting!

    You’re an amazing mother, Stephanie, who loves her children, teaches them the gospel and, bonus, wants to be even better. They couldn’t be luckier.

  18. I completely GET every scenario and feeling you mentioned, because that’s been my day in day out since January. I’m waiting for the “vacation” to end and the rest of whatever this new life is, to get on with it! Absolutely, if it wasn’t for the Holy Spirit, I’d have lost my mind, lol… I LOVE the statue of Jesus on the water!

    Blessings,
    Carolynn

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