It’s true. I did it.
I always thought I would hold it together. I’d never be one of ‘those mums’. But I guess I underestimated the power of perimenopausal hormones and the sheer frustration of modern life. Who knew I could stoop so low and tell the ones I love more than anyone else on this planet to ‘f*#* off’?
Here’s how it happened. We were camping in beautiful Byron Bay. It was all supremely relaxing, a wonderful family holiday, or at least it felt that way. Leisurely strolls through the picturesque township. Lazy days on pristine beaches. Early morning sunrise walks up to the local lighthouse. Even taking time to watch the daily procession of whales playing in the gleaming Pacific Ocean. We ate great food, laughed constantly and didn’t have a care in the world.
Byron may no longer be the secret coastal hideaway it once was, but somehow it still has a magical ability to transport you into a tranquil state of bliss. Perhaps it’s the air from Nimbin wafting over, a nearby township known for it’s ‘herbal remedies’, and this state of euphoria is actually because we exist in a permanent haze of pot?
But we digress a little. One afternoon I found myself wandering along the main street of Byron and noticed a sign: ‘$1.00 Oysters and Happy Hour Every Wednesday’. Now as anyone who knows me will vouch, I’m a sucker for oysters. I’m not afraid of a happy hour either. So, in a moment my plan was set. We were going to this restaurant, to sit on the balcony, sip champagne or cocktails and devour some $1.00 oysters. The booking was made and a few hours later off we went, away from the campsite and folding chairs to enjoy a night on a gorgeous deck with great food and drink. We arrived and settled into our balcony-edge seating as our waitress made her way over. I eagerly asked for the oysters, only to be rather rudely informed the $1 Oysters Special was only on Wednesday night and it was Thursday. Whoops. This minor detail had slipped past me.
It was about now things began to head south like a pod of migrating humpback whales. Firstly, the attitude of this waitress annoyed me. A lot. I’m not sure if she too was battling raging hormones, she was sick of her job or maybe just didn’t like the look of us. Either way, she was having a rough night and her rude manner was completely unacceptable.
Now it’s worth telling you something about our family at this point. We’ve always been a pretty flexible bunch and we’re quite adept at changing things up on the fly. However, in saying that, when it comes to concrete plans we do like to stick to them – especially when food is involved. As a family of dedicated foodies it really is important to us, almost sacred. So, my little calendar-based oversight interfered with everyone’s palates and dining choices that evening. Sure, we could have eaten somewhere else. But I was hella focused on these oysters, the balcony, happy hour and the experience.
Beyond the sudden menu change I think we were all pretty hangry by this point. As a family, none of us manages hangriness especially well and, looking back, this is where the emotional cracks began to widen on an otherwise serene Byron evening. Fact is, being hangry never serves anyone. That drop in blood sugar can be brutal, triggering even the sweetest of us all – yes, Ella – to turn in a heartbeat. (It’s important to note on this particular holiday Sophia wasn’t with us. She had to stay home for work, so it was just the four of us: Philip, Gabriel, Ella and myself.)
The discovery of the wrong day and the fact the succulent, freshly-shucked oysters were still available, just not for $1.00, sent our table into chaos. In hindsight, I’m not sure why we just didn’t order the bloomin’ oysters at the regular price. There’s something about a sale or a discount that makes people crazy, it was like Black Friday Oyster Day and I’d missed out.
In an instant, a cloud of black descended over our family table as everyone unravelled. Philip’s frustration wasn’t very well hidden. Then Gabriel decided to jump on the bandwagon. He was sitting across from me on the edge of the balcony, sporting a bizarre attitude that had him slumped over the railing appearing as if he would rather throw himself into oncoming traffic than sit at the table. Sweet Ella tried to keep everyone calm and kept looking over her shoulder embarrassed we were making a scene. Was my mistaking the day that bad? It was like I had thrown the entire universe into a spin and no one knew where we would land. It was $1.00 Oysters and a drink special, people. It wasn’t like I was taking us to a life-giving experience that would change the trajectory of our collective lives. I just wanted a cheap piece of shellfish and a stiff drink!
Sadly, Ella’s glances over her shoulder and to the next table were warranted. We were making a scene and I was the lead actress. With a cast of characters right behind me, I wasn’t on the stage alone. But, I was pushed to breaking point. The look on Gabriel’s face, the huffs and puffs from Philip, and the hormones raging through my body took me to a place I’m not proud of, and I could tell I was a train heading for a crash but I couldn’t stop myself. There was a fire in my belly that was unstoppable and out it came… “Why don’t you all just f*#! off and leave me alone!”
With that, I stood up, realised I was stuck in the corner, and Phil’s chair was blocking my Scarlett O’Hara screen exit. For those who don’t know Scarlett O’Hara, she was one of the lead actresses in Gone with the Wind, and she possibly had the most dramatic highs and lows I have ever seen. I demanded Phil let me by so I could escape my reality and leave everyone in my wasteland (really lovely, I know…. remember, I said this wasn’t one of my best moments, but it was real). Ella was even more embarrassed now. Gabriel shifted from looking like he wanted to throw himself into oncoming traffic to total shock and horror that his mum had indeed lost it. As for Phil, perhaps it was just another day in the life of a perimenopause and andropause relationship. He seemed to weather the storm and eventually let me by. I stamped off to the bathroom and found myself alone, in the stall, sobbing. Sobbing because I didn’t recognise myself as I felt alone and crazy, inside and out. Sobbing because this wasn’t me.
I’d never told my family to f*#! off before, and I never thought I ever would. But here I was already riddled with the guilt motherhood generously supplies. I’d ruined their life. Forget that, I’d ruined everything. I texted two of my girlfriends and said, ‘I’m sitting in the bathroom of a restaurant crying because I’ve just stormed away from our table after telling my family to f*#! off. I’m a mess’. They both replied with the expected sisterhood love and acceptance which was soothing to my black heart. I called my eldest, Sophia and burdened her with my guilt, anger and frustration. She was her usual gorgeous self and talked me off a ledge and reminded me that, contrary to the preceding 5 minutes, I was a good mum and maybe everyone needed me to lose it. She was so kind and generous with her words, and that made me cry even harder because I was talking to this mature, wise, compassionate, gentle soul I had helped raise.
Maybe my heart wasn’t so black. Perhaps I wasn’t ruining everything. Maybe the hormones in my body and life were just too heavy at the moment. Maybe instead of losing my shit at those I loved the most in the world, I needed to be kind to myself and take a good look at what I was carrying. I needed to identify where the pressure was around me. I needed to start peeling back the layers and lay exposed in my truth, fear, anger and loss. Could that have been precisely what I needed? Show kindness to myself? Take care of me?
After talking to Sophia, I did my best to dry my tears. I listened to her advice which was, ‘wash your face mum, after we cry you always tell us to wash our face and we will feel better, so wash your face and go back to the table. I love you’.
Once again my heart swelled with joy and peace. It struck me as unusual, yet wonderful, how the words of my eldest child were so healing and wise in their simplicity. I gathered myself the best I could and returned to our table. The grumpy waitress was back serving our drinks and food with zero regard for her job, let alone her customers. I squeezed past and sat back in my seat. I could tell everyone was on edge (even the table next to us were anxious), all wondering if I had calmed down or if I was back to unleash a second round of expletives and anger. To their surprise, and no doubt relief, I apologised. I explained myself, hormones and all, and owned my part in what had just transpired. I apologised to each of them, one by one, and thankfully it wasn’t like eating bitter herbs. I felt remorse and was very sincere. I was also happy my cocktail had arrived. We sat for the remainder of the evening enjoying the sunset and ordering more food and drink from our increasingly grumpy waitress. It’s worth acknowledging she wasn’t just grumpy with us, she treated every table she served with complete disdain. Why? I don’t know. But one thing I do know is, on that day, I needed to heed my own wisdom.
I always tell our children: the only person you can control is you. Others will do things, say things, act in specific ways. Circumstances will change and life will happen. Yet in and through it all the only thing you have control over is yourself and how you respond. So, as I continue to travel the perimenopausal highway which is paved with speed bumps, potholes, gigantic boulders and soft spaces, I remind myself I have to be kind to myself and find words that speak life into everyone around me, including myself.
Even though, yes, I told my family to f*#! off, here’s the thing: I’m still a really good mum. And so are you.