No one needed to tell me; I already knew. I could feel it in my uncooperative and aching hips as my belly swelled with that first pregnancy: becoming a mother would change everything about me. I knew that my body would change forever, that I would gain and lose girth in all the wrong places. I knew, from watching my own mother, that my emotions would evolve, that the day would come when a well-timed Dove commercial would make me cry from where I stood in the kitchen. I knew that I would lose any and all time to myself—the long afternoons perusing the thrift store, the hours spent reading in my lawn chair—I could see these changes coming like an unstoppable train barreling down the tracks as my due date got closer.
What I did not anticipate, however, is that I would also lose parts of my mind—parts that had, since adolescence, faithfully guided me towards good grades and a good job, parts that had helped me become a functioning and relatively successful human adult apart from that one-off moment when I let my college roommate put chunky highlights in my already permed hair ... a cautionary tale for another time.
But lose my mind I did. You know, sleepless nights and all that. The process was so gradual that I didn’t even see what was happening until one spectacularly absurd day that forced me to come to grips with the fact that my mind had clearly passed its peak.
The day, or rather The Day, that I lost it was deep in the heart of what I like to call The Dregs of Winter. It is that special time in the Upper Midwest when the White Christmases that we all dreamed of have gone naturally gray, but we haven’t yet made it to that first 50 degree day when more mud than snow shows.
For the mamas of littles, The Dregs of Winter is a particularly trying time. We become prisoners of our own living rooms because all of the backyards are miniature ice rinks of death for the under-three set and their oversized, clompy boots. And then there are the germs. This is the season when toddler noses perpetually run. Daycares and preschools are daily sending out the dreaded pink eye and strep emails. It is a veritable gauntlet of bodily fluids ending up in places that they are never, ever supposed to be. In The Dregs of Winter, we go weeks without playdates, and we rely heavily on our most loyal and true sister-wife: Mom Tiger of Jungle Beach.
During The Dregs of 2014, I was in it. My oldest, Owen, then just shy of two, was sick with a mystery fever; my daughter Elsa was only two months old. I had a head cold and could not remember what sleeping through the night felt like. It was morning, and predictably, it was sleeting outside. My husband had just left for work, and I had spent the prior twelve hours waiting for Owen to throw up, his typical response to any kind of fever. I was playing vomit roulette as to where he would strike first..in his bed? on the couch? all over the carpet? It was, of course, the perfect time for him to be sick because we had house guests—my husband’s brother David and his new wife Julia—sleeping upstairs.
The definition of listless, Owen was sitting on the couch with his beloved stuffed monkey, as Daniel Tiger sang, over and over, that it’s okay to feel sad sometimes. Elsa slept in her swing after completing a long nursing session, and I had just poured my coffee, and I mean just, when Owen started to cry.
I ran over to the couch to find the previous night’s milk covering my son, his monkey, and the cushion where they both sat. A brief gag from me punctuated that special moment of realizing that I was the one who had to clean it all up.
Owen cried as I pulled him off the couch. I ripped off his clothes, mentally calculating just how much vomit was sinking into the couch cushion. Answer: Plenty. I gave my son a hug and ran to get him some water. Vomiting boy briefly pacified, I turned my attention to the couch in order to rip off the cover. I removed a front corner, then slid the couch a few inches away from the wall to access a back corner.
And that’s when I saw it:
The biggest bug I had ever seen.
I mean, really, The Biggest Bug I Had Ever Seen.
Black, silent, enormous, and terrifying. Perched halfway up the wall just behind the vomit couch. There was gasping! Screaming! Retreat! I was suddenly also very aware that I had quit breathing.
At this point in the story, you have to understand something about me. I have a deep, deep phobia of bugs. One of my earliest memories is jumping up onto the kitchen counter after seeing a line of tiny ants crawl through our kitchen. I don’t even like butterflies because despite their beautiful wings, they are really just big bugs with creepy legs. This phobia is deep and real and has been part of me my entire life. You also should know that I have lived in rural South Sudan and have seen some truly National-Geographic-Worthy bugs. But The Bug on my living room wall, it trumped them all. It was, and remains still, the worst thing I’ve ever seen.
There was only road out of this nightmare. This monster perched on our wall must be destroyed. And I was the only one who could do the destroying. I forced myself to take deep breaths. My husband would not be home for seven more hours, and I could not have this beast loose in my house. Just then, Owen began to cry again, and I realized that I had missed wiping some vomit off his legs.
I glanced back at The Bug, who had not moved, and briefly considered calling Animal Control, convinced that this had to be some sick person’s idea of a pet, who had now escaped and found refuge in our living room. But first, Owen.
I stationed my sick son in the bath. He calmed down a bit, a small victory. Elsa, my calm, sweet dream baby, continued to lie in the swing with some toys. Good on that front. I chose my weapons carefully: a heavy shoe and exactly 23 paper towels. I brought these back towards the couch. My enemy was still sitting there. Presumably plotting. I took more deep breaths.
And that was when I realized that I could not kill The Bug. My capacity for problem solving was spent: I had slept the prior night, as well as the previous 60 nights, in fits and burst, my child was sick, the entire house smelled like vomit, I still had not had even one sip of coffee, and my fight-or-flight response was screaming FLY. RIGHT NOW. TO ANTARCTICA. WHERE THERE ARE NO INSECTS. FLY.
I could not kill The Bug.
So, I quietly took my flight upstairs, to my guest room, where my brother-in-law and my new sister-in-law were sleeping. To my credit, I did hesitate momentarily outside their door:
This is ridiculous, I told myself. Do not wake up David. You can do this …
But I couldn’t. I could not do this.
I walked into the room. They were both sound asleep. I shook David gently. Then more urgently.
“David ... David! I need you to wake up.” He was justifiably confused. “David … I need you to come downstairs and help me.” Then, so he didn’t think that someone was unconscious or dead, I added, “I need you to kill a bug for me. It’s huge … It’s literally the biggest bug I’ve ever seen.”
David, to his credit, sat up and mumbled, “I’ll be down in a minute.”
I raced back down the stairs to check on things.
Owen: slowly running his fingers through the bath bubbles.
Elsa: somehow also still happy.
The Bug: still on the wall.
Moments later, a pajamed and bleary-eyed David came down the stairs, and I showed him The Bug, quickly handing him the pom-pom of paper towels and backing up a good five or six steps.
David, silent for a moment, studied the black beast, squinted, leaned in, and finally asked, “Is that one of Owen’s toy bugs?”
I assured him that no, we did not have any fake bugs that big, as we both still stood several feet away. Still squinting, he again suggested that The Bug was not real yet hesitated to touch it. At this point, his new bride Julia stumbled down the stairs. We quickly filled her in on our debate as she put on her glasses, and I continued to insist that none of our pretend bugs were that big and kept telling them to Look! Look at the way The Bug is clearly On. The. Wall. Like a not-pretend bug would be.
Finally, one of us (read: not me) had the good sense to turn on the overhead living room light. And at that moment, we saw a glossy sheen reflecting off of what was definitely a plastic bug. My brain, so many steps behind, quickly caught up to the reality of the situation: one of our toy bugs had gotten smooshed between the couch and our textured walls, causing it to expand, stick to the wall, and then appear to be crawling, its flattened body looking even larger with the dim-morning shadow it was casting.
The definition of sheepish, I actually hung my head, then turned to David:
“I am so sorry. I am literally the worst.”
I stood for a solid minute in disbelief that my mind and its ability to reason had failed me so miserably. In hindsight, I should have thought to turn on the light to get a better look at things. I could have used a broom to destroy it while still keeping my distance. Or sprayed it with hairspray. Or something.
But my sleep-deprived brain was not on pace with the urgency that the situation called for. And as mothers, at any given time, there are between seven and thirty-three details already taking up important space in our brains. It’s like a scrolling marquee of endless information: where we last saw one of our two remaining pacifiers, how many days are left to get that birthday gift, and how dangerously close to being out of toilet paper we are. All of this, over time, elbows out rationality, or you know, just the smallest bit of common sense.
So the next time you make it all the way home with the cylindrical carrier from the bank drive-through still in your lap, or turn the wrong way on a one-way just blocks from your own house, or hear the telltale clatter of your coffee mug sliding off the roof of your minivan like some kind of sitcom mom circa 1993, give yourself some grace and an extra cup of coffee, because at least you did not wake up your houseguests to kill a plastic bug.
Guest post written by Elizabeth Berget. Elizabeth is a wife, mama to three, and photographer who has always done her best thinking while writing—from her angsty teenage journal entries until now. She’s lived in Africa and Asia but is really just a country mouse with a Minneapolis zip code. She strongly believes in the restorative power of Jesus and a home-cooked meal, or even just a really good cheese. You can find more of her words and pictures at elizabethberget.com or on Instagram.
Photo by N'tima Preusser.