Running on Empty

I get overwhelmed easily, particularly when we’re in transition periods – like right now – between summer and the school year. Have you ever noticed that we don’t use “whelmed” as a middle stage between “overwhelmed” and “puttering along peacefully?” This despite the Middle English origins of “overwhelmed,” and whelmed looking like it is, very much, in fact, able to be used on its lonesome.

whelm (ʰwɛlm, wɛlm)

1. to submerge; engulf.
2. to overcome utterly; overwhelm: whelmed by misfortune.
3. to roll or surge over something, as in causing it to submerge.

[1250–1300; Middle English whelme, appar. b. dial. whelve (Old English gehwelfan to bend over) and helm 2(v.) (Old English helmian to cover)]


Munchkin is attending preschool this year and I am, sad to say, probably more thrilled than I should be. It’s a wonderful school and I think he’s going to be very, very happy there. They follow some of the principles behind unschooling … basically, building lesson plans and activities around what the kids are interested in. There are two rooms with 3 to 5 year olds in them. Last year, one class started out the year interested in the ocean… so they decorated everything with an undersea theme, and then the room gradually transitioned to the jungle and then became an enchanted forest. Munchkin goes two days a week and I think it will be a wonderful opportunity for him to grow and make new friends and do new and fun things.

Along with my excitement though, I am forced to face this about myself… I think it will be good for him because I’m not sure I’ve done the best for him I can, or that I’m cut out to be an entirely stay at home Mom. His social activities were sharply curtailed this summer as Elf’s naps stabilized into morning and afternoon times. We tended not to go out and do things during the heat of the day, so although I planned playdates at home or during that magic afternoon hour, we didn’t get out as much as I’d hoped.

In this, I think I am selfish. Elf is very cranky if he doesn’t nap and his schedule is messed up for more than just a nap – it lasts at least overnight. And I am not a happy Mama when I am sleep deprived (more than usual) and dealing with a crabby baby – so I prioritized Elf’s naps over going out and doing things. But consequently, Munchkin has not gotten as much time to run wild in parks and burn off energy as he otherwise would have… so he’s amped up at home. I’m looking forward to two days a week where he can burn all that energy off at school!

Additionally, I’ve got enough other things on my plate (purging all the things, regular cleaning, getting the school items gathered, preparing for my December art show) that I am constantly evaluating which fire must be put out first. Last week I cleaned so much that I was completely drained by Thursday… and there’s still more to do. Believe me, sitting down to write this only made the top of the list because I’m also trying to make self-care a priority.


My recharging activities, thankfully, are often things that I need to do anyway. Sitting down to create something is often the best kind of boost – the problem is letting go of feeling guilty that I’m not doing something else deemed “more” necessary. That goes for more mundane self-care rituals too… warm baths, a walk, picking up a book… I strong-arm my guilt reflex by reasoning that I am a better mom and wife and friend if I take the time to rest and calm my mind, but it’s not always easy to do that.

I’m interested in knowing what your self-care rituals are… and how you escape the guilt! Or maybe you don’t struggle with guilt – in which case, share your secret!

8 thoughts on “Running on Empty

  1. Oh, Dakota. This post is but another in a long list of why I often feel as though we are kindred spirits…

    I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed too, albeit for different reasons — Scotty will be attending his regular playgroup at a local center again this fall — as he does all year round — so no big changes on the horizon for us, but I reckon I’ve still been bitten by the “change is in the air” bug…

    Between the kids, blogging, life, I sometimes feel like I forget to breathe, and when I get this way, it is paramount that I take notice and do something about it.

    Today marks the third consecutive day I’ve gotten on my yoga mat. No, I haven’t luxuriated in a 2-hour routine like I used to in my pre-kids life…but I did practive for 30-40 mintes, and I’m telling myself that it is better than nothing. Next, I’m escaping without the kids on Wednesday to do some linen shopping and get a pedicure on my hooves — er, I mean feet.

    I need to recharge.

    1. You know, I used to wonder how bloggers in different places became such good friends and then they’d post about how they met in person and how amazing it was. I didn’t think that’d ever be me… but now you’ve got me wondering! I am really looking forward to – someday – meeting you in person. 🙂

      Way to GO with your yoga practice! I keep thinking I need to build it into my routine… last year I signed up for the Yoga Today free month trial and it really was awesome. And a pedicure… ooooooh! Let’s see when you’re done! Are you an Opi colors girl or something else?

  2. I just finished (re)reading “Mommy Wars,” a collection of essays by moms, evenly split between working-moms and stay-home-moms… And if there’s one thing ALL mommies seem to have in common, it’s guilt! I’ve spent time on both sides of that “fence” (working/stay-home) and had worries & guilt in both directions… But you know what? The kiddos (currently 10, 13, & 18) are happy & healthy, despite my (many!) imperfections as a Mom, and now THEY push me toward those self-care things (specifically writing, in my case)… Prioritizing naps (for mommies as well as elves)? Hell yes! It’s all about finding balance–and keeping our sanity! 🙂

    1. Thank you SO much for commenting Kana, and yes yes yes I hear you on the guilt. My mother and I were discussing this recently. She’s been an empty nester for 7 years and she STILL deals with guilt… I should be doing this, not this! type of thing – and it’s not even parenting related! Only, even if you do the other thing instead of what you were doing, you still end up feeling guilty because you should be doing the first thing…

      It’s a sick cycle, really, and there’s got to be a way to break it. It bears thinking on.

      And thank you for your affirmation that naps are important… I know I’m calmer and a better mom when I’m rested, but fighting the “busy busy” social expectation is challenging. It helps to hear from someone else who has been there and done that!

  3. I loved this post, Dakota, and just like Courtney and Kana said, I think so many mothers can relate to it. I was exactly in your place last summer when my daughter was 1 and my son was 3: I built the summer around my 1 year old’s naps because, like you, I don’t do well with tired, cranky babies, and I don’t do well with the aftermath either. I’ve SO been there! I tried to have a sitter one morning or afternoon a week last year (for 2 hours) so I could write, go to a dr. appt, or just run errands alone, and that helped. I, too, am a much better mom after I’ve had a break. But, oh, the guilt is always haunting me, so I don’t have any real solutions for it.

    1. Oh good, I’m not the only one! Thank you so much for this… it helps, it really does, to know that I’m not the only Mom out there that makes this choice and doubts herself while doing it!

      There’s got to be a solution for this guilt thing… maybe it’s different for all of us, but there has to be something!

  4. Thanks for being real! For “self care” I like to get myself an edible treat– ice cream, iced coffee, pastries… =] Those kinda treats make me feel like I’m being pampered haha :]. I also nap when I’m really tired, and tell myself it’s good for EVERYONE when I’m not cranky and running on empty!

    I’ve only been doing the mom thing for less than a year, but I used to totally struggle with guilt a lot more. I felt bad sleeping in or napping or spending one of my daughter’s nap times reading a book, because I thought I should be more productive and clean or cook or take the baby somewhere interesting or something. However, here’s one of my secrets to not feeling guilty: my husband recognizes how hard even a couple hours of taking care of a baby can be, and is supportive of me doing self-care things. If I’m crabby, he’ll often suggest a nap or a massage or to go hang out with friends or something. When I tell him about how I feel bad about “luxurious” things like taking naps, he makes it seem like it’d be ridiculous NOT to nap when I’m tired. When I tell him I was thinking about reading a book, he gets excited for me and says, “That’s a GREAT idea! Good for you! Just relax when she’s napping and enjoy your book!” and he really means it. So now I don’t feel so bad about doing those things for myself :]. He’s had to not just encourage but push me to take care of myself for months and I’m only just starting to not feel guilty about it.

    1. I like your style – especially with your delicious treats! That is awesome that your husband is so supportive. That is really cool… and it’s especially awesome that you’ve been able to start taking that to heart. My husband is actually really supportive too, but he’s having an especially hard time with me… I’m trying, I really am, but I don’t think he believes me. 🙂

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