When Liadan Hynes' marriage fell apart she had to work on adjusting to the new reality. In her weekly column, Things Fall Apart she explores the myriad ways a person can find their way back to themselves. This week, she explains how losing it over a pair of your child's socks is a sign of something bigger going on
It was the socks that did it. We had reached the end of the first full week back at school. Exhaustion levels were, I won’t say at an all-time high, but not far off. And Herself simply wasn’t having it. My real mistake was to allow no socks throughout the summer, enabling her to get used to a sock-free life. To remember how much she hates them.
The socks, put on by me in the manner of a person approaching a wild animal that is 'apparently tamed' but in reality capable of turning on you at any moment, cringingly, in other words; and with the TV on full to try to distract, were torn off by my five-year-old with a scream of rage.
Meltdowns on both our parts ensued. I’ll draw a discreet veil over the next few moments (hour); suffice it so to say they were so far from my finest hours as a parent as to be on a different planet, and that when we reached the car park we were still intermittently shouting/screaming at each other.
Not just the socks
After drop off, from which I fled, thankful to have gotten her there, I ring the Work Wife. You know when someone guesses that your light-hearted attempt to pull something off as a funny story is actually a thinly-stretched-to-breaking-point cover-up? "It’s really hard. You’re doing it all on your own every morning," she says and I start to cry, and I am glad of the masking shelter of my huge umbrella.
Of course, it wasn’t just the socks. It never is.
I had almost entirely forgotten that earlier that week, I had been in a very minor but still sort of shocking car collision. Crawling along in the rain on the quays, the car behind had rear-ended me. Even at a pace of practically not moving, the impact had felt frightening.
I am not okay
I was thrown forward, a scream escaped me before I knew what was happening, my body flung towards the front window. The man behind me was out of his car and leaning over my window. He was big, and he was threatening. I got out. He tried to hurry me back into my car – "we’re holding up the traffic. You’re okay, aren’t you?"
"I am not okay", I shouted back, and rang my dad, because to be honest, what the hell do you do in this scenario?
"Ring the police," he said, and I do, even though the man is huffing and puffing and hovering. They tell me to report the incident if I want.
And so I get back in the car and drive the whole way to my local police station, and until the very last moment, the man who crashed into me drives behind me. Which feels threatening.
When I get to the police station, another man is at the counter, seemingly organising some sort of reporting details, where he will check in. It sounds like he has just come out of prison. He is tall, with muscles that ripple under his tight t-shirt.
He leans over the counter towards the policewoman and his whole body pulses with energy. I am relieved for her that there is a sheet of glass between them. His leg jiggles, his foot shakes. It feels like someone who is barely in control of something coursing through them.
All of a sudden, it feels as if my world has tumbled into some scary land full of men with barely repressed… something. Anger? Something. The day ends with my car being clamped, which just serves to underline how much things have somehow gotten away from me that day.
No time to process
The next morning I feel stiff. I move gingerly, afraid to push my body too much in the wrong direction.
None of this is a plea for sympathy. I’m fine. But last week, by Friday, I had almost forgotten all of this had happened on Monday. My daughter had started school. My workload was substantial. There were things going on. There was no room to stop, and to process the stress from the start of the week. Hence the meltdown over socks.
I hear it so often in interviews for my podcast How to Fall Apart. How there is no room, no time, to have the breathing space to recoup, or break down, from something stressful. How we push it down, until it breaks out of us some other way.
It is never just about the socks.
Photo: Cory Bouthillette, Unsplash
Read more: ‘Not a failure’: You do what it takes to get through your child's first week of school
Read more: Your relationship with your child is different as a single parent
Read more: Starting over: How to put your life back together after divorce