Chopping Potatoes

One evening when my third daughter was about four months old, I was in the midst of supper preparations – in the midst of many things, actually.  My two older daughters intermittently terrorizing each other and whining for snacks; the baby fully into the witching hour and all that entailed; my husband walking through the door, home from work and hungry.  All this swirled around me whilst I tried to chop very dense potatoes with a very sharp knife and not cut my fingers off or lose my mind.

And that’s when a very troubling thought came to mind.

“If I just chopped my finger, I’d have to go to the emergency room – and I could leave all this behind.”

At the time, I had already started counseling for post-partum depression.  When I mentioned it to my therapist, she nodded.

“Fight or flight,” she said.  “You were feeling overwhelmed, threatened, and your body’s response was to run.”

That I could understand.  My friend, when I had told her, I think, was afraid I was going to attempt suicide or hurt myself in some other way.  But I’d never harm myself, I argued, or the kids.  I’d heard the freakishly tragic stories of mothers driving their children and themselves into a lake; that thought had never crossed my mind.

But running away?  Sometimes I wished that was a possibility.

In my mind, one scene kept playing over and over on a mental movie screen.  The scene in Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood when Ashley Judd’s character drives for hours and lands in a seaside motel and sleeps for innumerable days.  When she finally wakes up, she calls the front desk to ask what day it is.  I knew I’d never act on it, but that became my fantasy.

My midwife asked me, “Do you ever think of running away?”

“Yeah, but I’d come back.  Maybe after a day or so.”

I was in over my head enough to feel this way, but my fingers had a firm enough grip on the edge that I knew it would be crazy to act on it.

It was a strange time in my life.  Like the patient who realizes she has Alzheimer’s but can’t do anything to stop it, I was fully aware of the difference of the irrational thoughts and feelings, but experienced them anyway.  I had a clarity of vision throughout, but could do nothing to stop my reaction to the tenor of my life at the time.

And neither could I do anything to change the tenor of my life.  Life was chaos.  There was no way around it.  I was a stay-at-home mom with an infant who was exclusively breastfeeding and therefore still on no set schedule.  My two year-old was willfully learning her way in the world and quite often bucking any system I tried to set up.  My four year-old had just started preschool, which didn’t mean one less kid at home; it meant dressing up three to hoof them all to school to drop her off, then pick her up two hours and forty-five minutes later.  Then a three-ring circus until I was drooling and twitching by the time my husband arrived home, which was right around the time I was chopping potatoes.

Chopping potatoes has become my metaphor for everything that’s hard about being a mother: the tedium that drives us insane, the seemingly simple that becomes infinitely difficult, trying to focus amidst endless distraction.  And how things get considerably more dicey when one’s wielding a knife.

Even now, nearly two years later, I still have an almost visceral reaction to chopping potatoes, but more often than not, I can counter it with my own version of Dana Carvey’s Saturday Night Live skit.  I may not be “chopping broccoli,” but I’ve found that laughter goes a long way in lowering stress levels.  And that’s really all we can do.  Keep the stress levels manageable enough that we don’t end up in a motel miles from home with no idea what day it is.  Or in the emergency room instead of sitting at the dinner table with our family enjoying a well-rounded meal.

Because chopping potatoes sucks, but enjoying the fruits of our labor doesn’t.

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23 Comments

  1. Tracy M

     /  January 12, 2012

    Your words could have been my own on many occasions. Thank you for sharing and letting other moms into your world that so very closely resembles many of our own 🙂
    Tracy M…friend of Sheri A

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    • Jennifer Butler Basile

       /  January 12, 2012

      Tracy, thank you for your kind words. I’m finding there are a lot of women who feel this way – even if it’s in silence. I hope you’ll come back to visit!

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      Reply
  2. Sheri

     /  January 12, 2012

    If onyl we could learn to see the humor and appreciate the fruits in the moments instead of in hind sight. I feel like I live my life as a mother in the past and the future but rarely in the present. Keep sharing; I love to know that it’s not just me!

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  3. Tracy M

     /  January 12, 2012

    We are not alone!! Other mom’s of 3 (or soon to be Sheri) are out there struggling to keep up as they brush snot off of their pants! haha 😉

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  4. Great post! 🙂

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  5. I needed to read this today. Though my kids are older and the challenges are different, the emotions are still the same.

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  6. Karen

     /  January 18, 2012

    So happy for you. Your path had been chosen. Posted for you on facebook. Think you will soon have more followers YEAHHHHH.

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  7. Erin

     /  January 24, 2012

    As a mom of three children,very close together in age with special needs to boot I know what it’s like to be over whelmed, under appreciated, stressed, exhausted and feeling like I’ve lost my mind I can relate. All I know and believe is that God only gives us what we can handle. Sometimes I wish He didn’t think I could handle so damn much but in the end each and everyone of my kids is ablessing I couldn’t live without. I’m blessed to have you. When were old and our kids are going through they same thing we can day

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  8. Thanks for being so brave and honest about it – you speak for a lot of us (with or without depression). I used to have the supermarket roundabout moment. Just gone shopping late at night at the supermarket (because it was the only time I could do it without kids, without work, in relative peace) and then, on the way home, at the roundabout, instead of turning right, I often fantasized about turning left and going on to London and running away.

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    • Jennifer Butler Basile

       /  May 10, 2012

      Such a tantalizing fantasy! Glad I’m not alone. And just think, if you’d run away, you’d never have to go food shopping again! (at least not en masse!)

      Thank you for your thoughtful comments.

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  9. I loved your title as it reminded me of a very famous Irish poet Seamus Heaneys poem called “While all the others were away at mass”. In it he describes beautifully a child who spends time alone with his mum peeling potatoes. Now I have read your titles explanation I still think it’s a great title!

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    • Jennifer Butler Basile

       /  October 8, 2013

      Oh, to be remembered in league with such greats as Seamus Heaney! I am not familiar with that poem, however. I will have to read it for sure! My great-grandmother must be rolling in her grave to hear me lambast potatoes in such a way!

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  10. I can’t believe it took me so long to read this piece. It’s wonderful, Jennifer, and even though my life is drastically different from yours in many ways, there is so much I can relate to here.

    (And extra points for the Dana Carvey reference!)

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  11. Tsansai

     /  March 14, 2014

    I’m not a mother yet, but I do also struggle with depression and get these conflicting ‘runaway’ feelings all the time when things get overwhelming. Thank you for sharing!

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    • Jennifer Butler Basile

       /  March 19, 2014

      It would be SO nice to run away when things get overwhelming, wouldn’t it!? I’m sure that would just complicate things, though. I think. I tell myself that . . . 😉

      Thank for your coming by!

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      Reply
  12. I’m long past the mothering stage of life, but can still relate in so many ways to the concept of running away from my life … actually, from running away from the thoughts in my head (as someone who tangles regularly with suicidal thoughts and PTSD and memory loss). Loved the Dana Carvey reference, and yes … the laughter. Laughter helps.

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    • Jennifer Butler Basile

       /  September 17, 2014

      Thank you so much for your comment – and appreciating the Dana Carvey reference! Wouldn’t it be nice to outrun the thoughts in our heads? That was probably a huge motivating factor in my wanting to running away. I didn’t, but I do often laugh so that I may not cry.

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  13. ppdisland

     /  July 15, 2015

    this analogy feels so familiar, like a place I have been to, you know that favorite spot by the beach where you can walk barefoot at night and not hit a pebble? that kind of familiarity. only difference is i’d be chopping other things other than food….here’s to better days after PPD.

    PS: uniquest blog name i hve come across in a looong while 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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