When our children were 6 months old, two friends and I ventured out of our Brooklyn enclave, braving the crowds of Manhattan in order to visit the Central Park Zoo. I enjoyed it as much as I could enjoy anything when my son was young. I was depressed and anxious. Anxious about everything. At the time, my son was waking up every hour at night, and was up for the day at 4 a.m. Every. Day.
Every day I felt like a zombie. Every day I cried -- sometimes alone at home, but just as often on a walk or at a store. Every day my husband and I fought about sleep training (he was con; I was pro). Every day felt like it would never, ever end, and it seemed like there was no way out and no way to change anything. I started to have awful, terrible, unspeakable thoughts. If things wouldn't change, I wanted them to end.
Even though it wasn't easy, making friends and going on playdates kept me from the darkest of places and kept the worst of my thoughts at bay during the day.
So on that summer day four years ago, we went on an adventure to the Central Park Zoo. As usual, I was a wreck. My son had to nap at a certain time, or it would ruin everything. In a quest to make that happen, I left our lunch three times to push him around in the stroller. Once he fell asleep, I worried about keeping my friends on a schedule -- after all, if we didn't get to the zoo at the right time, my son wouldn't be up, and then he wouldn't nap again, and then we couldn't get home at a good time to eat and then it would be bedtime and it was about the timing, all about the timing. Without the right timing, the day would be ruined!
The zoo was cute and nice, and I still have the touristy picture of the six of us hanging on the fridge. But there's more to that picture than anyone knows.
The day after we went to the zoo, another mother took her own 6-month-old on the same outing. While there, a branch fell from an old tree, missing the mother, but killing her baby. For months, I would look at that picture and wish that we had gone that day. That could have been me, I thought. I often wished it had been. I knew it was horrible. I feel sick admitting it now. At the time, I knew I didn't really want my son to die. But, part of me thought it would make things so much easier.
No more fights with my husband. No more interrupted nights. No more watching the sun rise while tears streamed down my face. No more feeling like my body and mind were not my own. When my thoughts began to consume my waking hours, when I started planning how to hurt my son and myself, I knew it was time to get help.
It took a long time, therapy and experimenting with different anti-depressants, but I finally, finally emerged from the abyss of depression and anxiety, and began to enjoy my son and my life again.
And now I am lucky enough to have a funny, bright, silly 4-year-old and a loving, happy (normal sleeping!) baby.
On Saturday, I went to Prospect Park in Brooklyn with two of my friends and their kids. It was a beautiful summer day. We sat together on picnic blankets, chatting and playing with the baby while our 4-year-olds scampered around. Every once in a while, one of us would get up to make sure they were all still where we left them.
On our way out of the park, we were stopped by the police. They asked if we had seen a missing toddler. A little girl. We told them we hadn't, and were all hopeful that the search would end well.
Saturday night was exhausting. My older son was up twice before bursting in my room at six to tell me a secret. By the time I convinced him to go back to his room, the baby was crying. And oh yeah, my husband was out of town.
Grumpy and tired, I sat down early Sunday morning to feed the baby and turned on the news. There was the answer to the missing toddler. Her body had been found in the lake that night. I almost broke down watching the story, seeing the mother removed on a stretcher, so upset she couldn't walk. I was overcome by sadness and horror for her.
I thought, That could have been me. And that was terrifying.
The trials of the night and the morning disappeared. I felt nothing but grateful. Grateful that my kids were safe. Grateful that I got to experience putting them to bed that night and I'd be able to do it again and again and again. Grateful that I had the perspective to know that even when times were difficult, they would absolutely get better. But nothing made me more grateful than realizing that my reaction to two tragedies, four years apart, was so different.