Take a Break Before Your Breaking Point

I almost choked on my decaf Saturday morning, when I spotted a newspaper story about the woman who killed her two teenagers because they were “mouthy.”

With three teenage boys (and one pre-pubescent girl) of my own, I definitely understand “mouthy,” but even so, I can’t comprehend the urge to commit filicide. 

My guess is that the murderess was mentally ill or severely depressed. I’d hate to think she simply reached her breaking point.

Years ago, I heard of another woman who had careened into her breaking point when her kids were teenagers. I dated one of her three sons, “Steve,” during my early 20s. He was kind, interesting, attractive and athletic, but definitely damaged from his mom’s departure.

As far as I know, “Mrs. S” just reached her breaking point one day and fled to Martha’s Vineyard to live as a Bohemian, artistic, single woman. She never looked back and rarely visited the boys. I didn’t know the whole story, but always suspected Mrs. S simply had her fill of the household’s testosterone.

A dozen years later, when my youngest son was born, I had a moment of panic: would life with three boys (born in a span of 3.3 years) push me over the edge, too?  I feared that I might feel the need to take off one day.

Well, I did reach that point, and I did decide to escape…but only for a weeklong girlfriend getaway to Paris, which restored my balance and reset my psyche.

My breaking point came in early 2005, when our local Seattle Seahawks faced the St. Louis Rams in a playoff game. The big game came on the heels of an exceptionally hectic holiday season. In additional to the usual parties, shopping, gift-wrapping, baking and card-writing, we had hosted a gathering for my husband’s colleagues, spent Christmas eve with his extended family (then 24 members), cooked Christmas Day dinner for a dozen relatives, and, a few days later, invited the clan to celebrate the birthdays of one of my sons (Dec. 26) and my husband (Dec. 28).

Following the New Year’s Day Open House we held for our neighbors, we un-trimmed the tree and boxed up decorations. That Saturday night, we attended a niece’s birthday party. When we returned home, I fell into bed, totally exhausted and anticipating a peaceful Sunday.

Sunday morning, as I was flipping pancakes and frying bacon, my husband looked up from the sports section and said, “By the way, the Seahawks game is on at 1 o’clock.”

“Great,” I replied, with my usual lack of enthusiasm for football talk. “Now I know when to hit the gym.” 

“Oh, and last night when I was talking to my folks, I invited them to come watch the game,” he added.  “My brother overheard us, and then my sister joined in, so I offered to host everyone here. They all love your homemade chili, so I said you’d make up a batch; hope you don’t mind.”

I did mind, and probably should have suggested we order pizza. Instead, I rushed off to the supermarket to gather up kidney beans, ground beef, canned tomatoes, chips, dips, sodas and beer. Ironically, I ran into Carol in Aisle 4, and she noticed that my cart didn’t include the usual Sunday-morning rations: eggs, milk, sausage links and maple bars.  “Are you hosting another party?” she asked. “Haven’t you done enough this season?”

After the game, my husband tackled the cleanup (he’s good about that) and retreated into his “man cave” – his home office. An hour later, he emerged and announced, “Well, it’s all set. I was just on the phone with “Bob,” and we set the date for our spring trip to Montana. His wife bought him a new fly rod for Christmas, and he’s really excited about trying it out.”

I was feeling stressed, tired, overworked and underappreciated, and at that moment, I hit my breaking point. Once the floodgates opened, I couldn’t stop the steady stream of unkind words spewing from my mouth. After I had finally run out of complaints, my husband reminded me that much of what I had taken on over the holidays had been my own choice, and that there was nothing wrong with a hard-working guy enjoying a football game, a few beers and even a fishing weekend with good friends.

“Why don’t you take a trip?” he suggested.

Why not, indeed? I realized the only roadblock was me. So, the next morning, I called Carol and asked, “When do we leave for Paris?”  And just four months later, we did.

Since then, I have tried to pace myself during the holidays. And now, whenever I near that breaking point, I start making plans for another brief break with my girlfriends.

Linda Williams Rorem, 31 Jan. 2011


  1. This is a great article! It reminds all of us that often it is not the demands of our family that bog us down, but our own desire to please everyone. Love the reminder to take time for myself! 🙂

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