I have a degree in psychology. In my previous life before motherhood, I worked in a psychiatric facility. I can tell you about basic psychology, industrial psychology, child psychology, cognition, and a whole slew of other one-semester courses that made me qualified to work in the field. I can ask you how something makes you feel, and most normal, mentally-unstable people can give a reasonable answer. I am an active listener with great de-escalation technique. With all of these qualifications, nothing prepared me for life with toddlers.
Waking up a psychiatric patient: You quietly knock on the door and gently whisper, "Good morning Mr. Patient, breakfast is in 30 minutes followed by your morning goals group."
"Thanks." is the usual response although on occasion one may expose themselves to you, ask if you will be serving eggs for breakfast or inquire if you are a "dragon witch."
Waking up a toddler: You quietly tip-toe into his room knowing full well you have a fifty-fifty chance of making it out alive. It's difficult because your heart is involved and you want to make those sweet mamma baby moments that you can forever treasure in a picture frame by Hallmark. You sit down gently on the edge of the little bitty toddler bed and gently rub his back and whisper, "good morning sweet baby, it's time to wake up." He continues to sleep peacefully, quietly, like an angel. So you whisper again. "Hey snuggle bug, rise and shine." and he begins to stir and you know you are about to get the biggest ear-to-ear smile you have ever seen in your life as your heart melts to the ground in a puddle of sheer joy.
Then, you hear it. "I don't want to get uuuuup! Uuuuuuhhhhh". Wait, what? "I am too sleepy!" He sobs in an irrational fit. Retreat! Retreat! Something has gone terribly wrong! Abort mission! At this point you know that your entire day is over. I mean it, you have poked the bear, you have pulled the pin out of the grenade, you, my friend have made one of the biggest mistakes of your life. It's over until you go to bed tonight, if he lets you.
Feeding your psychiatric patient:" Here is your tray, please take your shoes off of your hands so you can eat." They usually ignore you, take the shoes off of their hands and eat, or go and have a cigarette out on the porch that resembles a gigantic bird cage.
Feeding a toddler: "What do you want for breakfast?"
Well, that sounds simple enough. You make the oatmeal while your temperamental and sleepy toddler clings to your leg and wipes face fluid on your new dress. You shake the toddler off and he runs away in a whiny fit of noise but you don't care. This gives you that tiny window of time to finish making the oatmeal. You discover that he has scribbled on the wall during those two minutes he was out of your sight. You set the oatmeal on the table and let it cool while you teach the toddler how to use a magic eraser on what you will refer to as a mural for the next three years because you don't have time to paint again. Then, you put the toddler in timeout after he has a total meltdown because the drawing on the wall won't come off. Finally, you take the toddler out of timeout, explain why it's wrong to draw on walls, and set him down in front of perfectly cooked oatmeal because yes, you are that good. He will reply "thank you mamma!"in your dreams.
"I said I want marshmallows and staaaaaaars! Aaaaaaaaah!" Sobbing commencing.
Suddenly you are certain you are raising a brat. Really, doesn't that sound bratty to you? If they were my kid I would beat them, you think to yourself. Wait a second, they are your kid and you have a healthy fear of child protective services due to what shall now be referred to as "The White Castle for Dinner Incident of 2012." I believe I have mentioned this before? Yes?
"You said you wanted oatmeal."
"But I don't like oatmeal!"
"I'm not fixing anything else. You will eat the oatmeal." Yes, you are a bad ass, way to go mom.
The child hurls himself to the ground out of his chair in a tired fit while slinging baby gibberish obscenities at you and simultaneously smacking his head on the floor leaving a giant swelling goose egg.
Yeah, way to go "bad ass". Your kid has an injury now because you made him eat oatmeal.
Getting your patient involved in morning activities: "Good morning Mr. Patient. If you wouldn't mind getting dressed for the day and having a seat in the day room, we are going to set some goals and do some activities."
"I'm smoking.", "I'm going to take a nap.", "HURRICANE!", or "Ok, where shall I sit?" are all common answers but most of the time, the patient will oblige.
Getting your toddler ready for morning activities: "Hey kiddo, what do you want to wear today?" That was your first mistake. Never ask them what they want to wear because they will quickly grab the nearest pair of purple cowboy boots and bucket. "Oh, ha ha, you are cute, seriously though, how about these sweet little corduroy overalls with this newspaper boy hat. You will look adorable!"
"No, I'm wearing boots.". Do you see where this is going? Can you feel the tension in the air? Just let him wear the boots. LET HIM WEAR THE BOOTS!
"You can't wear the boots, we are going to the grocery store in our small town and many people have gender specific ideologies that boys shouldn't wear purple boots and mamma just doesn't have the inclination to argue today." What? Give me a break, I spend my days with toddlers. I need some adult conversation!
You struggle to force dress the child in his cute overalls and hat. You curse under your breath as he wiggles and yells while kicking the air and refusing to do anything you need for him to do. You look at the clock and it's already 11. Seriously? The dog runs into the room and barfs near the struggling toddler who then puts his foot into the floor vomit puddle and begins to scream. Then, in all of his vomit foot panic he touches his foot with his hand to see what has happened and then touches your face! You have warm dog vomit on your face because you wouldn't let your child wear boots. Why couldn't you just fight the gender bias and let the poor boy wear his freaking purple boots and bucket?
You clean the little guy up, and he gives you a sweet smile as you rub lavender lotion into his little tootsies. In a few hours you will die a little on the inside when you realize that you have answered the door with dried dog vomit on your face that you forgot about, but that's beside the point. Your child is clean and well fed. You are an amazing mother. You set him down in front of a little makeshift desk that you have tirelessly created so that he can have a little space of his own and hand him a coloring book and some crayons. Life is good. He is quiet for a moment and you are rerunning a load of laundry that your forgot about yesterday and now smells like old dish rags.
Giving your psychiatric patient lunch : "Line up for meds." That will about do it.
Giving your toddler lunch: Please refer back to breakfast, only this time make peanut butter and jelly but then have him insist on honey. Also, this is also the portion of the day where you hide in your closet with a bottle of Advil and some chocolate cake while he sweetly tries to lure you out by whispering "love you mamma" and "wanna snuggle?" talk through the crack at the bottom of the door. Don't believe him. It's a trick to get your chocolate cake. They are like bloodhounds when it comes to top secret dessert or snacks.
Giving your psych patient a little down time: "Hey Mr. Patient, how are those new meds working out for you?" At this point you will either wake him up, grab some extra help to peel him off of the walls and re-medicate, or unlock the bird cage so he can smoke again.
Getting your toddler down for nap: "Hey baby, it's nap time." as you try to conceal your excitement. You quickly grab the child, run him up the stairs all while singing and making a fun game of it. Then, you put him in bed and make a hasty exit before he knows what hit him. You listen for a moment and he begins to yell "I don't want to take a nap. wahhhhhh!" You don't care though, you are going to let him cry it out this time. He is pretty tired and quiets down quickly. YOU are going to get an entire bathroom clean, YOU are going to take a shower. You are going to conquer the world! You walk past your bed and think, maybe I will just sit down for a moment. Two hours later you wake up on your husband's pillow with a puddle of drool under your cheek and guess who is awake, well-rested, and tickling your feet? That's right, the cutest sweetest child to ever walk the face of this earth.
It is already 4 o'clock. Your day is over and you have not gotten a thing done.
Shift change, giving report to the next shift for your psych patient: "It was a fairly easy day. Mr. Patient ate appropriate amounts of food and took all of his meds. He continues to refer to me as 'waitress' and required some redirection during morning group when he tried to save another patient from aliens." He is restricted to the unit for his own safety for the remainder of the day. At this point, you grab your keys and head home.
Shift change, your husband comes home: He says "Hey honey, how was your day? What's for dinner?" You say, "Do you mind if I go and jump in the shower really quick and we can just grab something?" He says "Well, what do we have that we can just fix?"
Clearly, you have had a miscommunication. Your husband doesn't fully understand the consequences of his actions. He will be on "talking to his wife" restriction for the remainder of the day for his own safety.
I guess what it boils down to is that human behavior is unpredictable. Some days the guy who isn't stable just wants to know if he can have eggs and a cigarette, while we "normal" people are running around slathered in dog vomit because we were worried that someone may give us a hard time over a pair of purple boots. It doesn't always make sense to me. I just know that since having children, sometimes I crave the peace and normalcy that the psychiatric unit has to offer.