I walked in the door to tears. It’s hard enough to understand anyone when they are crying, but Tiffanni is extra hard. She was inconsolable so I begged her to stop crying long enough to tell me what was wrong. “Stacey got a Mother’s Day dress and I don’t have a Mother’s Day dress.”

Tiffanni had just returned from going out with her parents. Their greatest gift to me might be taking her to the mall several times a month. I don’t think that I’ve been inside a mall in three years. I can live the rest of my life outside of malls and never miss out on fun, contentedness, satisfaction, or sanity. In fact, I’ll stockpile them.

There was a time that Tiffanni and I “discussed” what we would do on our off-day together. About every other one, Tiff had some house project, piece of furniture to buy, pair of shoes to scout, something that resided outside of the wheelhouse of what I would consider an off-day. Every other off-day was the exact opposite- a day of work and grief and pain and toil. My offers were walks in the state park, bowling, road trips, long dinners, and movies. Hers- torture.

Even her movie choices were painful. I dreaded the movies because every other trip was a ladies’ choice and her pick epitomized the over-worked, baby-drained, mindless, popcornfest chick-flick. “I just don’t wanna think today.” So instead she cried. Not like eyes-welled-up cry, boo-hoo please stop people are staring waterworks mascara-stained somebody died cry. I’m not sure how she constantly wanted those kind of movies, I was always willing to give her the somebody died movies- just not from cancer- I offered war, sacrifice, and revenge. Nope, she wanted the rich guy that falls for the prostitute kind of persecution.

Avoiding the mall for the last several years has extended my life by years, but not that particular day. Tiffanni wanted a Mother’s Day dress and didn’t have one. I couldn’t tell if she was mad or sad, “We’ll get you a dress. You always have a Mother’s Day dress and we’ve got a few weeks anyway.”

Maybe I’m reading too far into it, but sometimes it seems that she is holding onto as much of what used to be as she can. There are ways that even in her diminished capacity, it’s obvious that her motherhood-ness has lessened. The way that she would have mothered, she just isn’t able to do now and maybe she holds on to any semblance of that.

So, she was inconsolable. For hours. This is a fairly new change for us. Once she begins to cry over something, that is usually irrational, she can’t stop. I couldn’t distract her, couldn’t entertain her, couldn’t get her to eat. Despair was all that she could feel. We both felt helpless.

Over the last six months, these irrational moments of despondency either happen during the day with a reprieve at bedtime, or they happen at night- lasting the entire night and breaking by the next morning. However, the last couple of instances haven’t obeyed those borders. Encroaching on both halves of the day, they senselessly drain all lucidity from our lives. For hours.

When 9:30pm rolled around, seven hours later, and nothing had changed, I began to prepare myself for the long night ahead. Looking at the next morning’s schedule, what would I have to cancel, what would I have to move around? What was mundane enough to function through on no sleep? In college, I remember powering through days and nights with very little sleep and loving every minute of it. But that was a tired caused by FOMO- fear of missing out. This is a tired caused by physical and mental exhaustion.

I won’t pretend that I protect the kids from all of this. I try, my parents try, but it’s impossible to hide. At 9:30pm the girls asked me, “Dad, are you coming to pray for us or what?!” Thirty minutes late, I lumbered into their rooms for the nightly routine. “What’s wrong dad? Why is mom upset?”

“It’s nothing, let’s pray so that you two can get some sleep. You’ve got school in the morning and we’re already 30 minutes late.”

“What is it?” they insisted.

“It’s nothing. Mom just wanted a Mother’s Day dress and has been upset that she doesn’t have one.” And before I knew it, they were out of the bed and in my closet. With Tiffanni maintaining a low-wail, the girls were on a mission.

“Momma, you have a Mother’s Day dress in the closet,” Addyson exclaimed.

“I do?” she said.

“Yes, look right here. It’s still got the tags on it. Oh, and it’s so pretty.”

Carsyn joined in as if they had rehearsed the one-act play, “Look at the pretty neckline. And the colors. This will look so good on you momma.”

“And you can wear these ear rings,” she pulled open Tiffanni’s sparse jewelry drawer. “And this necklace.”

“Do you want to wear these khaki pants or tights.” It wasn’t a question, just an onslaught of bait-and-switch, a barrage of sensory overload.

“Yeah momma, you’ll look so pretty. Dad will get you flowers and we’ll go to breakfast like we always do.”

“You’ll be the prettiest one in the whole building.” Tiffanni’s eyes widened, the corners of her mouth loosened. And I watched, dumbfounded, as my girls rescued my already-lost evening. Holding up a dress in one hand, earrings and a necklace in the other, they looked like a bridal team on wedding day as they surrounded their mom with love and excitement at 9:30pm. It took ten minutes. What I tried to do for seven hours, distract and refocus, they did intuitively. A choreographed dance, peddling anticipation and beauty with hand-me-down jewelry and closeted-fashion, “We’ve got you dad,” they said.

We got Tiff settled and I escorted the girls to their rooms. Back in the bed I couldn’t stop my head from spinning, “Do you have any idea what you just did?” They smiled. Prayers and hugs and kisses I returned to my room to see Tiffanni lying on her side, eyes closed, sound asleep, where we slept all night.