I Had A Meltdown…

Deborah Sloan
6 min readDec 2, 2023


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I was the first customer through the door when they opened at 10.30am. The lady who looked like she would never be defeated by batter had to nip into the back to add tiny slivers of strawberry to the ones with the pink frosting. It had to be done last-minute she said so the juice didn’t ruin the bun. There was a calmness, a smell of baking wafting in the air. “Blue or pink ribbon,” she said as she sealed the box, like she had all the time in the world. I thought of my daughter, her goalie kit, her comfortable attire, her aversion to accessories. “Blue,” I said. They were perfect, those twenty-four mini cupcakes. I decided I’d have the honeycomb one later. “Is it for a special occasion?” she asked. “Yes,” I said.

School formal day 2023. I would spend most of it staring out through a windscreen. I would have a massive meltdown at 3.30pm. I didn’t know that yet at 10.30am. I had no idea how it would build up all day, channel into an explosion of epic proportions and leave me floored for days afterwards.

There was still time for it not to happen. Like sliding doors, I would look back and wonder if it could have been avoided. But then there were the gold sandals that wouldn’t strap, the dress that hadn’t been fitted properly, the rush to locate safety pins, the Thursday afternoon traffic, the cupcakes that no one ate, the fact that I was doing all this on my own. There was still another half-hour waiting outside a beauty salon. I was protecting those cupcakes on my knee, keeping them upright, maintaining their composure. I was wearing my around-the-house clothes. But my children are all in double figures. I can’t understand why I haven’t time to dress properly when my husband is away.

I think some of you might be envious of me. You think I have something you haven’t. You keep telling me I have ‘time on my hands’. You keep asking me what I do with it. “It must be hard,” my mother will say about my husband and all his travel. “You’ll have to make sure he rests at the weekend”. “I’m looking forward to getting home,” he says, and I think how women rarely get any credit for maintaining homes that people can come back to.

Before he leaves again on a Monday and I contemplate the week of solo parenting ahead, I stand in the living room with my arms outstretched. “You might as well hang the laundry on me,” I say. I point to the pictures on the wall, the sofa he’s sitting on, the table he sets his cup on, the cup he drinks from. “This home was created by me,” I say.

As I kill time playing with my phone at 11am, I wonder what colour she’s picked. Will her fingers match her toes? “Why did you get those?” she asks as she gets into the car and looks at the box I am cradling. She suggests I bring it to the house where the pre-formal will be held at 3pm. And I wonder if she is doing it to me deliberately, withholding information. Because I still don’t know her plans, who is coming to collect her at 2pm, what I am supposed to do to entertain them, what is expected of me in the hour until 3pm. She is going with two young men. I am glad she has a group of friends where seven girls and eight boys have been fairly distributed. I have asked her what I should provide - tea, coffee, miniature sandwiches. Her father has shown her the shelf of beer in the fridge. In the end, I open a bottle of my favourite crémant. I set it on the worktop at 1.55. I check the cleanliness of the toilet. I put out glasses. The cupcakes are displayed on a stand.

There is an exchange of gifts, a corsage, two engraved hip flasks I knew nothing about. Photos are taken. I am not in them. I wish her dad was here. My youngest daughter whispers in my ear. She wants a cupcake, but I don’t want anyone to see the unnecessary effort I have gone to. “Later,” I say.

I recall an article I read while killing time in the car. “Am I falling apart or just another tired mother?” was its title¹. The writer described it as thoughts on exhaustion and fantasies about escape. Her tiredness is overwhelming. Her husband suggests she stay in a hotel for a night. He thinks she needs uninterrupted sleep. She says she needs to not always be needed, to not feel responsibility all the time. The hotel never happens because the responsibility will still be there in the morning. She says she has lost time recently, “I feel like I am achieving nothing, but constantly doing something”. When she scrolls through the lives of others, it is not late nights at bars or parties that trigger pangs of jealousy, but the leisure time of those who have much older children. I share it with someone who is in the throes of babies and toddlers. I say it might resonate. I also say it’s a myth that it’s any easier with older children. I am fed up with people thinking I have time on my hands.

As the sun is almost setting, in the hills overlooking Belfast, I drive up a lane and I am suddenly stuck. I can go neither forwards nor backwards. I am so late. I am slapped by my own stupidity. I should have known there was nowhere to turn. My thirteen-year-old bears the brunt of my stress. I need her to direct me but she has never handled a large vehicle. It makes no sense. Twenty years of motherhood flash before my eyes, every moment on my knees, wishing I wasn’t on my own, knowing I couldn’t keep doing it on my own. She watches me break down. I tell her to phone my husband. It makes no sense. He is in another country. I scream about showing him the lack of space between the parked cars. I want him to see that I am trapped. My meltdown makes perfect sense. I thought it would be more equal, parenting. I never expected to have to do so much on my own. There is a low bench on a patch of grass I am trying not to hit. When two mothers eventually navigate me up a driveway, I can barely speak. I am upset that I had to get help from someone else, that my husband wasn’t there for me.

In a crowd of people, in a room buzzing with teenage joy, filled with beauty and hope and expectation, there is a sense of being terribly alone. My daughter doesn’t want a photo with just me. Everyone else has two parents, one on either side. Messages are flashing on my mobile. I have another daughter who is locked out. I have so many of them. But I have remembered her. Just after I put the cupcakes back in their box, I also put a key under the mat. I wonder will I always carry the weight of remembering.

I have this vision of people who have time on their hands. They are drinking a martini. They are sipping it slowly because no one needs them.

At 5pm, broken by shame and guilt, back in the home I have created, I look in the box. The honeycomb is gone. I stuff oreo in my mouth instead. I drink the crémant straight from the bottle.

“Should I call it a breakdown or a meltdown?” I ask my husband when the dust has settled, and he knows that from now on, special occasions are joint occasions. “Breakdown implies mental distress,” he says. I let it go. Perhaps those who have never been there, who have never done it on their own will never understand. I call it a meltdown.

On a Sunday evening, I dispose of the dead cupcakes. The strawberry is withered. It is almost unrecognisable. I try not to draw parallels. I am not a cupcake.

P.S. I have created a new section for writing specifically about motherhood. If this is a topic that interests you, please do visit Motherhood! (You can find all my writing and monthly newsletter at https://deborahsloan.substack.com/. It’s nice because I will pop directly into your inbox if you subscribe there).



Deborah Sloan

I am no publishing here but am now on Substack at https://deborahsloan.substack.com. I write about leaving things in midlife.