The final straw broke about 18 months ago. I was driving my three children to soccer practice.
"I have a surprise for ya'll," I told them as I lifted up the Hannah Montana Best of Both Worlds double CD. One disc was Hannah, the other, Miley Cyrus.
They chimed out "thank you," "cool" and "awesome." Then my son, almost 5 at the time, dared to ask to hold it.
"No, he'll break it," one daughter exclaimed. She and her sister promptly argued over who would open it.
"I will open it," I said flatly. "Why does everything have to be such a big deal?"
"Can we listen to the Miley one first?," my older daughter asked. "No! I want to hear Hannah Montana first," the younger insisted.
"Mommy, do I have to have shoes on? I don't have my shoes," my 4-year-old chimed in. "And I want to listen to Hannah Montana."
"Miley!" "Hannah!" "Miley!" "Hannah!" "Mommy!" "Miley." "Hannah!""Mommy!"
"Ugggh! I wanted this to be a nice little treat, and y'all have ruined it," I screamed at the top of my lungs as I clutched the steering wheel so tightly my rings cut into my fingers.
"Why do you have to fight over everything? Why can't you ever just agree, or somebody give in? And Wade, you are almost 5 years old. You should know if you are going somewhere in the car you have to wear your damn shoes!"
"I'm sorry, Mommy," he said. The girls mumbled their own apologies. The younger one said she'd be okay listening to Miley first, but by then we were pulling into the parking lot. As we walked to the practice field I apologized for losing my temper, but told them that they had asked for it.
Late that night I called my husband, who was out of town, and told him of my blow-up. (My confessional left out the four-letter word.) He said, as he usually did when I came clean about screaming at the kids, that they pretty much deserved it. Maybe just don't reprimand them so loudly the next time.
The next morning I had a slight sore throat from yelling. It was like the hangover an alcoholic faces. Or the empty brownie pan soaking in the sink that makes a Weight Watchers' lifetime member cringe because she ate them all, one thin slice at a time, after everyone else was asleep.
This, I decided, was the last sore throat I would incur from yelling at my kids. It was time to seriously consider joining the thousands of other women in the world who take prescription medication to help control their moods, temper, anxiety or depression.
About a year before this, a friend of mine had gone on a girls' weekend with eight moms she casually knew. She later told me six of them were on some kind of meds. They compared the benefits and side effects Paxil, Lexapro, Cymbalta, Prozac and others. Some made you gain weight, some made you lose. Some decreased sex drive. All of them, it seemed, made them feel like they were better moms, wives and daughters.
"They're my happy pills," one had told her. "They don't change who I am, or make me feel out of it or anything. They just level me off."
It's not like I was Joan Crawford, terrorizing my children with wire hangers. Some weeks, I wouldn't lose my temper at all, and then two weeks later I'd lose it three times in a day. My children wouldn't look back on scarred childhoods. They would agree I was a fun, loving, generous mom who played with them a lot.
I have a great life with three kids and a wonderful husband. But he travels a lot. My kids make demands, some fair and some ridiculous. I work. I have no family in town. We get a sitter most weekends to go out, but I still feel like I never have any "me time," until everyone is asleep. And that's often when I work.
Once I sat down in a movie theater with my kids and reached for my seatbelt out of habit. Usually the only time I'm sitting is when I'm driving.
Yeah, I know. Excuses, excuses. Plenty of women do twice as much with less income and not even a helpful husband who's in and out of town, and they don't take meds. But that's their choice. Maybe they don't get as stressed out as I do. Maybe they don't feel the guilt, and the sore throats.
And I'm not saying kids don't need to be yelled at once in a while. But I felt I was yelling at mine too much, when instead I could have enforced the rules more calmly, or taken away privileges. I was too worried about all the things on my To Do list. I sweated too much of the small stuff.
My doctor said he prescribes mood-enhancing medications about 10 times a week. He showed me a diagram of the brain and how certain medications can restore the balance of serotonin, a natural substance in the brain, which helps improve certain mood problems.
My friend called her doctor to make an appointment and talk about going on Paxil. The nurse said she would just call the script into the pharmacy. No appointment necessary.
These meds are probably overused and too easy to get. I wasn't suffering from depression, which is a very serious problem. Medication has proven to change and save lives of depressed people. I was anxious. I was having meltdowns way too often.
Maybe moms like me should do more yoga, cut back our responsibilities, see a therapist, exercise more, put duct tape over our mouths every day after 5 p.m. Maybe we should do anything to avoid relying on drugs to become calmer, happier people. For a year I kept thinking I wouldn't feel so stressed out after I met a certain deadline, after school was out, after my youngest quit waking up in the night, after I organized my office, after we went on vacation and once I got to sleep as late as I wanted.
But unlike Hannah/Miley I only have one world. And I don't want to spend it waiting for something to be over. I want to enjoy every minute of it as much as I can.
Katherine Snow Smith is a freelance writer in St. Petersburg. She can be reached at email@example.com.