Mother as Refugee, Part II

Stemming from the author’s note I addended to my last piece, I have some more thoughts to share on the idea of mother as refugee.  I alluded to the fact that my musings obviously came from a very ‘first world problem’ place.  Even had I not used that actual phrase, there were many details in my post that gave me away.

Assumption: access to child care

To escape, i.e. leave one’s home, someone else has to watch the kids.  While many mothers may dream of it, the point is moot if there is no one to care for the children in their absence.

Assumption: a partner in child-rearing

Raising one’s children with a support partner – both emotionally and logistically – frees one to care for oneself, offers the space to do so, validates the importance of . . . an act which is exponentially harder without one.

Assumption: financial solvency

My piece presupposes that there is extra room in one’s budget for such frivolity as a fancy coffee drink.  Buying a coffee I could’ve made at home is a luxury I need to plan for in my first world budget.  It’s also a way to secure space in the establishment.  For mothers with low incomes, buying a drink in exchange for a seat isn’t even an option.  This also assumes that one doesn’t first have to pay for child care in order to get some time to oneself, in which case even an overpriced cup of coffee is a drop in the bucket.

Assumption: local resources/community

A latte at a coffee house as self-care is the ultimate example of white mom privilege.  Coffee shops – one really – are also the only places in my mostly rural town that are open in the evenings.  If the library happens to be open when I get the chance to escape, there isn’t a quiet section for me to hide.  I’ve resorted to sitting in my car in some picturesque spot, but that only works during daylight hours in warm weather.  Winter in the Northeast is not conducive to this.  In other words, place plays a large role in the opportunities available to mothers.  If there is no building, no business with availability that suits her schedule and economic needs, there is no escape.   

Assumption: home as a safe and comforting place

Perhaps home as it exists is a very triggering place.  Some mothers may associate their surroundings with abusive episodes or people who live(d) there.  The emotions elicited may be polar opposite to the relaxation response.  Others may be overwhelmed by the sight of dishes to wash or piles of laundry to process, a very real and overwhelming reminder of her daily duties.  Or perhaps others expect her to perform such duties when at home or consider her time squandered.

I cannot assume that I’ve done any justice to the situations I’ve described above.  I cannot presume what it is like to actually live in such conditions.  I only open them in an attempt to unpack some of my own privilege and honor the experience of every mother.

 

Much Ado About Nothing

I’ve had one full-fledged panic attack.  With all the anxiety over all these years, one full-fledged horrible panic attack.  That’s pretty amazing and pretty lucky.  The lid-about-to-boil-over effect is one of my body’s favorite go-tos.  Lately, it’s switched over to heart palpitations when my mind starts racing.  The other night as I lay in bed thinking of all I wanted to accomplish, my heart ticked up.

See, I was faced with two whole days by myself.

Well, sort of.  The kids, on school vacation, were leaving partway through Wednesday and returning partway through Friday for a sleepover at their grandparents’.  My husband was working, but we’d have the evenings together.

But as I lay in bed the night before this whole evolution started, I felt incredibly disjointed.  I’d be waking with the kids the next day and making sure they had all the underwear and rain jackets and stuffed animals they’d need for Grammie’s.  Starting the day as mom, and then transitioning to . . . what?  A quasi-homemaker washing the laundry of my own that I haven’t had a chance to wash, but would like to wear since I’ll be my own person for a day or so?  Run the errands I didn’t get to yesterday because I can do them in half the time kid-free.  Or switch straight to sloth because I can sit on the couch and watch a movie uninterrupted in the middle of the day?  The pull of doing all the things – and needing to do some of the things – versus the things I wanted to do for my soul’s survival were ramping me up.  Or, more accurately, the fact that I was going to run out of time before I ran out of things to do – and my people came home.

When my baby – at the time – started kindergarten, I found myself floundering as I tried to fit indulgent baths and writing time and house projects in the six hours of each school day.  I actually restarted therapy because I was so lost.  After years of never being alone, I thought I couldn’t wait until I finally was.  And I was right.  But, as any mom of a certain number of years will tell you, whether you mean to or not, so much of yourself becomes the mom-self that when there suddenly is a void – be it from kindergarten or college – you unexpectedly find yourself flailing.  So the switch of me-time flipped from famine to feast – and it still wasn’t enough.  I found myself dreading the return-time of the bus – because I hadn’t done enough, been alone long enough.  And I hadn’t even decided what I was going to do for work now that all my kiddos were in school.  My therapist told me I wasn’t ready to go to work; that I needed to unwind a bit more before I contemplated what was next.

And then I got pregnant.  [Insert bitter ironic laugh here]

Next month that baby will be three.  We’re contemplating sending her to preschool next year so I find myself facing the same quandries of what to do with my ‘free’ time as I did three and a half years ago.  But I’m starting a little early this time.  My eldest is old enough and owns a phone now so for a few hours a week I put her in charge of her sisters and sneak away to write, think.  I can already feel that I have much work to do on myself to prep for the actual work.  Plus, even on those days it’s me and the baby while the others are at school, I still dread the return of the bus.

These two days are a microcosm of that feeling; what elicited that heart-pounding panic in the dim of my room the other night.  I’m not back to square one.  I’m working on such a backlog, such a deficit of self-care in the simplest sense of the word – like silence to think – that the return of my people, the resumption of the needs, demands, to-dos, freaks me the %*$# out.  Not because I don’t love them.  Not because I hate my life.  Not because I could/should keep them away so I can do all my things.  It’s unrealistic for me to think I could possibly catch up on all I’ve been wanting to do in one day to myself.  But I think my ‘fight or flight’ is afraid I’ll never get any time to myself again.

So I lie in bed and run through every possible permutation of what I could do with my time, petrified that I won’t get it right and regret squandering my precious time to myself.

Obsessive, anxiety-inducing behavior.  Not totally rational, though rationalizing every move, of course.

But this day and a half have produced some wins.

I got a haircut.  I hand-washed those long-since buried bits of clothing.  I scheduled two posts.  I drank a latte and ate a muffin bigger than my head.  I drank wine with my husband, enjoyed a new recipe with him without the kids turning their noses up, and watched a movie without turning the volume down.  I reveled in lyrical literature.  And stared into space a bit while my mind wandered.

There’s always the panic – or possibility of.  There’s always something that could be done.  There’s always doubt.  But there are the good things, too.  Here’s to looking in the middle distance enough – neither too closely nor unseeingly – to recognize them.

Contradiction in Terms

For all the bitching I do about taking care of my children, I stood listless on my porch this afternoon as I watched them drive away with their grandparents.

When you take away the main reason for my modus operandi, where does that leave me?

A skiff adrift, a compass needle with no magnetic pull, a mother with empty arms and a quiet mind.

I stood there for a moment, thinking I should literally be jumping for joy as I face down a weekend alone with my husband.  But I couldn’t get past the immediate feeling of ache.  A dull feeling somewhere around my solar plexus as I watch my babies leave.

They waved, and beeped, and yelled goodbye out the window.

And then I thought, okay, now what do I do with these hands, now idle, but so out of practice.  The hands and mind forget what it’s like to do something other than the constant care of children.

But once I allowed the thought in, my mind raced with possibilities.  I can write on the deck under the umbrella!  I can read in the sun.  I can put my feet up and have a nice cool drink.

What did I do?

I finished the laundry I’d started before they left.  I unpacked the schoolbags they’d forgotten about in their rush out the door.  I swept the crumbs they’d left under the table at dinner last night.

Giving me time off is an exercise in futility, no?

No.

Remember when your child was an infant and that hour during which they slept and the floor clear of squeak toys and random detritus was like heaven?  And then they woke up and flung everything from its cute little basket and all over the floor all over again?

Now imagine a larger child.  Now multiple that by three.  Now multiple that cute little basket into one huge mess of stuff.  All over the house.

This weekend is like that nap.  If I can clear all the stuff away now as soon as possible after their departure, I can enjoy a house free of gak for that much longer.  And I rushed around and did it as quickly as I could so I could still get to my laptop and get some writing in before my husband came home.

Time with the hubby is sublime.  But it’s also nice to feed our own soul.

What do we go to first?  How do we prioritize when every item on the list is important?  Dabble in a little of each so we can appreciate each in its contrast?  I don’t rightly know.  Hell, the one time I clean the house is when I should be eating freakin’ bon-bons while soaking in the bathtub.

I miss myself when the kids are here.  I miss my babies when they’re gone.  I miss quiet conversations (I’d even go for simply uninterrupted) with my husband.  I miss doing whatever the hell I want because no one is demanding anything of me.

I am a contradiction in terms.  And I have a whole weekend off to celebrate it.

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