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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