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.


Mother as Refugee

For many reasons, I needed to sit on the couch yesterday and do nothing.  After a short while, it became clear that TV time with the toddler was not going to provide my needed respite.  Even snuggled under the same blanket, I was not providing her with enough [attention/snack food/video selection].   Circle all that apply.

It was just that kind of day.

She continued to want; her sisters added to the cacophony when they got home.  The toddler was a bit extra on the toddler scale, but none of them made outrageous requests.  By the time my husband got home and I stepped into the kitchen seeking an adult conversational release valve, I was all edges.  The last of a staccato flurry of requests nearly made me run screaming from the house.

That’s when an inner alarm went off.  I need a day off.  I need time away.

But the glaring alarm bells weren’t entirely correct.

What I need is time at home, alone.

I need a day off in my house left to my own devices.  To sit on the couch for as long as I want until I want to rise and retrieve a snack.  To watch a British drama until I cry and/or decide I’ve had enough.  To read, to write, to fill some of the pages in those adult coloring books I bought for self-care following the birth of the present toddler.  To sleep.  To stare into space.

But moms are not afforded that luxury.  I am never in my house alone.

In order to get a respite, I need to leave the house.

With respites few and far between, by the time I get one or my mental health sounds the alarm, I am usually in such a state of exhaustion that the ideal break would be crawling under a blanket and ceasing to exist for a while.  Except coffee houses don’t usually have a corner in which to hole up.  Plus, they have people.  To me, people-ing does not constitute a break.  And I can’t bring my own gluten-free vegan snacks to go with the yummy latte.

I encounter this same conundrum when I slip away to write.  Even if I don’t want to crawl under a blanket, there isn’t a quiet corner to be had.  Last weekend, I thought I’d come up with the perfect plan when I dropped off my ten year-old at a two-hour birthday party.  I’d go to the big library four minutes away, spread out all my materials on a big oak table on some deserted level, and get shit done.  Except the big library is closed on Sundays.  The sweet parking spot I snagged right in front should have tipped me off before I got out of the car.

So off to a different coffee house this time for a sweet drink not good for my blood sugar or wallet.  The convivial atmosphere was not good for concentration either.  Apparently 2 PM on a Sunday is the time to get coffee in this town.

If someone could figure out a way to provide moms with a hidey-hole to escape from the circumstances that won’t let them relax at home, it would be a huge success.  And if I can figure out a way to do this, consider this my official claim to the idea.


But that excuses the actual problem: that mothers are not allowed to shelter-in-place. 


They are forced from the nests of their homes by the demands and responsibilities that weigh on them there.  Not given the chance to breathe, they must take it.  The surface tension of the home, while a thin skin, must be broken through for a gasp of air.

And while the act of taking this time is choosing oneself, showing one’s deserved value – it is undermined by the fact that mothers are ousted from their territory, their home base to get it.


Richard Revel via

Should not the pyramid be flipped the other way?

Mothers work hard to make the house a home.  And yet, they don’t get to enjoy the benefits of that.  The soft blanket and pillows that grace the bed.  The way the sunlight spills through the windows casting the white walls a brilliant hue.  A quiet so sound that the click of the boiler can be heard far below.

Even if a step away gives a break, a breather, it is on foreign territory.  Any comfort it gives is not of the ultimate level.  It is not complete because it isn’t home, where one can be completely and totally oneself and off-guard.  Relaxation, yes.  Complete, never.

Mothers are forced to roam, choosing the least off-putting or triggering place to settle for an attempt at realigning and regulating their overwrought senses and psyche; adding one more thing to an already overflowing list of decisions and tasks which elicit the need to escape in the first place.

I don’t know what the solution is.  I don’t know what needs to change to honor mothers and their numerous sacrifices.  All I know is I wish I could just stay home, alone.

Author’s Note: The use of refugee here is as metaphor; it is in no way attempting to compare my ‘first world’ struggles as a mother to the very real and devastating conditions that true refugees face for themselves and their children.

Bitter Sweet

I never wanted another baby. I didn’t desire to hold one. I didn’t get the ‘aww’s and the itch when I’d see someone else’s. I wouldn’t wistfully remember packing them into footies when I saw someone with toddlers preparing to leave a late-night party.

I would bless my lucky stars it wasn’t me.

The very thought of returning to that period rife with anxiety and stress, dark anger and overwhelming feelings made me a bitter, sarcastic person. I was most certainly the old crone in the corner who said, better you than me.


Jennifer Butler Basile

In fact, just this last summer, a friend and I attended an outdoor concert on the grounds of a winery. As we toasted each other in the camp chairs we’d squeezed into the back end of the event tent to avoid the rain, I thought how lovely it was to get away. We ate our cheese and crackers, we laughed, we reveled in our unfettered evening. As the clouds broke just before sunset, some people ventured onto the surrounding lawn and set up blankets. A stylish young mother in a flowing skirt with dark hair to match, swaddled her baby and rocked to the music. Though we hadn’t said a word to each other, both my friend and I watched the scene; for as soon as I opened my mouth, she knew exactly of whom I spoke.

“Good for her,” I said, in a tone that unmistakably meant – better her than me; taking an infant to an outdoor evening concert, contending with rain; controlling wine intake if he needs to breastfeed; leaving early if he gets cranky.

My friend laughed and, in effect, toasted that sentiment.

The very sight of a mother and child, lovely as it was, brought my back up in disdain, for fear of the anxiety that wasn’t far behind. I was here to escape; I wanted no such reminder of that part of my life I was trying to escape.

And yet, though feelings like this were very authentic, they didn’t sit well with me.

I loved my girls. I welcomed them willingly into my life. I may not have liked or gracefully handled every aspect of my days with them, but I was dedicated to the role and importance of family in the world.

And so, to scorn other people doing the same thing – it did not compute. I knew exactly how hard it was and should have been supportive rather than snarky. And I suppose I wasn’t overtly snarky, but my attitude toward life had changed. I think the snark helped me build a shell around my wounded psyche. I’d returned to real life, but I hadn’t healed. I needed some fail safe so my wounds didn’t weep everywhere while I went about my business.

In September, I got pregnant.

I had referred to number three as a surprise; what a poor example that was compared to this! Six years out from our youngest. All three kids: potty-trained and self-feeding; able to run around without a bodyguard; play dates with friends and some quiet time for us adults.


I felt really silly when I thought back to that scene at the concert. I’d served myself up a huge slice of humble pie. How could I have made such a remark and then go and do it to myself? But there was no way I could’ve held my tongue in preparation for what was to come. I never imagined it would be so.

In the days following the birth of our third, I slept fitfully while the baby dozed nearby. I awoke at one point in a cold sweat, having dreamt I was in labor, contracting forcefully. When I realized it was a dream, I thanked God it was over and prayed I’d never have to do it again. It was almost a PTSD reaction. (side note: my postpartum depression was swiftly developing and I’d had a traumatic recovery from labor)

Yet, here we were. Preparing to do it all over again. With a strange sense of calm. I’d had a spiritual epiphany of sorts at the start of my pregnancy that set me off on a good foot. But I also had already faced nearly everything of which I was afraid. I’d seen how shitty it could be – and how I’d survived.

Obviously not unscathed, given my snarky attitude, but I think that’s precisely why I find myself in this lovely predicament. This baby is a chance to wipe away all my negative associations with expecting and bringing a child into this world. Does that mean I’ll push out roses and sunshine? Hell, no. It’s going to be a hard road, but I feel this experience will also rebirth my wonder in life. My ability to see love and light in little faces and the tired faces of mothers. To once again give a shit, to stand and support myself and other mothers around me. To say, not only will you survive, but you will enter a place of peace – at some point.


Jennifer Butler Basile

That is all

Sometimes you just need to hide in your car for an hour and 20 minutes burning your cell phone battery.



You Can’t Catch Me . . .

It’s cool to run. Jamaican bobsled team

And, no I don’t mean that as an allusion to Disney’s lighthearted take on the Jamaican bobsled team, though I can see Doug E. Doug’s goofy grin right now.

There is a movement in motherhood right now to run.  It seems to be the mode of fitness that’s all the rage.  And not only do they run, but they write about it.  Blogs on mothering and running are popping up all over the place.

Always one to eschew trend (or at least be snarky enough about it to try), it irritated me at first.  Let’s all run and share our times and trials and how we balance that with motherhood.  Woo hoo.  Jump on the bandwagon.

What’s with all these fit people!?  And what the hell does it have to do with mothering?

Then, I met a mother, who for all intents and purposes, was single for the next six months.  Her husband was deployed, leaving the task of moving cross-country to her and their three children.  I wanted to collapse just thinking about it.  She did have some family support and a great sense of humor, but it still was a trying task to say the least.

She told me how one day she asked their eldest to watch the other two so she could go for a run.  ‘I just had to get out,’ she said.

Suddenly, I got it.

Mothers run so they won’t run away.

I’ve mentioned before how my favorite scene in The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood is Ashley Judd escaping to a motel room.  Maybe running – even if only around the block – provides enough of a catharsis to make coming back around the bend possible.  Enough of the venom sweats out the pores and steams out the ears to return to stasis.  The legs know they can propel us forward if needed, the pistons fire.  We can move of our own volition.

Muscles atrophied from marathons of criss-cross applesauce; pelvises pushed out of whack from babies on hips; Lungs exhausted with wasted breath.  When it runs, the body remembers another purpose.  It remembers its former master and serves her for at least a little while.

I am not a runner.

I am the girl who, upon reaching junior high and meeting the kids from the other feeder elementary schools, was remembered by my performance in the sixth grade Olympics – as in “aren’t you the girl who puked after the 800?”  Pacing?  What’s that?

I am the woman who hates being reminded of that fact that her butt is not what is used to be by the jiggling that follows her down the hill when she does run.

But I have noticed the feeling of exhilaration when I stretch my legs and pump my arms and fill my lungs.  Even if it’s only chasing my toddler down the street to the bus stop, I feel the strength and feel as if it can carry me even further.  And not away – but to push my limits, see how much I’m capable of, feel some sort of strength when in all other ways I’m beat down.  To shift the pain from my head and heart to the burning in my thighs, the constriction in my lungs, the stitch in my side.

Don’t worry.  I’m not going to start sharing my best times and workout routines.  It would just depress us all anyway.  But let me just say to all the mother-runners out there, I get you.  Even if I can’t be you – I get you.

Escape Has Been Compromised

I’ve spoken before about the nostalgia and melancholy with which I think of the sedan I once drove daily, but which has been consigned to the driveway due to passenger limitations.  My escape vehicle.

When my husband and I bought the car, a Saab 9-3, we asked a mechanic friend for his take on the vehicle.  He told us it was an electrical nightmare.  But I’d grown up hearing stories my father had told with misty eyes about his own Saabs, “you know, the cars we owned before we had you.”  I’d heard the wonders of heated seats with cooled air coming through the vents, uncompromising safety, and cool design.  And they were born from jets, for goodness sake!  What more could one want?  I fired back at our friend the mechanic, who went on to bust me that I just wanted it for the prestige, “our baby will be sitting in the lap of safety!”  Granted, we didn’t have babies, yet.  But when we started our family within the next few years, our vehicle would be up to snuff with the latest safety standards.

We had no worries when Baby # 1 arrived.  Then we had to install the car seat.  Placed in the middle of the backseat, rear-facing, to ensure her ultimate safety, we cracked our heads times innumerable as we bent down to click the infant carrier into the base.  When my belly swelled enough with Baby # 2 to make wedging myself into the backseat to strap her into her now convertible seat nearly impossible and very uncomfortable, we moved it directly behind the driver’s seat.  Soon, we had another seat behind the passenger seat, too.

That’s when my husband started car shopping.  His car, a Jeep Cherokee so old it actually looked like one, was rusting apart on the road.  The girls loved riding in it because they bounced all around the back seat, but even my husband, an off-roading enthusiast, was getting nervous.  He wanted air bags and latch-capability.  He wanted more space.  He did not want a mini-van.  Neither did I – really.  I wanted one when I sat inside it, flipped and folded the seats, slid the doors open.  But when I stood back and looked at the thing, ugh.  I was out-voted anyway.  He decided on a Ford Flex, at the time, a brand-new vehicle from Ford.  We got one with captains’ chairs in the second row, allowing for a pass-through to the third row, where we could put our oldest who was now more self-sufficient, should we need a third seat in the future, you know?

You know how people say the more money you have, the more you spend?  Well, apparently the same goes for cars; the more seats you have, the more kids you will have to fill them.  The Flex hadn’t even lost the new car smell before we found out Baby # 3 was on the way.  Good thing we opted for the family car.

I was ambivalent.  Three kids needing three car seats meant that the mommy who was home with them all day would be driving the RV-like vehicle all the time.  No more Saabie.  When I did drive it, I was filled with such an overwhelming sense of loss – loss of freedom, of my personal desires, of my tastes.  Because I was no longer driving it wherever and whenever I wanted.  Because I very rarely went out by myself anymore.  Because it was cool – and now life wasn’t always such.

The Saab is a five-speed manual.  It has a sunroof.  It has bucket seats in leather.  It is low-slung and hugs the corners.  The Flex is automatic.  It is has cloth seats that sit so high I feel as if I’m suspended above the road.  It is a tank.  Now, in deference to my husband, it is cooler than a mini-van.  It’s got a cool, retro beach-wagon vibe that sets it apart from other vehicles on the road.  It is beautiful and certainly has get-up and go.  But it does not inspire in me a feeling synonymous with winding down a tree-lined road curving into oblivion.

However, that may be a thing of the past as well.  In response to rising gas prices and only two girls needing daily transportation for the most part, we bought an additional car seat for the Saab.  Today was the first day I tried out this new arrangement.  I honestly thought I’d like it because I’d be able to run the Saab about more often and not chance the battery dying or the brakes rusting together.  Plus, I love driving it.

But after looking down on the road from my perch in the Flex, I suddenly felt very small.  The cockpit that always fit me like a glove suddenly felt tight.  I felt claustrophobic as I ducked into the backseat to avoid the rain and fasten the kids’ seat belts.  Little feet could reach the back of my seat and little hands could reach the window and door handles.  Worst of all, my calm had been jettisoned out the window.  That which I usually try to escape had stowed away in the backseat.

Escape has been compromised.

I do have a road trip planned this weekend, though, so we’ll see if I can reclaim some of the former glory of the Saab.  Take-off is scheduled for 7 AM Saturday.  No delays are anticipated.

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