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.

promenade-solitaire--1473171360frf

Richard Revel via publicdomainpictures.net

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.

Retreat

When the world got to be too much, including my little corner of it, I used to retreat to the bathroom.  It was usually just as supper was about to start, food laid out on the table, cups of milk poured, husband home from work – Mom sitting on the toilet sobbing soundlessly with an unnamed sadness and inability to cope.

My husband would give me a few minutes, then call softly through the door to see if I was all right.

You would think that would be the easiest part of the day, having made it through ten or more hours of sole care giving, dressing, feeding, getting out the door-ing.  A time to sit with my family and enjoy the shared responsibility of parenting with my spouse.  But just like a toddler who does not do well with a change in caregivers, so I was not transitioning well.  We were all getting hungry and tired and my head couldn’t take one more shrill scream or pop of sound.

At first, a friend didn’t recognize this scenario as one resulting from my postpartum depression.  She got angry, she said, irritable, wanting to lash out when she couldn’t abide the situation at hand.  She wanted to fight vs. my flight.  Both natural responses to elevated levels of stress; to the wooly mammoth of parenting postpartum.

The word retreat itself is an interesting choice.  It has wartime connotations, as in run away from the enemy, give up the fight, fall back to a place of safety, behind that line that should not have been crossed.

When the bathroom won’t do anymore; when they’ve figured out your hiding spot; when you can’t while away your tortured existence on a germ-infested throne anymore – what then?

throne

At first, I turned to my midwife, then a licensed social worker, then lifestyle and diet changes, then medication.  I don’t want to lock myself in the bathroom as much any more, but I still need a respite to get my wits about me.

As a teenager, it was a requirement to attend a retreat as preparation for Confirmation.  In college, I attended many enriching weekend retreats as part of peer ministry.  In preparation for marriage, my husband and I went on an “Engaged Encounter”.

Where are the programs for mothers who love their children but want to retreat?  Who have lost themselves and their faith amidst the everyday beat-down of the job?  Who know what a blessing their children are but just can’t feel it for the pressure pushing down on them?  Who found their depression only now because they must function, they have no choice to go sit in a corner and listen to The Cure until life seems better.

Children bring us out of ourselves.  As they say, it’s the only way you can feel your heart beat outside yourself.  They teach us selflessness and caring for others.  They give us a view of the future, of possibility.  But in giving our all to them, it sometimes feels as if it’s the end of our possibility.  It doesn’t seem like there’s room for anything else.  A feeling that often makes me want to retreat.

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