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.

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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.

Expectations

How many gentle moments do we poison each day when we cling to our expectations?  When we are imagining breakfast while we rock the baby, we miss the joy of rocking, we lose a precious moment with the baby – and we still miss breakfast.  When we simply rock when we are rocking, and then eat while we are eating, we become more open to the blessings available in the moment.

 Some expectations are extremely difficult to relinquish.  Some of us still expect our parents, friends, or spouses to finally become the loving people we always wanted them to be.  We think of how it might have been if only the right person or career had come along.  Some of us are still so attached to these hopes that we have not yet really begun our lives in earnest.  We are still patiently waiting for the world to match our perfect picture before we start.  How much longer can we wait?

 

from Legacy of the Heart: The Spiritual Advantages of a Painful Childhood

by Wayne Muller

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.

Post Script

The following is not advisable, nor is it recommended or endorsed by any of the information herein; the anecdotes serve as a reflection of my personal experiences. Do not take the same road I have.

 About three and a half weeks ago, I weaned myself off my antidepressant of seven years. For all the advice I’ve heard saying not to do so without medical supervision and all the times I’d poo-poo’d those who abruptly stopped medications – I weaned off my meds without medical supervision having made the decision totally independently.

I’ve written before about the panic that ratchets up watching the tablets dwindle in my amber colored bottle of sanity; about the same reasons I take them leaving me overwhelmed enough not to call the doctor for a new string of refills. It happened the same this time.

Except this time, I’d been growing ever more resentful of that daily bitter pill, something to remember, something to lean on heavily, something to possibly poison me.

In an as-yet-to-be-seen brilliant realization, I decided to space out my tablets to make them last longer – ‘until I got a refill’. I think that was my rationalization. I went down to one for several days, half for several more, and then a quarter.

Also around this time, however, I began reading A Mind of Your Own: The Truth About Depression and How Women Can Heal Their Bodies to Reclaim Their Lives by Kelly Brogan. Now, if the rest of my follies here are not endorsements, this most certainly is not an endorsement of this book. It took me an awful long time to swallow – pun possibly intended – what Brogan had to say. After years of coming to terms – mostly – with taking antidepressants, here was an in-your-face account of how they were absolutely unhealthy and unnecessary. The whole first half of the book told me in no uncertain and sometimes holier-than-thou terms that I had been duped and made a terrible decision for and possibly irreparable damages to my body.

As I said, I started reading this book around the same time I was weaning. I did not read one ‘expert’s’ book and change my entire life regimen around it. As I was already tapering these ‘evil’ meds from my system, however, I was curious to see what other options could help me complete this process.

The second half of Brogan’s book is the best; the part where she gets to the heart of her mission: helping women live healthy and whole lives. I don’t know that her tone was less sanctimonious or I was better able to temper it with my own decisions of what would/would not work for me. Her plan focuses on a four-week implementation of diet, detoxing the home, meditation, exercise and sleep – a four-pronged approach to keeping the body and mind on track.

There is a lot in this book that resonates with me – some of which I already do, in fact. However, the four-pronged approach makes that panic rise in my chest almost as much as the rattle of fewer and fewer pills in the bottle.

When I started meds, feeling so like a failure for needing them (no projection, just my own neuroses), my therapist said, “this is the tenor of your life right now. Whether or not you were previously suffering with a mental illness, you were able to cope. Now, mothering several children, there are significant unalterable circumstances that make you unable to cope. Your medication can help you do so.”

Tenor still untenable.   Nothing new there. Well, actually there is a new kid.

So perfecting diet, sleep, mindfulness, exercise, clean living – all factors dependent on me, everyday, in my imperfect life is a little terrifying. Especially considering that failure, which is inevitable really, means a depressive state. No big.

Back to weaning: Brogan advises her 30 day detox before weaning to reset your system first. Ha. That may have helped. It also may have helped if I didn’t wean in the last week before my period as I prepped and embarked on a week-long trip with all four kids solo only to return, take two weeks to prep for school, and pack for one final vacation that ends on the eve of the new school year. Timing is everything.

There were times I wanted to scalp myself or my children that first week; times I wanted to scream louder than the baby refusing to just.go.to.sleep; scared that the crying jags meant my depression was coming back; irritable and snippy with my husband; and in a much lesser, yet slightly amusing development, America’s Got Talent’s package materials and any high note hit by a contestant made me well up.

Brogan warned me the withdrawal symptoms might present as a relapse of the original condition. Who’s to say I was struggling because I desperately needed the pill to supplement my body or give it a crutch?

I didn’t complete a long yoga session last week seeking clarity of mind in regards to all this. I was finally sick and scared enough at the skin and muscle getting looser around my frame and the big kids were shoe shopping with their grandparents. The amount of tension in my muscles shocked me. I sobbed at even the slightest release of it. Not the wet, slimy tears of a betrayal or breakdown, but the semi-silent, breath-catching heaves of chest with a few slick tears sliding down from the corner of eyes when I unsquinched them long enough to let them fall. I didn’t realize how much I’d been carrying until I tried to let it go.

And that was just the physical.

As trite as it may be, I had an epiphany on the yoga mat that morning. Even if I was taking medication to take care of my mental health, I wasn’t taking care of my self. I’d forgotten to force time for the things that keep my soul alive. Stretching, meditative thought and moments, reading, writing.

Did I need to stop meds to hit rock bottom hard enough to make the burning fire of my calves burn a hole in my consciousness? Perhaps not. Would I recommend cessation of meds as a path to clarity? No. But stopping meds to see where my mind and body were at this point in my life, nearly eight years out from the offending episode of postpartum, and then having such a visceral reaction to the stress in my life and body – that sent me an important message.

Regardless of what my decisions are in regard to lifestyle and care, self-care must be part of it. Placebo or perfect chemistry, a pill isn’t a miracle. All cylinders of my life, my soul must be firing.

Life will never be perfect. Even if I decide to follow Brogan’s regimen or another with or without meds, there will be times I fail. I can’t control circumstances outside my body, my sphere – hell, even in my sphere. (Did I mention I have four children?) But perhaps with the balance of self-care, I can temper the abberations. It’s a tall order, but right now, it’s keeping my mind centered on care – not maintenance or even just keeping the lid on.

That’s a pretty compelling read for me.

String Theory

The baby is screaming.

She fell asleep during her bedtime feeding, exhausted from the non-nap she took, but woke as I dressed her in pajamas. Two of her sisters came to her crib-side to stem the tide of tears, only prolonging the cry-it-out of which she is desperately in need.

My husband has finally comforted her and there is silence. I’m not sure it will last once she leaves his arms.

I’m sitting in the living room in the dark. In a singular armchair in the corner because it’s the farthest away from couch command central I spend those hours of nursing/napping with the baby during the day.

I screamed when I saw the previously smooth comforter on my bed had been rumpled like the ridges of wet sand left by a receding wave. I swore when I saw that said rumpling slid most of the clean load of laundry I’d dumped on the bed for folding onto the floor.   I flung dirty, yet previously sorted, clothes back into their piles from where they’d been strewn across the hallway. I didn’t even know what to do when I found one of my few personal care products had been removed from the basket on my dresser and moved to the baby’s.

It’s all a violation. After a long day of doing everything for everyone, to have even one little bit of it undone is a slap in the face. Or a turning of a screw tightening my already taut strings into a discordant twang.

Especially in my room.

Do not take what little I have for myself. What little sanctuary I have.

That being said, if the sight of one misplaced purple hair care bottle disturbs me so, I think it’s safe to say I need a break.

It’s time to scale back. Sit apart. Self care.

However, I realized earlier today that, except for two, all of our weekends throughout the entire summer are booked. Summer hasn’t even started yet! A good number of those are family time and travel, which is, of course, good. But it’s a major weight on my ever-forward-looking and always-cognizant-of-what-needs-to-be-done mind.

It’s also a reminder that a place where I’ve fallen short is discriminately choosing what absolutely adds to the quality of our lives and what would just be nice if we had time; that I need to clearly and effectively communicate my desires and capabilities – for what works for me and us, not others.

Because I’m obviously feeling stretched to the limit tonight and stuff like this shouldn’t make me break.

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An Argument for Self-Care

Isn’t it amazing that we only engage in self-care when we have to, when it’s absolutely necessary.  When we’ve reached such critical mass we’re about to blow apart.

That’s usually when I get a humdinger of a sinus infection.  Agony.  Aches and pains.  Congestion.  Fever,  Chills.  As horrible as it is, it forces me down for the count.  To the couch.  To bed early.  To forcing fluids and taking it easy.  Would I think to dial things down when the first symptoms show up?  Heck, no.  Push on through.

This morning I happily scrolled through the WordPress Reader, checking in on some of my favorite blogs.  Catching up.  Touching base.  Doing what bloggers do.  When the hormones of early pregnancy unleashed a horrible churning in my stomach.  I tried to ignore it, but finally had to shove a snack down my gullet before breakfast came up.  Self-care had become an interruption, an annoyance.

Arriving home from my brisk walk to the bus stop, I grabbed a glass of water.  One would think the neutral taste would be good for someone trying to avoid the aforementioned ‘upping-of-the-gullet’.  Un-unh.  It just reminded me that hardly anything tastes good anymore – and that my long-overdue to-do of buying lemons or limes to slice up and put in my water may actually help.  Why should it take utter disgust to push me to finally make this small treat a reality?

What is it about humans – and women in particular – that makes self-care always an afterthought?  Guilt?  A Puritan ethic?  Not wanting to be self-centered, self-absorbed, selfish?  Lack of time?  Money?

I’m sure it’s all of the above.  But I’d venture a guess that it’s most likely a feeling that we’re not worth it.  We don’t deserve a reward – no matter how small.  Especially when there are others in the world who have so little; who suffer so much.

That last point makes an especially compelling argument.  However, there’s a reason flight attendants tell us to put our oxygen masks on first before assisting those next to us.  Mothers, care givers, partners, aid workers, samaritans, humans – none of us are good to those who need us if we’re laid out, dog tired, dead sick.  We can enact great waves of tenderness and care in the world if we start in our own little atmosphere.

That is all

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

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Self-Care: A Cautionary Tale

I didn’t eat breakfast.

I drank caffeine.

I didn’t take my meds.

I stared at the computer screen all day.

I reread a beautiful, but sad book.

I cried hand-clamping tears.

I had a late lunch.

I didn’t get dressed until 4 PM.

I fought with my husband.

I looked things up online by only the light of my phone.

I went to bed too late.

—————————————

I awoke at 5:45 to the crash of thunder,
the wind whirling,
the rain pummeling.
Mother Nature matching my disconcertment.
Trees torn from their roots,
leaves littering the ground –
a mess of downed limbs and debris.
But soon the sun is shining,
the water a glaze of calm.

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Jennifer Butler Basile

Still, my head is in a vice.
My stomach churns.
There is much recovery to be done.

Introverted Enlightenment

I never should have read this article.

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Surviving as an Introverted Mother by Kristen Howerton

Sure, it convinced me that I wasn’t a terrible mother.  That it was okay not to desire constant physical contact.  To crave down-time, alone time.  To require it.  For my mental and emotional well-being.

Wow.

What a refreshing and liberating concept.  And validating.

It told me what my soul already knew.  But that my conscience(?) told me was a fault, a failing.  A roadblock to caring for my children in the best way possible or giving them full affection.

All bull$h!t – except that the needs of modern motherhood don’t care about the stirrings of the soul.

Shortly after reading that resonant article, my children started summer vacation.

It’s all-kid, all-the-time.  My three little darlings with me and each other 24/7.

It’s an adjustment for all of us.  A change in schedule, company, routine. And no opportunity for down-time.

Ironically, the article that liberated me only a few weeks ago has imprisoned me in a summer cell now.

Maybe I wouldn’t be feeling such ennui at the equinox if I hadn’t received that introverted enlightenment.

If I thought that running roughshod with constant company, arts and crafts extravaganzas, beach days and late nights was status quo, maybe I wouldn’t be feeling so full – and not in a fulfilled way, but in an I-ate-a-little-of-everything-on-the-buffet-table-at-the-cookout-and-then-went-back-for-seconds sort of way.

But that enlightened author, in touch with her inner introvert, showed me a glimpse of eternal bliss and I can’t unsee it.  If only I could see some quiet time in the future.

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