…the moment you are writing a novel of a Facebook post and realize that everyone will have to click “read more” just to get your update…and decide to blog on your actual blog instead…
If you weren’t already someone who needed time alone, make no mistake, motherhood would create that need. Motherhood will make an introvert of even the most deeply people-fueled extrovert. My guess is that it boils down to not being able to go to the bathroom alone. You can’t close the door without little toes poking out from underneath it. Some little person will inevitably have a crisis and start knocking before you’ve even had a chance to sit down. Or you are inundated with calls of “Mom? Mom?!? MOMMY! MOOOOMMMY!” that echo through the house in tandem with the pitter patter (or stomping around) of little feet as they search room to room for you like you are the holy grail and you’ve been misplaced. I’ve learned that letting the kids know in advance that “I’ll be right back” doesn’t help. The time in between the words leaving my lips and the closing of the bathroom door is sufficient for them to forget whatever it is I’ve just said.
So, for those of us who were already introverts, we can become a little like a turtle who is trying to retreat her entire self into the most central 1 inch square of her shell. It gets hard to breathe.
I’ve realized that I actually only need a small amount of time to reset, to sit in silence, to sip on a warm cup of tea, to scratch out a list of to-do’s, and to read without interruption. I love to wake up early and to take 20-30 minutes of quiet in the semi-darkness that morning affords and just be all by myself. My kids have a mommy-radar though. Do yours? I promise my husband can wear his work shoes and clod about on our wooden floors and up and down the stairs right in between their bedrooms. He can take a shower, shave, hum, make coffee and cook eggs. He can open and close doors without considering how to do it quietly. He can even kiss them goodbye! AND. THEY. STAY. ASLEEP. I, on the other hand, can creep around the house, not open a single door, pee without flushing, and even when the loudest sound I make is the clicking of a lighter setting a candle wick aflame, those adorable little people asleep upstairs are instantly awake. It is as if they have a homing device that identifies the exact moment my bare feet hit the floor in the morning. The alarm, red flashing lights and all, announces: “Mommy is AWAKE!”
So, I may only need 20 minutes to restart my engine in the morning, but 20 minutes of alone time can be desperately hard to come by these days.
We weren’t even home from Linger yet when my sweet husband wanted to make a plan. My better half is a beautiful mind kind of genius and someday I’m going to take pictures of the pages of his journal and prove it. Most people write just words in their journals, but in his the words are scrawled in neat little letters between complicated diagrams and drawings that break down the most abstract ideas. His name is David Paul Andre, but sometimes I think David Planner Andre would be better suited to him. So, I was not at all surprised that on the plane ride home he wanted to get down to the nitty gritty of how we were going to build time in our lives to be still and get fueled up. Although, I’ll admit it, in that moment I was annoyed. When he’s knuckled down scheduling months ahead in our life, I’m somewhere nearby flying around by the seat of my pants. We are quite the pair.
I shouldn’t have been anything other than ecstatic sitting in that completely full plane plane in my semi-reclining, could-be floatation device of a seat even while breathing stale air piped down at me from a little black knob. Why? Because Tuesday evenings are one of the best things to happen to my schedule since I realized I should have one.
I should’ve been ecstatic and hugged his neck and kissed the ground beneath his feet because nothing says I love you quite like having your needs anticipated.
Tuesdays David gets home from work as soon as he can and the minute he steps over the threshold of that door, I clock out. Tuesday evenings are my official “night OFF“. My oversized bag gets stocked with a book, my Bible, pens and a notebook with pages of my scrawled words that demonstrates I’m less genius and more disorganized bucket of thoughts. I kiss those five beautiful little faces good night and then squeeze the hairy faced one tight with the loudest whisper in his ear: “THANK YOU” and I’m out the door. And then I close it without trying to cautious or quiet because I can.
Some Tuesday evenings I hole up in a short booth at Bob Evans with a cup of tea and just read and think and sit alone. Some Tuesday evenings I wander around the Goodwill, nonchalantly pursuing the book section just because I can all by myself. Sometimes I meet up with a friend for a little while if one of them has been able to make time after their kids have gone to sleep. Sometimes I run errands alone for the fun of it. Sometimes I do all of those things because I can. I put my phone on silent. I bet I never speak 10 words during the time I am away from the house. It is glorious.
David does the solo parent thing so well, sometimes when I get home I have to tell myself not to compare. When I’m really battling the comparison game, I remind myself “He’s fresh. He spent all day with grown ups.” Sometimes I even say it out loud… with a smirk. [please hear the sarcasm] But honestly, even if I came home to a trashed playroom, a sink full of dishes, food left out on the counters and kids who went to bed in their clothes with their faces crusted with dinner, I would still be deeply grateful.
It doesn’t even matter how late I get home and go to sleep because I wake Wednesday mornings feeling like a million bucks. And when I get out of bed and go pee without flushing and thirty seconds later at least three of my five children scurry down the stairs, all 100 or so pounds of them combined, sounding like a thundering avalanche, I can’t help but smile. I am happy to be hugged and hung on. I don’t mind the morning breath or the squishy diapers or the fact that they need to eat approximately 1 minute after waking.
Mommy on a full tank has ears ready to listen and hands ready to work on diapers and breakfast. . Also the minutes or hours away give them time to get cuter and sweeter. If you don’t believe me, run your own experiment. I’m sure you’ll find your kids also get cuter and sweeter when you’ve had a little time out of their presence. More importantly, Mommy on a full tank has something real to give.
We moms are hard one each other and harder still on ourselves. We tend to be extreme in our thoughts and even more so in our daily practices. We swing hard in the direction of sacrificing for our family to the point of losing our individuality and mental health or we swing hard in the opposite direction, clinging and clawing ourselves to the top of that list of priorities. Or we become like a pendulum, going back and forth, back and forth, from one extreme to another. We are all too often either drowning in guilt or smothered and gasping for air. It is some awful kind of parental water boarding torture.
It isn’t easy to find the right balance of caring for our needs and meeting the needs of the little souls who are dependent on us. Straddling the the middle of the teeter totter so that neither end comes crashing down to the ground with a thud or gets stranded high in the sky is a daunting task. The thing is, the task is necessary. It is vital to the health of our families.
We all know our families are made up of a people. Some of the people know how to balance a checkbook and put in 40+ hours at a job every week and some of the people don’t have enough teeth to chew food and others haven’t yet learned to cope with minor frustrations. (I’ll let you guess if that description fits adult or child ) Skill sets aside, everyone in the group is their own individual being with his or her own individual needs. The collective group has a mission and various objectives and duties and musts, but it is hard to accomplish that if the musts of each one have been abandoned for the sake of the “us”. And it is impossible to move forward with locked arms to accomplish purpose if we have become little islands of self-preservation.
For my part, (and I lovingly blame my parents), I tend to lean strongly toward guilt. I can spend the day meeting need after need and then demand after demand only becoming aware of my waning mental state when I am engulfed in resentment. There’s nothing lovely about that version of me. A care-taking gift can morph into a thorn of enabling that drips with bitterness. Those of us who feel obligated to put ourselves aside in some vain attempt to validate our existence may initially appear more loving or caring or (God forbid) more “spiritual” but the truth is that mess is ugly underneath.
My mom probably never had a new outfit or took a weekend away with girlfriends until I was old enough to realize she hadn’t. As a child, I don’t recall her being resentful. So if she harbored it, she pulled it all off without a hitch. Pair that with the fact my parents welcomed so many needy kids into our home that it is impossible to keep count and you can see how the Enemy twists me into believing there is some “save the world” impossibly high bar for me as a mom.
My mom progressively got better about taking mini vacations sans kids and scheduling girl time. She even bought herself a hot tub (though she made it seem like a gift for Dad- ha!). When we aren’t experiencing sub-zero temps in central Ohio, you can bet she’s out there under the stars when the rest of the household is fast asleep, praying (and occasionally seeing flying saucers). Those moments fill her up. I’m sure when we were in diapers the thought of spending thousands on 6 person outdoor bathtub with jets would’ve at least caused her roll her eyes if not to feel flooded with guilt for wanting it. But seven kids later, she’s learned what feeds her soul and helps her face the gut level parenting chops required to parent teenage boys.
I’ve watched her evolve and I’ve taken notes and I’ve kept my eyes peeled for parents who are navigating that tight rope well. Sometimes I’m just trying to mimic what they’re doing. I’m the new girl at the aerobics class, trying to keep up while learning the actual moves and steps. Every now and then I find my groove for a measure or two or three in the song and boy, synchronized aerobics starts to feel like dancing! About the time I start to imagine I’ve mastered it, I trip over my own clumsy feet and fall flat on my face. I used to walk out of the class embarrassed or angry or both, but I’m learning to wipe the dirt of my face, have a good chuckle at my own expense, and try to jump back into the routine again.
I’ve said it before and I’ll probably be saying it forever: Parenting isn’t for the weak of heart.
David will be popping his head through the door momentarily and the kids will rush to him like he’s just returned from battle, with squeals of “Daddy’s home!”
[..."He's fresh. He spent all day with grown ups."…. "He's fresh. He spent all day with grown ups."…."He's fresh. He spent all day with grown ups."...]
I’m tired and dinner isn’t done (let’s be real: it isn’t started). We both have errands to run this evening and a couple of unchecked items on today’s list. But he’s not coming home to a leaky roof of a wife and the kids have had happy day and are playing reasonably well together and although work isn’t all it could be for him, he will be smiling. We haven’t got it all figured out, but we are moving forward. And for that significant miracle, I am ever so grateful.
So friends, how to walk the right rope? What works for you? How do you balance your needs and the needs of your people? How do you make time to be a wife and a friend while doing your 24/7 Mommy gig? I’m asking because I’ve only got a couple steps in the routine down pat and if you’ll let me I’ll stand behind you for a minute and attempt your footwork.