I’ve been stuck in a bit of a parenting rut.
Life as I’d known it had come to feel like the directions on the back of the shampoo bottle. Instead of lather, rinse, repeat, it was more of: get up, tend to the needs of 3 small dictators, repeat. I didn’t even know it was happening. Not really. I felt my patience thinning, I heard myself yelling a bit more, I tended to catch the majority of my exasperated sighs as they were leaving my lips, but I excused away all that behavior as just par for the course as a mother. Now I see it for what it really was… burnout. Everyone is always talking about mid-life crisis. This was mom-life crisis.
This past weekend was my 20th high school reunion and I had a laundry list of reasons I wasn’t going: cost, travel, the fact that I’m an insufferable control freak. I wasn’t going. Case closed. Then my husband caught wind of the event. “You’re going!” he said with conviction. “You need a break, we’ll be fine without you.”
There it was. My biggest fear hanging in the air like a garbage fire…
They’d be fine without me.
As I made all the preparations for my weekend out-of-town, I left my husband with all the tools for success. Of course I wanted my family unit to continue smooth sailing while I was away, I love these people. They are my everything, but what if they barely even noticed my absence. What if they didn’t miss me when I was gone or get excited upon my return? I wanted my husband to enjoy his time with our sons but I found myself hoping it wasn’t a total cake-walk. If he could tackle two days without me hiccup free, what would that say about my ability as a mother?
As a stay-at-home mom I’ve become accustomed to equating my self-worth with their happiness and well-being. My only joys coming from their successes my only sorrows being supplied by their failures. I felt insufferable guilt when I choose “me time” over “their time”. This is the kind of thinking that landed me in my mom-life crisis in the first place and if I let it continue I would find myself more resentful, more miserable, more insufferable to live with as time went on. I was too close to the problem to see that my mindset was the problem.
I embarked on my trip with a pang of guilt, a cocktail in hand and a feeling of loneliness. I tried to look on the bright side, since the birth of my youngest child, 8 months ago, I could count on one hand the amount of hours we’ve spent apart. The older two and their normal boy behavior had been driving me to the brink of sanity lately. They would all be fine, and maybe some time apart would be good for all of us. As I sat on an airplane, making the return trip to the place I’d called home for 18 years, I got a bit excited at the thought of seeing my best friend since childhood. Laughing big laughs and eating rich foods, drinking lots of booze and staying up later than my bedtime was guaranteed. I watched the beautiful horizon from my window seat and thought about how flying in a plane is so much like parenting. Sometimes it seems like the world is standing still, but time is in fact moving, and you are traveling at a faster pace than it seems. When I landed in the city I began to enjoy the busy around me that was none of my business, unlike home where all the busy was my only business.
As soon as my best buddy enveloped me in a hug I realized how much I’d needed this trip. Connecting with the people I knew when I was just becoming the woman I was destined to be, the mother I would eventually become, was both mind-blowing and cathartic. We ate too much, we drank too much, we laughed so much that my unused abdominal muscles began to feel again under the scar of three c-sections.
My reunion was surreal. The memories I had of these shadows from my background weren’t the same way I had been remembered. Their memories were better. They rewrote my teenage history for me in a way that made me like myself more, appreciating all the small things they’d taken away from our brief times together. It was surprisingly comfortable; for strangers that no longer have much in common, except for the past.
When I arrived back at home I was greeted by a cleaner than normal house, 3 little boys with open arms, big wet kisses and excitement in their voices. My husband was cooking something from a box (not my normal homemade fare) and as he flashed a boyish smile at me I returned the favor with a relaxed grin. “I’ve missed that smile,” he said as he hugged me. “Looks like you handled the weekend like a champ,” I said, fearful that maybe I just wasn’t as good at my job as I thought. Scared that maybe anyone can do it…
That’s when the boys chimed in…
“Mommy, we slept on the couch last night. Mommy, we woke up in our soccer clothes. Mommy, I had gum for the first time. Mommy, we had Ramen noodles for dinner. Mommy, I haven’t taken a bath since you left.”
My husband and I let out big, heavy laughs… “Like a champ? Not so much, but I handled it.”
Mommy’s home now, with recharged batteries.