I told myself I was going to take a week off- from writing, from cleaning, from constant “productivity”, from all of it.
“You’ve earned it!”, I told myself with real gusto. “Read! Watch TV! Lie around in your stretchy pants! Drink an extra cup of coffee and peruse the internet with zero guilt! Relish your freedom! Roll around in it like Demi Moore on the bed with all that money in Indecent Proposal!” (I like to talk to myself in all exclamation points, by the way. As a generally suspicious and sarcastic person, it makes me feel more positive about things and I like that.)
But here’s the thing: I can’t relax. I forgot how. It seems that the last 8 years of motherhood along with that burst of productivity in October really messed with my head.
When my kids were little I often felt like the minutia of the day would swallow me whole. The diaper changes, the constant effort to keep the little one out of the toilet and the big one out of my makeup, the nap-time showdowns, the wardrobe changes, the constant discipline, the trips to the grocery store that somehow took twice as long yet were half as effective, and of course preparing and packing the 97 meals (read: snacks) a day required to keep a 2-year-old satiated.
Little known fact: all toddlers for some reason, hate meals but love snacks. If you are a new mom, I’m going to save you a lot of grief and let you in on a little secret. If they don’t want to eat dinner, just tell them it’s a snack. Game changer. It’s total magic. You’re welcome.
Years ticked by, and eventually that thing happened where my littles started to become bigs. Against all my suspicions that this schedule was eternal, there actually came a day when I drove up to the elementary school, kissed their plump cheeks, sent them both off to a full day of school, and drove home to an empty house. That day was two months ago.
The truth is, I have felt more than a little lost since then. I spent the first two weeks of my long-awaited “freedom” adjusting to the fact that I was now allowed to roam about unencumbered like a normal grown up human. I wandered the aisles of Target and Trader Joe’s aimlessly, unaware of my social awkwardness as I openly stared at moms with their children and clutched a box of cereal to my chest while I gulped back tears.
I felt myself starting to get weird, and decided that it was probably best to keep busy. So for the next month I threw myself into a writing challenge and a workout program that occupied any and all free time I had. At moments I perceived this self-inflicted taxation of my “free” time to be a burden, but in truth it was actually just saving me from the burden of feeling displaced.
Can I be honest?
I do feel displaced. I am not at all sure what to do with myself lately.
I am caught off guard by this feeling, only furthering my overall sense of confusion. This was supposed to be awesome. These are supposed to be the glory days. The days where my kids are still little enough to believe whatever I tell them, openly want my affection, too young to worry about puberty, but big enough to wipe their own butts, go to school all day, and express their feelings in ways that don’t involve lying down and thrashing about. While the benefits of this stage are undeniable, and yah, okay- kind of awesome, I still can’t help but feel a bit like a fish out of water over here.
I now constantly stress out about relaxing. No matter what I’m doing, I feel like I should be doing something else. It used to be that “free time” was such a rare commodity that when it did come along, I would grab onto it wholeheartedly and run with abandon to my bed for extra sleep, or to the mall for some retail therapy, or to the couch to flip through a magazine with zero guilt. Now I have more free time than I know what to do with and to be honest, it all feels a bit lackluster. I’m not sure those hours between 8:00-2:00 matter like they used to.
In those early years the minutia of the day felt overwhelming, but it was also filled with meaning. Did you hear that, mothers of young children?
IT IS FILLED WITH MEANING.
Every diaper change that turns into a tickle fight, every long-winded bedtime story, every grocery store meltdown that turns into a life lesson, every puddle of drool on your shoulder because you didn’t have the heart to wake them, every single sacrifice of yourself- your sleep, your hygiene, your time, your overall sense of dignity, your sanity, your creative passions that maybe got pushed to the back burner- it is all filled with meaning.
You are meeting a need. You are doing important work.
Tears are spattering onto my keyboard as I write this because my heart is achy and raw and tender with the knowledge that I’m barely done with that part of the work but I already long to go back. I am entering an exciting phase of motherhood but I am still grieving the end of another. This new phase is easy and hard and unexpected. It is also equally important as the last.
Motherhood is strange. It’s like the moment you give birth your heart gets flung out into the chest of another person. This, tiny, strange, wonderful person. As that tiny person gets bigger, you begin to get parts of your heart back. The part that remembers you are a fun and carefree person and all you really needed was one night of good sleep. The part that has time and space to pursue other passions. The part that realizes you even have other passions…
But even as you get parts of your heart back, the other part of it is constantly being pulled further and further out and away. The taller that tiny person gets the more they carry your heart off with them.
Maybe that’s why I feel displaced. As my kids grow up and I get little pieces of myself back, maybe my heart is both here and away more than ever before. How does one get used to that?