I love my kids. LOVE everything about them. I love how their minds work. I love how they smell. I love the way tomato sauce sinks into their dimples even as they flip their lunch plates onto the floor.
I waited for a long time for my kids and that wait only underscores how much I feel for them. I could not imagine my life without them. I am lucky, blessed to have been gifted with these little miracles.
Yet after about 90 minutes with said-miracles, my attention starts to wane. I find myself craving my computer, an episode of Ellen. A jog, or a glass of wine. Some meaningful me-time.
Okay, ANY kind of me-time.
During my 90 minutes of mom-glory, I am the perfectly balanced mother: loving educator, dedicated caregiver, conscientious guardian of the future. For those 90 minutes, we enjoy any and every type of unstructured playtime – some days that means pretending to be animals at the zoo. Other days, we review our colors while playing I Spy on a walk around our neighborhood. We run up and down “the big hill” (driveway) in our front yard. We sing along to our almost worn out CD of The Sound of Music.
Then, somewhere around the 90 minute mark, the activities I suggest become far less active on my part. We go from playing tag at the park to sitting coloring pictures to trying out my newly invented ‘let’s pretend to nap’ game. I get tired, I get distracted. I start wanting to connect with the outside world, wondering if anyone’s emailed or called. At the 2.5 hour mark, the fatigue becomes overwhelming and I am tempted to retire to the couch and lay catatonic for a while. Or maybe watch The View. By 4 hours in a row of child-rearing without a break, I feel like I’m being dragged behind a truck down a gravel road.
Of course I don’t show my kids these feelings. But I feel so guilty about it that sometimes I think the older one knows. She is two. Her forehead at rest has the almost furrowed shape of my husband’s. She looks at me and I think she knows what I’m thinking and she is judging me. And then, inevitably, it becomes apparent that she was pooping. And I am crazy.
I know I can’t be the only 30-something mom who had a full life before she had kids who feels overwhelmed by the weight of parenting after an Ellen plus half of The View length of time. But my friends don’t talk about this. I can’t be the only one, right?
I have a woman who comes to help. She is, I am convinced, one of the eight wonders of the world. Somehow she never fatigues! Or if she does, she never shows it. Is it because she’s getting paid? Is it because she gets to go home to her babyless household? She is the 90 minute me on my best day, all day and every day.
We share the same parenting philosophies, and she is a former kindergarten teacher. We couldn’t leave our kids with a better, more qualified person. We all love her, she’s practically a member of our family. She exudes warmth and curiosity. She is Mary Poppins in sneakers.
I marinate in guilt while she is around. I am absolutely steeped in it, and I’m not entirely sure why. Is it because deep down, I feel I should be doing all the child care?
Is it because I am technically a Stay at Home Mom, even though I work out of our home? As a writer, the lines are fuzzy. I work every day, but a freelance writer doesn’t have a set income, nor an office outside of the home, so it’s hard to take my job seriously sometimes.
I have always had a hard time accepting help. I come from the Midwest: we raked our own leaves, cleaned our own houses, and were only left with babysitters on Saturday nights when our parents went out. We loved that babysitter, a high school student from down the street, because she let us watch the Saturday night lineup on NBC – Facts of Life, Gimme a Break, Golden Girls, Empty Nest. (So, basically, our real sitters were Charlotte Rae, Nell Carter, Bea Arthur, and Richard Mulligan).
The guilt is not helped by the fact that the children reach for me when I’m leaving, and they scream. I feel badly that I still want to leave. I overthink it, overfeel it: I feel badly that I want more in my life besides my kids. I leave because I know they are safe. I leave because I need to take care of my mind and health so that I can better take care of them. I leave because I know that I will always come back.