This week my husband was out of town and some of my children fell ill with the plague. Ok, not really the plague, just some virus which caused sore throats and high fevers, but it was not fun. And it involved my staying home and missing one of my weekly things and sleeping on the couch near a child with a temperature over 103. In my melodramatic brain, it was sooooo the plague.
This husband-away / children-sick dynamic brought back a flood of memories from when I had a houseful of babies and toddlers and preschoolers. Back then, Patrick also travelled for work; and nearly every time he left town, someone got sick. Oftentimes a copious amount of vomit was involved. But I’ll spare you those details.
In those days, I tried to get out of the house a couple times a month for MOPS. And off and on, I did a weekly Bible study on Wednesday mornings. Sometimes, there were play-dates or homeschool group gatherings. But often, day in and day out, I was at home with my children – just them and me.
Being home, having babies, raising children – that is what I had always wanted. I was living my dream come true. And I loved it! –except for when I didn’t love it.
I loved nuzzling a baby up against my neck. I loved reading the same books over and over again — really! I loved singing nursery rhymes and stacking blocks and knocking them over and teaching the ABC’s. I loved nursing babies and rocking them to sleep, listening to them play with the Little People community that was scattered all over the house, helping them put on the fifth dress-up outfit of the day. I didn’t want to be anywhere else. –except for the moments when I absolutely wanted to be alone in a bookstore or alone on a beach or, goodness!, alone in the bathroom would have been enough.
Being an extrovert, I love being around people. And during those years, I just really needed time around people who could blow their own noses, cut their own food, wipe their own bottoms. Some days – especially winter days, when we were inside our small house all the time, or sick days, when Patrick was out of town and I’d been up half the night with croupy kids or throwing-up kids — those days were just so long.
There were days when my husband would come home from work or from a trip, and I would be all like, “Tag! You’re it!” and make a beeline for a secret stash of chocolate behind my locked bedroom door. I’d go grocery shopping alone in the evenings, enjoying some quality me-time up and down the aisles where nobody pulled on my clothes or asked me for food or screamed that they needed my help with something.
Sometimes, Patrick would remind me that he hadn’t exactly been on a vacation; he’d been working. But I was always like, “Whatev! You slept all night long in a quiet hotel room. You ate hot food someone else prepared. You went to the bathroom and NOT ONCE did your co-workers or your boss bang on the door or stick their fingers under the door. That, my dear, is a vacation in my book!” I knew his job was hard work and stressful in its own way, and I appreciated that he was working hard so I could stay at home. After all, I knew I was living my dream. Granted, my dream-come-true involved a lot more bodily functions than it ever had in the visions in my young-girl mind. So even though his job was hard, my jobs woke me up at night, wiped snot on my shoulder and climbed onto the top of the fridge and gulped down the bottle of medicine hidden there.
It wasn’t that I didn’t want a houseful of children; I did. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to be home with them all day, every day, for what felt like eternity; I did. Very much so! I just also needed to figure out how to get filled back up when they turned me upside down and squeezed every ounce of everything out of me every day.
Some weeks and months and years, I did a pretty good job of finding ways to refuel. For a while, every Monday evening (that Patrick was in town) was my night off. I went to dinner with friends; I went to dinner with a book or magazine; I went grocery shopping; I sat in a bookstore with a cup of hot cocoa, smelling the new book smell and feeling smart and cool.
But some weeks and months and years, I did a lousy job of finding ways to refuel. So I was lonely and bedraggled and quite martyr-like. I’m sure I was a blast to live with!
Now, my kids can all blow their own noses and wipe their own bottoms. Heck, they can do their own laundry! They sleep through the night. My job is not quite so physically demanding. My body is not sustaining the life of another human, as it was for so many years non-stop. They are in school during the day, so I have time to volunteer and work part-time and have long lunches with friends. There are times when I feel emotionally drained or even physically exhausted, especially after mediating disagreements and driving to all sorts of evening activities and wading through some teenage drama or even listening to the telling of teenage drama. But it is easier for me to find ways to refuel now than it was six or eight years ago.
You know that It gets better campaign? Well, this is my it gets better, or maybe not BETTER, but it gets DIFFERENT message to mommas of little ones. I know, these days are long. L-O-N-G. I remember it well. I know how it is to sprint from the house to enjoy a grocery shopping trip alone and then stand in the checkout line holding and rocking a giant package of toilet paper and missing your baby. I know how it is to love, love, love your husband for working so hard outside the home so you can work hard inside the home and then resent the crap out of him for spending his days having adult conversations while you’re surrounded by bodily fluids again!
I know. I remember. Your days are long right now, but the years are short. This won’t last the eternity it feels like. Hang in there. Figure out what energizes you, what fills you up, and make time for it when you can. Find five minutes here or ten minutes there to step outside or lock yourself in the bathroom or whatever you have to do to close your eyes and breathe and pray and just be. Or if you have a child with a propensity for cracking eggs on the kitchen floor and you can’t trust him alone for even a minute, play your favorite song and dance with him. Read jokes that are over his head and laugh out loud with him. Make brownies – because brownies make everything better. Whatever it takes – find something each day that will fill you up a little, that will make you feel like you. Not you the milk-making machine or you the diaper-changing robot or you the toy-picker-upper-for-the-hundredth-time, but you the You.
Don’t feel guilty recharging — even if that means renting a local hotel room alone and getting a solid eight or nine hours of sleep. I am giving you permission.
If you are feeling empty, wrung-out, worn down, it is OK to refuel, recharge, refresh. No, it’s not only OK; it is vital.
It does get different, Mommas. In the meantime, look for little moments of refreshment. And seize them!