Motherhood, I’ve found, is filled with unexpected ecstasy – and dark secrets. The kind you only reveal to your most cherished friends, people who are also mothers, preferably ones who have known you since you were also a kid. Sometimes, it’s hard to confess some of motherhood’s realities to anyone. Even yourself.
The murky truths are not the type of sentiments we see popping up in fancy script on pink and yellow Mother’s Day cards – already crowding grocery store aisles although May 11 is still a bit away. But perhaps we all would be better off acknowledging – perhaps even celebrating – motherhood’s complexity.
Here is one of the blackest secrets of all: all moms, even the best ones, need great stretches of time away from our children.
I stumbled upon this truth a few years ago, after a decade of gung-ho modern parenting of my three children. Ten years of nonstop 6 am mornings, endless nights caressing sick children, helping with homework, finagling childcare. A decade of poop, vomit, splinters, chicken tenders covered in ketchup, wet towels on the floor. Entire months of precious time frittered away in car line, waiting for strep test results at the pediatrician’s office, and holding the front door keys while one of my kids ran back inside for a forgotten essential item.
In the midst of a typical month of break-neck craziness, my high school English teacher asked me to cover his final exam with a pep talk about being a published writer. My husband inadvertently scheduled our family vacation for the same week.
My first thought was to renege on the promise to my former teacher. Family first, right? But then I realized I could go on the trip three days late and meet the obligations both to my family and a teacher who had practically saved my life when I was a teenager. By accident, this meant I spent three days alone, in my own home, between the day the kids and DH left, and the day I had to join them.
For the first time in years, I had time to breathe.
After my three days alone, when I was supposed to be packing to join my family, I called a woman who has been one of my closest friends since I was 13. She is the mother of two boys, both a few years’ younger than my kids. Of course she couldn’t pick up, so I left a voicemail. My message said (in a whisper, as if I were afraid the Mommy Police would overhear):
“I’m not getting on that plane. I cannot believe what it feels like to wake up when I want to. To go to bed when I want to. To eat dinner – what I want to eat – when I want to. It’s not just that I need a few more days to myself. I feel like I NEVER EVER want to see my kids or my husband again in this lifetime.”
My friend still has that message saved on her cell phone. She listens to it in her own bleak moments. Because she too, sometimes feels she’s going to go crazy if she spends one more minute with her children.
That three-day break from my kids and spouse – my first hiatus from motherhood in over a decade – kicked off an inner revolution. I felt like I’d taken a bite of a sandwich and suddenly realized I’d been starving for years. From then on, I regularly scheduled short mini-breaks from my mommy marathons.
I’m thinking about all this because yet again, I’m on vacation from my family. They left for spring break on Saturday morning. I stayed home to meet a big work deadline. I will join them for the final weekend of vacation, so no one can accuse me of being a completely psycho, commitment-adverse BAD MOTHER who doesn’t want to be with her own children.
How can I describe the bliss?
Here’s how my five “vacation” days went:
Morning: sleep in. No alarm. Mid-day: get together with friends. Go to yoga. Work. Afternoon: take a nap. No alarm. Work more. Evening: dinner alone. Watch a Netflix movie. Sleep. Next day: repeat.
I varied my routine by going for a bike ride or a jog instead of yoga.
Being on my own, in my own home, without my family, felt like spending five days at the most luxurious spa in the world. Even though I was in the midst of meeting a 70,000 word deadline I’d been building up to for 18 months.
Motherhood is the nuttiest job we women ever undertake. Little to no advance training. 24/7 hours. No promotions, no accolades for goals met, projections attained. Years – sometimes decades – without a break.
Maternal love and hormones are admittedly great. But how far can we expect them to carry us?
As for me, I’m surprised I made it over ten years without a nervous breakdown. I am amazed we don’t all go crazy or run away occasionally – or for good. Sure I need a break every now and then. Despite how much I love my kids and my life as a mom, I still need time to remember I’m a human being.
Isn’t Mother’s Day supposed to be a HOLIDAY? Holidays usually entail a break from work, right? So this Mother’s Day, maybe we all should get the day off. Not with a fancy brunch or breakfast in bed. That’s not going to cut it.
Get the kids, honey – and go away. For the entire weekend. Leave us alone with ourselves. So we can make sure we still have selves.