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Blessed Irresponsibility

So I’ve been off work for a week now and loving every minute of it. I’m sure I won’t love it when the time comes to pay bills, but for now I feel so much better physically that I suspect I’ll take the financial hit in stride.

Even better, Brian’s still giving me “work” time – the time he’d usually be watching Maddie while I taught – to get baby stuff done, so I’ve accomplished an amazing amount in the past week, from getting newborn clothes sorted out to making some casseroles for freezing to going to Costco and stocking up on diapers. Some of this, admittedly, I would have gotten done in spite of work, but I’m not nearly as worn down at the end of the day now that I’m not multitasking so much.

And if I’m being honest, a big part of my exhaustion came from having to accomplish stuff while keeping up with a toddler. Last week, for example, the whole family went to Costco, but it was during Brian’s “time”, and he spent the whole two hours letting Maddie run loose through the store – gaping in wonderment at the leather seats, comparing 5-pound spaghetti sauce jars, buying a 50 cent pretzel – while I got to spend two hours actually comparison shopping and thinking my list through, rather than hurriedly grabbing what was close and hoping it was right and that I got home before Maddie melted down. Best of all, I had my man on hand to do the heavy lifting – both Maddie and the 5-pounds of spaghetti sauce – and yet didn’t sacrifice “baby-free” time.

I even had a few totally babyless moments and almost didn’t know what to do with myself. One errand for the week was heading back to the $#@% shoe store and exchanging some shoes for Maddie; since Her Highness won’t try shoes on in the store, buying shoes for her is one long return/exchange saga. For the first time, I hit the mall without her and was astounded at how easy it was: I parked, got quickly out of the car, and walked into the mall! No cajoling a toddler out of the seat, no big bag of snacks and toys to lug around, no frantic search for Silky. As I was heading to the mall I thought to myself, “Better go to the bathroom now.” Then I realized that I could actually use the mall restroom! No Maddie to beg to stay in the stall with Mommy, but don’t sit on the floor, and please don’t play with the toilet paper, and . . . Giddy with freedom, I realized I could run around the entire mall with nothing to slow me down. I could make an entire circuit in five minutes, with no apologies to strangers she’d crashed into or directional change at the last minute or begging for 10 more minutes.

I didn’t even have to buy a pretzel. And believe me, the pretzel guy at the mall now knows me (or at least Maddie) by name.

It wasn’t until I went to the grocery store all by myself, though, that I figured out why I had so much more energy by myself. Sure, Maddie’s getting heavy to lift in and out of the cart or car seat, but that’s such a small part of a trip that it couldn’t possibly explain my physical fatigue at the end of such outings. But while at the grocery store, I realized – it’s the constant Mommy Responsibility, the constant physical and mental multitasking that we do, which is so exhausting.

Just today I got an email from a girlfriend of a 6-month-old. Almost three weeks in the making, the email took its time to get written because she simply doesn’t get a break from being Mommy. Even the email was typed while she stood up, bouncing, baby in Bjorn. And while Maddie may have outgrown the constant physical attention stage, she now requires so much more mental effort that it’s just as much physical work for me.

So while I stroll through the grocery store with her in the seat, I’m on constant alert for potential meltdown instigators: we don’t walk down the cracker aisle, for instance, where she might see a bag of Goldfish, unless we have some in Mommy’s bag. I have to pack my snack bag carefully, with crackers, cheese, fresh fruit, anything she might see and want. We spent one afternoon in the produce aisle with Maddie begging me for everything I put in the cart – “Kiwi! Maddie want kiwi! Mango! Mango please! Peach! Maddie have peach!” – until I picked up one of their pre-cut fruit bowls in exasperation and let her chow down. Add to that the constant stream of conversation required – Maddie now will say a sentence over and over again until you acknowledge it – and you’re worn out by the time you hit the check-out line.

Entertaining Maddie is such a strong habit by now that as I loaded groceries into the car by myself, the commuter train steamed by and I said, “Look Maddie! Train!” before realizing she wasn’t there. And then I realized I had passed a whole hour without saying a single word except for, “A half pound of thin-sliced turkey, please.” I’d actually spent time with my thoughts, allowed my mind to wander, been given time to ponder such things in the checkout lane as, Did Britney have plastic surgery? Would Anna Nicole be happy with how things turned out?

Having time to run errands without Maddie isn’t simply a rest for my body. It’s a mini-oasis in my desert of Constant Responsibility, and I wallow in it. I head home refreshed and ready to focus on Maddie, give her my full attention.

Which is great, because my husband looks like he needs a break.


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