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Too Much Of A Good Thing, And How I (Don't) Cope

A friend of mine wrote me a brief email
while on vacation recently, and joked about how she was enjoying
being around her kids so much, and how surprised she was by that.
This is a mom who’s the primary caregiver, but also works
part-time outside the home, so she’s always on the run. I
smiled when I read her note, picturing her having a wonderful,
no-stress time with her kids. We often imagine that a family
vacation will be more like time with the Griswolds than with some
angelic form of your own kids, and picture seven days of no breaks
from your kids as a kind of slow-water-drip torture, when the
reality is that when you get time away from the grocery shopping
and job and bill paying and errand running, you actually have a
rather fun time with your kids – quality time at its finest.

Then there’s me, on the other end of the spectrum. I’ve
had waaaaaaaaaaaaaay too much quality time.

I don’t work a huge amount outside
the home – one or two nights a week, and the occasional
Saturday. But I’ve been on hiatus for most of the summer
while my regular babysitter – my mom – works her own
job (the nerve!), so I’ve been a
stay-and-stay-and-stay-at-home mom for a couple months now. And let
me tell you something: it’s starting to wear me down.

I’m not talking about the sheer physical exhaustion of being
the sole caregiver, all day every day. I’ve got my routine,
and I can cope. No, I’m talking about not getting a mental
diversion away from childcare. These days, a big excursion away
without the kids for me is a trip to Home Depot for a new toilet
paper holder for the bathroom. Or a one-hour,
beat-the-clock-to-naptime dash through the grocery store. But
nothing that stimulates any other part of my brain.

On the one hand, I’m finding my time with the kids less
stressful; without lesson plans to create or acting scenes to pick
out or new clients to assess, I’ve got plenty of time to
devote to the laundry and cooking and meal planning. We’ve
got less food waste, because I’m able to do more long-range
meal planning and less run-to-the-store-at-the-last-minute stuff. I
bake muffins and banana bread and make five batches of from-scratch
lasagna at once. I can handle laundry during naps and bills after
the girls go to bed, and have everything off my plate when
I’m “on duty” so I can focus my full attention on
them. In that sense, the household and family are running more
smoothly than they have in a while.

On the other hand, I’m going freakin’ crazy.

I never realized just how much difference having an outlet made for
me, but it really really does. My batteries get recharged and I
feel stimulated and stretched in a way that coming up with a luau
for four-year-olds on a moment’s notice just doesn’t do
for me. I mean, my mom gets home late afternoons and covers the
shift between naps and dinner while I run around frantically,
getting in trips to the post office or bank or whatever, so I get a
break from the kids and get a lot accomplished in that precious
hour. But just being away from them isn’t enough, and
it’s starting to show in my relationship with the girls.

My patience is really suffering, and the girls wear on me like
nobody’s business. Cora’s two-year-old whining
–that almost singsong, hypnotic effect they have –
grates on my nerves and makes me want to put her up for adoption.
Maddie’s cries of “it’s not fair” when Cora
gets the slightly bigger half of the orange forces me to reconsider
my position on child slavery. And as I feel my temperature
beginning to rise, I grit my teeth and try to hang on until nap

Which I almost never do.

Something about that golden hour of two o’clock beckons to
me, and the closer it gets the more I lose it, until by 1:58
I’m Mommy Dearest and my two girls are staring at me in mute
terror. Ok, it’s not quite that bad, but by 2:45 when the
naptime ritual’s finished and Cora’s finally asleep, I
collapse on the couch and run through all the ways I’ve been
a bad mommy that morning, all the while wishing I could decently
have a glass of wine and not look like a total loser at three in
the afternoon.

I love my kids – I really do. And I hate that I resent them
for pressing my buttons, because of course no one can make you feel
any one way – you control how you feel and allow others to
affect you. And no matter how disobedient or rude they are, I have
to remember that I’m the mommy – it’s my job to
be in control and always take care of them, even when they’re
stressing me out and I’d like nothing better than to throw
them to the side of the road. This whole summer has simply brought
home how incredibly important it is, I think, for all parents to
have a life outside the home. Whether it’s a full-time job or
a part-time job or regular volunteering in something you love, get
out there and stretch your wings, free from the burden of
mommyhood, on a damn regular basis.

It sounds crazy, but trust me – it makes you a much better

I’m looking forward to getting back to teaching next month,
even as I know I’ll look back on this summer as a magical
time: it’s Maddie’s last summer before starting
preschool, with all its attendant schedules and conflicts and
demands for time. And as much as Cora’s clinginess drives me
crazy, I know that in a year she’ll probably be asking me to
drop her off a block from the playground so people don’t see
us together. I’ve been blessed to have this time with the
girls, and we often roll together on the floor, my puppies climbing
adoringly all over me, nowhere we have to be, nothing we have to be
doing. I know these days will not last much longer.

So I grit my teeth and remind myself of the fleeting nature of
these weeks, and pump the handle on my well of patience to squeeze
out a few more drops.


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