There is nothing quite as alarming as learning a truth about yourself that you never knew was there. Until last week, I thought it was impossible to get worn out by my children. I know. It sounds crazy, but you have to promise to read this story all the way to the end before you get all judg-y.
I have always genuinely enjoyed being with all kids, but particularly relished passing the days with my own four children. No fraud. No fakery. I have just found their presence, and the privilege of walking through life with them to be the best part of being alive.
I’m not really a Pollyanna. There have been many, many total garbage days in the bowels of parenting, but even in the nitty-gritty details, I have been my happiest and most fulfilled. My husband has always regarded this unnatural enthusiasm with cock-eyed skepticism. He would insist that maybe I needed a break, and he would be stymied when after just a few hours away from the kids, I would miss them. I could enjoy time away and would even take “me-time,” but I was always just as happy to be back with my kids in the routine of child rearing.
Still stymied, the Mister insisted that I must be cut from some kind of rarely used cloth. Most parents, even the really good ones, seemed to need some adult only time, he insisted. I always shrugged this “truth” away, for it didn’t jive with my view of reality, and I felt grateful that that task that was before me was one from which I could find unnatural stamina.
I seemed to be a living example of perpetual motion energy that was set into action with the birth of my first child, and seemed to be able to continuously generate without added input.
For 12 years, 6 months, 3 weeks and 5 days, I would go to bed each night, and no matter how trying the day before, I would wake up the morning with a newly restored burst of parental power.
Then, I hit a wall. I mean, I really hit a wall. It couldn’t have been more shocking for there was no indication of a coming meltdown. Everything in the parenting department seemed status quo, but apparently my perpetual motion had a limit of 12 years, 6 months, 3 weeks, and 6 days.
It was a decidedly foreign feeling. Everything inside was screaming, “I can’t hold on much longer.” Still, even though I was sitting amongst the obvious dust and rubble of the epic wall smackdown, I was insolent in the face of my reality. While I plastered on a smile and tried to patch up the falling pieces, there was a haranguing soundtrack in my head that said “This mom will self-destruct in 5-4-3…”
If you have done any flying at all, you are all too familiar with the airplane safety dance. Somewhere between the gesticulating about the exits and the seatbelts, there’s the little speech about the air masks. You probably know the speech by heart, especially if you are a parent. After all the flim-flam about how the mask will fall from the ceiling and will not self-inflate, there is the part about how you should put on your own air mask before helping any children.
It’s a seriously bizarre and unnatural instruction. There are no parents on this side of normal that would even dream of helping themselves before they ensured the safety of their children. And that’s precisely why they have to spell that part out. It’s not a blasé remark meant to promote selfishness. They know that parents are hard-wired to disregard their needs for their children. That warning is a conscious reminder that you are no help to your children and you are a liability to others if you don’t take time to care for yourself.
So, I have heeded the warning bells and I am putting on my own air mask.
A few weeks ago, like a life-preserver, I was invited on an all expenses paid trip to the beach. Five days. No agenda. Just me and the beach. So, guess what I did?
I said no.
That’s right. Even though I was on the edge of going 50 shades of crazy, I have been hard wired to completely ignore anything that would be just for me. It just seemed natural that I wouldn’t indulge in something so inherently, you know, selfish.
My husband, who honestly could claim to be dealing with his own wall of Jericho-esque proportions, insisted that I go. Maybe it was that he was afraid of the crazy, or maybe he just saw the empty shell of a person in the making and saw a way to stop the bleeding. It’s even possible that his insistence was a selfish move for him because he doesn’t ever want to have to be the mama. Whatever the reason, he begged that I grab the life preserver.
So, with guilty hand wringing, I said yes, only to find out that all the spots had been filled. No beach trip for me.
I accepted that as meant to be and started trying to figure out what to do with the truth I had admitted to myself. Much like toothpaste out of the tube, I couldn’t un-admit that an internal shift in perspective needed attention. As much as I wanted to summon my super-mom strength, I had to embrace my human side and find a way to make peace with her.
Then, as if it was meant to be, I got an email saying that a spot had opened up for the beach trip if I was interested. By then, I hung my cape up in the back of my closet, and rather than drown in a pool of self righteous martyrdom, I accepted the life preserver.
While I was still in a denial of supermommy proportions, I certainly would have been plagued with enough guilt to ignore my own needs with the lofty intention of meeting everyone else’s needs. The encounter with the wall that jumped up out of nowhere stripped away any pretense, and along with it made things look much clearer. That guilty feeling that I was so afraid of was a big fat liar attractively wrapped in a coating that looked like proper parenting.
My kids deserve the best mama I can give them. So, I am off to find her at the beach and bring her home. After my five days of self repair and soul searching, I really expect to come home and be rarin’ to go for another 12 years. But, if I hear that self destruct sound again, I’ll grab that life preserver as fast as I can and ride it to shore. And I won’t spend a minute feeling guilty about it. In fact, I think I’ll pat myself on the back for being such a good mom that I am willing to give the best to my kids by taking care of myself. Supermom! Off to save herself.