Sunday, November 8, 2015

Mom Break - Do It!

I’m on a mom break. How luxurious! And how desperately needed!!! I am sitting blissfully alone (except for the other cafe-goers) at a lovely little vegetarian and vegan cafe, The Clever Rabbit, that I had no idea existed and only discovered as I was walking to check out a different new and promising-looking destination in Edmonton, Barking Buffalo Cafe.

Unfortunately, the Barking Buffalo, awesome-writer's-hangout though its name implies, turns out really to be much more clothing store than cafe, and after waiting a few minutes at the counter listening to a clothing peruser wax long on the buxomness of his wife and his concern for the fit of the article he was considering, and observing the only employee first paw leisurely through shirts then stroll to the back, presumably to look for other sizes, and eyeing the few tiny tables nested between displays of shirts and pillows, I decided this might not be quite the atmosphere I was looking for to enjoy my long-anticipated mom break. I may return at some point to the Barking Buffalo. They had some interesting textiles, and I'm intrigued by the idea of locally produced clothing. But today I'm looking for coffee and food and a peaceful place to blog for the first time in eight months.

And it turns out The Clever Rabbit is just what I was looking for. The lights are a little glaring, but the Winter Soy Latte is lovely, the music has been soothing and enjoyable so far, the very friendly co-owner (I presume) is heartwarming to watch as he walks his two-month-old baby in and out of the kitchen while delivering food and managing the cash one-handed, and the salt and pepper shakers are ceramic rabbits! Perfect!

I am eagerly anticipating carrot ginger soup and red lentil curry . . . to be eaten leisurely, thoughtfully, and alone. This hasn't happened for me since early July. That's four straight months of uninterrupted mom time, meaning that in the last four months, I have not enjoyed one single daytime hour without at least one child present with me.

Awesome guys! But in all good things, a level of moderation is required.
Okay, I'm exaggerating a tiny bit: Last week I did have a fifteen-minute stretch alone as I entrusted the little boys to their big brother and raced down the street to the grocery store for basil so that I could make pesto pasta for dinner. But, you know, I'm going to go out on a limb here and suggest that running in and out of the grocery store that's two-minutes down the street, worrying the whole time that perhaps you made the wrong parenting call by leaving the four and five year olds in the hands of their ten-and-a-half year old brother rather than pack them all in the car and trek them down the street and through the store for basil, does not exactly qualify as a "mom break" or "time to yourself."

But since I opened the topic, I will also go out on a limb and acknowledge that perhaps this was indeed a poor parenting decision. Chris definitely did not support this action of rogue parenting and was horrified to hear I left the children alone for fifteen minutes. For anyone else who is worried, if it helps, I returned home to find the house still standing, no one fighting, no one injured, and Owen helpfully wiping his smallest brother's bum and leading his middle brother in cleaning up the little pee accident that occurred when an extra-tricky pants fastener couldn't be negotiated quite in time. I had told Owen on my way out the door that he wouldn't get paid for this short "babysitting" stint (an expectation that may have been set when we discussed recently that, once he's a little bit older, he can take a babysitting course and make money babysitting), but I reneged on that as soon as I walked in the door and discovered him managing such heavy lifting as poo and pee clean up with both dedication and good humour. I felt a little guilty for leaving him in charge, gave him a toonie, and told him how proud I was of how responsibly he'd handled the situation.

. . . And the pesto pasta was enjoyed and enthusiastically devoured by all. . . except Christopher, who was out having an after-work beer with colleagues, and therefore unavailable to, you know, run to the store to grab basil.

But, anyway, back to the topic of mom break and my claim that I've had a child chained to me every waking moment for the last four months. Full disclosure again: In early October, we took a week-long vacation to the Okanagan, western Canada's wine country (I know; something sounds wrong about that phrase, but it is an amazing place and worth the trip). In the middle of the week, Chris took the boys out on his own for a whole afternoon. Unfortunately, I was so sick with morning sickness (totally a topic for a different post) that I spent the entire time sleeping. So there. Doesn't count. I wasn't awake.

And of course, there's the one-to-two hours each evening that Chris and I spend in the family room together once the children are all in bed. But, come on, really? The evening hours, when your totally exhausted, and the only thing standing between you and your bed is the knowledge that this is the ONLY time you've had all day without a child present and once you lay your head to your pillow the next thing you will see upon opening your eyes is a child standing beside your bed asking, "Mom, is it morning time yet?" and, looking at your clock, you will be forced to admit that yes, indeed, it is morning time and everyone has to get up: That doesn't count either.

Oh . . . and then I guess there were those two Sundays in early September when I went to UU church by myself. Hmmm . . . I can't really think of a reason why those outings wouldn't count as a legitimate mom break . . .

But regardless! With all those disclosures made, I will declare that these last four months have been the longest stretch of (nearly) uninterrupted mom duty I have perhaps ever endured.

So, what the hell happened? Why, when we currently have no breastfed baby in the house, do I have a child chained to me seemingly every waking moment? Is Chris laid up in traction from a horrible accident? Is a child terribly ill and requiring round-the-clock care? No. It seems to be the simple reality of stay-at-home mom life with a kindergarten and a pre-school age child.

For the bulk of July and August, the kids and I were packed, with Charles the dog, in the Hyundai Elantra on a giant cross-country road trip. Over the course of 6+ weeks we covered over 5000 miles trekking from Edmonton to Green Bay, Green Bay to Muskoka, Muskoka to Ottawa, and back again. This trip, with highlights like Bay Beach, Lake Michigan, Grandma and Grandpa's cottage, underground caves, Parliament Hill, the Canadian War Museum, and more was great for everyone, but after a few weeks, I have to admit the constant togetherness and close quarters of the Elantra and shared bedrooms was starting to get to me.

The Road Trip Crew
Then we returned home, and soon school began. Now, every weekday, Owen and Peter head off to school while David stays with me. Then, since Edmonton still operates on half-day kindergarten, David and I trek off to the school (which is on the other side of the city) and do a switch-a-roo; we fetch Peter from kindergarten, hang around and have our lunch, and then drop David at afternoon preschool. Peter and I pass the hours together until pick-up time, and then fetch David and Owen. The four of us trek back home again, and homework, viola lessons, and general chaos ensue while I make dinner.

With a sixth grader, a morning kindergartener, and an afternoon preschooler,
we are making this journey back and fourth three times a day. Ugh.
This (rather humdrum) routine leaves me always with at least one child . . . always. And, for the last few months, weekends haven't been any better. All week long, while I'm stuck in the car driving back and forth to the school, nothing at the house is getting done. By the time the weekend rolls around, I feel there's no other choice but to spend the entire weekend triaging our domestic situation . . . children present of course.

After a couple months of this, I can tell you, unequivocally, that constant close proximity to your children is a bad idea. I know I'm revealing something really earth shattering here: parents need a break.

I know this because, over the last few weeks, something very troubling has develop. I cannot enjoy my children. Funny antics that should make me laugh, chaos that should make the house feel full of life, questions that deserve an answer, conversations that should be a joy to have -- it's all annoying the hell out of me. I don't want to talk. I don't want to listen. I don't want to be touched. I have no patience. I feel constantly tense, crowded, frustrated, and annoyed. I'm an unpleasant person with no emotional resilience. And, frankly, in such a state, I'm a pretty rotten parent.

And it's my fault. I haven't prioritized being alone. I haven't made the time. I haven't asked for help. There are lots of legitimate reasons, from dirty dishes to piles of laundry to gloomy days to total exhaustion to not wanting to further burden an equally exhausted partner. But those reasons don't change the fact that I'm becoming less and less able to cope as a parent, and it's not fair to the people I'm parenting.

Who can decide to leave the house when the living room looks like this?
But, great news!!! How often do you have a situation where, in order to do the best thing and the right thing for someone else, you have to do something nice for yourself??? Pretty awesome! So I'm going to enjoy the rest of this latte, eat this beautiful, healthy food that has arrived at my table (without me having to cook it), and, instead of feeling guilty and selfish for spending this time alone and away, I'm going to feel a sense of accomplishment for taking the time to do something for myself that, in the long run, is in the best interest of us all.

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