Why Can’t I Embrace Time Off?

In my own way, I really do know why the caged bird sings. And I know why the bird stays too—even when the cage door is open. It seems selfish to take more than a quick flight around the room. No, the bird comes back to where she’s comfortable and finds beauty in her surroundings and in how happy her singing makes those in the house. Even when those in the house barely notice her and come and go as they please—she knows her role and knows that, somehow, the beauty of her singing and her reliable presence is helpful to those she loves.

I read that in Vietnam (and probably elsewhere) Buddhist worshippers release caged birds to improve their karma. In theory, this sounds wonderful. But I doubt that it’s a wonderful feeling for the birds. A picture I saw of a Buddhist releasing three birds spoke louder than words. Instead of flying away, the three birds crashed into one another with their wings barely opening widely enough for flight. It’s not easy to just take flight away from all that you have known, is it?

Now that my cage door has been blown apart, I see how ridiculous living for others all the time truly is. It’s okay (and healthy) to do things for yourself. It’s okay to take flight once in a while just because it makes you happy. Taking flight is scary for some of us. Doing things for ourselves can seem selfish. Especially if we are the person who fixes things, who kisses booboos, who makes sandwiches, checks homework, listens to woes and gives advice, and who lives daily for the crazy schedules of playdates and homework and dinners, and sports events and mommy-and-me classes. That’s the good stuff, right? It seems to give most of us (I’m talking the co-dependent us) more pleasure than our work—if we work outside the house. And it’s tougher than most work too—at least the two- and three-year-old tantrums are. When you’re the person who supports others, it’s hard to support yourself. (You know who you are: you’re the one who remembers birthdays, writes thank you notes, sends presents, plans parties, playdates, activities, camps, Dr. visits—all between other work duties you master. You’re the one who feels guilty taking time for yourself to exercise or get a rare manicure—as your goal is to make others happy and pleased and not to think about yourself, right?) So where do you exist when all of that is cut off? Where are you when that fades to black? Sound familiar?

I wrestled with all of that after my husband left at the end of 2009. But since he lives in Europe and I care for the boys pretty much 24/7, they kept me insanely busy and not able to focus too much on this question. Back then, I was just making it day by day and trying for force myself to eat and keep going. That’s how it was in the beginning with a baby and an 7-year-old to take care of. Flash forward two years and you’d think that I’d have overcome this crazy guilt I have about taking time for myself. To be fair, I have really been taking strides that started with baby steps and I’m getting there. At first, I felt insanely guilty about putting the baby in daycare so I could write (I’m a freelance writer) and get a break. After a year of separation, with me weighing in at 90 lbs and getting little to no sleep due to my insanely sleepless toddler, a good friend urged me to put my little guy in a small, family-run daycare so I could pursue my work and get a break. I did and within a few months landed some great freelance writing gigs. I was able to grocery shop without drama. I wan’t driving for an hour to let the baby sleep since he doesn’t nap at home. I was able to take a run and eventually joined a gym. Taking a pilates or a yoga class felt crazily selfish—even though I went months without a day off to sleep in. Why I felt this way is such a long story including a family history of co-dependency and an upbringing in the South where ladies who do-it-all and support their man are still highly admired.

But all of this is part of why the rare, cherished time-off from the kiddos, can be extra-ordinarily and oddly, hard for me to adjust to. The summer holiday for my kids with their dad should be a time for joyous celebration, right?

I should be thinking: Hurray! I’m finally going to have some time to myself!

And I am excited about that. I’m so looking forward to being me, traveling, writing and reading and just being a woman and not always a mommy. But a large part of myself is also wondering if my kids will put on sunblock or whether they’ll remember to say their prayers/gratitude lists at night or whether they’ll have fights that I can’t help them with, or if a tantrum might push someone over the edge, etc. Seriously, it’s so sad. Even as I write this, I wonder about my sanity. I am the quintessential co-dependant woman. There, I said it. So now, I guess I’ve become the co-dependant single mom who is having a hard time adjusting to the fact that she’s going to be away from her boys for a full MONTH. I haven’t had a week off since last Christmas and I think the last two days off was three months ago. So, yeah, I guess I’m due.

Why, then, am I not jumping up and down with glee!? It’s scary to take flight. It’s frightening to venture out and try to reclaim life outside of motherhood. I’m grateful for the chance, but hesitate at the door.

Any advice out there, my soul-sister, single moms? Seriously, any words of wisdom will be greatly appreciated this week as I say goodbye to my little guys.

Lots of love,

L. x

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3 responses to “Why Can’t I Embrace Time Off?

  1. Laura, I’m not a single mom but I just had to chime in. As a mom, I can associate–obviously not on every level, but I feel your pain and fear and worry and guilt. If only we could disconnect our Mommy services the way we can unsubscribe to newspaper or cable subscriptions when we take a vacation! I don’t have anything profound or helpful to say, just that I know in my heart that this will be good; it will be so good for the boys and it will be so good for you. You can’t be everything, everywhere, all the time. No doubt, the boys will navigate situations themselves this summer and their little shoulders and minds will broaden …while yours will get time to relax and reconnect to the rest of your body. I have friends and a sister who go through this wrenching separation every summer so I know how hard it is to release care and control and step aside … especially when you are on constant Mama Bear Watch the rest of the year. I also know how important it is to allow yourself to let your guard down a little bit. It may be lonely and quiet but that’s okay. Let it roll in and roll off and see what else you find in the peace and quiet time. hugs and best wishes xo

  2. Thanks SO much Jacinta!! My boys and I have our own journeys to go on this summer. Mama Bear needs to hibernate a bit. 🙂 LOTS of love!! L. x

  3. I am a mom of 3, not a single mom either…but I can totally relate to your hesitation about your upcoming month alone. On one level it sounds so enviable and wonderful to escape the tedium of the everyday job of being a mom to have time for yourself, but on another level it sounds so difficult and even torturous to be away from the creatures that have defined your life for the last decade. The truth is, I have a pit in my stomach for you. First of all, you cannot blame yourself for your reaction. Pining away for a few hours to yourself, or even a day, is a whole lot different than a month away. Allow yourself to be having this reaction…it is not co-dependent, it is normal. That being said, take advantage. You are going to have a month to remember who YOU are- make sure to cherish this freedom and use it wisely. Try your hardest to use every moment to do something for yourself, to replenish all of your inner resources, so that when your boys come home you will be in a better position to be the stable, giving mom that it sounds like you have always been for them. Try to remember that you and your boys will be best served if you do not to waste your time plagued with worry loneliness and guilt….make the most of your month of your freedom, for you and for them! Plan your time wisely.

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