Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Naptime is Mommytime

I catch myself looking forward to nap and bedtime, when life selfishly becomes mine again. And that anticipation for my sleeping child brings with it incredible guilt. I feel like a bad mother who isn't savoring every moment of her precious toddler's life.

"These are the times to hold onto," the grandma's at the park say. "Enjoy every moment." I try, I really do.

"They grow up so fast ya know?" I know, I know. It's already been three years and like finishing a good novel too quickly, I long to return to that first page, when everything was new and tiny, when life smelled like powder and ointments. But also, like a good book, I can't wait to finish this chapter and start the next. I'm always looking forward to the new stage, when we lose the baby paraphernalia and travel light, when we can eat at restaurants again, and admittedly, guiltily, when it it is time for my three year old spitfire to sleep, to dream, to...leave me alone. I'm heartless, I know.

But no one tells you before becoming a parent that even when you are alone, there is a price to pay, a tariff of guilt, a tax of concern. A child has the amazing ability to suck the energy, focus, and parental life into them. It's an incredible survival skill, probably inherited from their nomadic ancestors, in an instinctual effort not be left behind. I can just picture Froggy in her deer hide diaper, running through a herd of buffalo screaming, "Wait for me! I get to be pack leader!" It's the only explanation I can conjure for why my toddler follows me from room to room, from kitchen to living room, from hallway to bathroom, and why when I ask her to give Mommy two minutes alone in the lu, she proudly bursts through the door, justifying her presence by saying, "I'M STANDING ON THE RUG," as if it were some one's job in the family to dutifully hold down the bathroom rug at all times, in case of an indoor hurricane or bathtub tsunami.

I recognize that when I try to lie down for a moment, and my little energetic sprite crawls on top of my head, for her it is actually a great compliment in toddler etiquette. She's saying, "I love you so much Mommy, that I must give you a purpose at all times. When you rest, you serve no purpose. So I'll make you a jungle gym, and climb your hair and swing from your arms, because you Mommy are important, and I've found a purpose for your superfluous parts."
I know I am a selfish being who would love to poop alone, to catch one episode of daytime television without a child screaming, "This isn't Dora!" I know the hands on the kiddo clock are moving much too quickly, and it is my duty, my obligation as a mother to savor every macaroni-necklace making moment, and that there will come a day when I catch an episode of Oprah without peaking through a diaper hat, and someday my husband and I will have a conversation that has a beginning, middle and end. I know that these are the days to hold onto, just like Billy Joel said.

I know that when I'm making coffee and my daughter asks, "Can I help?" I should be thrilled by her curiosity and enthusiasm for life, rather than lamenting the fact that by helping, she means scooping coffee grounds into every orifice of our kitchen tile and that I'll spend an hour and a half cleaning up a task that usually takes thirty seconds. Most of the time, I let her help make the coffee, feed the cats, water the plants, even though, those three simple tasks take all day. I kid you not, all day. Because toddler time is like stoner time. No body's in a hurry. We got all day, man.

My good mommy brain assures me that these are great lessons for her. Already at three, she can do laundry, dust the house, sweep the floors and send emails. She holds the leash when we walk the dog and she can work the DVD player, TV, microwave, and coffee grinder better than both her parents combined. She makes sure that she is part of every moment, a proud pupil, learning the details of domesticity, the social milieus on the playground, the discourse of our family life. She reminds me to smell the neighbor's roses, to dance when we hear music, to color waaay outside the lines and to find humor in anything smelly, loud or ridiculous. I do enjoy almost every second, I do try to make every day worth it, to remember her face like a snapshot when she collapses into hysterical giggles, to write down the funny things she says, to really exist in the moment, without thinking about the next. But I can't all the time.

Having a child has taught me strangely, that I need myself... a lot. Not in some new-agey, "I'm going to hike into the Alaskan wilderness to live on berries" sort of way. But I need me...alone. I believe as mothers and women there is a tremendous amount of guilt attached to wanting solitude. We are expected to appreciate the fact that we are needed, and if we don't appreciate that, we're not enjoying the "gift" of motherhood.

Here's an example of how I'm guilty of not embracing the "gift". FD has a habit, and I'll go out on a limb and call it a bad habit, because it drives me crazy...but he has the habit of telling Froggy thirty times a day to give Mommy a hug. It's sweet, I know. You're all thinking, "What is wrong with that adorable gesture?" Why, would this horrible woman be annoyed by her husband telling their child to show her mother affection? The answer is twofold. Usually this is a tactic for my husband to get alone-time for himself. By putting the toddler's focus on Mommy, he can escape into a magazine, or TV show. And when it isn't just an escape plan, I am usually busy doing something that I've finally found time to tackle, because Daddy's home! And I want the focus to stay on Daddy, so I can get my work done. When I give my husband "the look", the one that means, "Are you freakin' kidding me!" he says something like, "I love it when she hugs me, what is your problem?" Hmmm, my problem is that maybe I'm too in the moment to enjoy every moment. For parents whose kids aren't in daycare or preschool, the naps and snacks, potty time and "look at me tap dance on the kitchen table" moments are something to escape, rather than treasure. Not always, but sometimes.

We are both, my daughter and I, subject to evolutionary specialization, that biological need to keep our place in the tribe, and keep an eye on number one. While Froggy runs through the buffalo screaming, "Me too, me too," I'm focused on her, but also taking advantage of my peripheral vision, in case a mountain lion decides to make me lunch. Okay, maybe not a mountain lion, but exhaustion, or depression. I am trying, like so many mothers to find the place where my child ends and I begin, that tiny nook that separates us, like the hairline sliver of an umbilical cord. That space cannot be underestimated, or justified by guilt. It means that sometimes I lock myself in the bathroom to read in the tub, while Daddy does respiratory treatment. It means that sometimes I have to ignore my maternal instinct to be there all the time doing everything for everyone. And that is really hard. I was a person before I was a mommy, and I don't mind taking a backseat to my kiddo. But I do every now and again look in the rear view mirror, see my old self and say, "Good, you're still there."

I love my daughter more than I've ever loved anyone, but when the clock hits 8pm, it's lights out for the toddler and lights on for Mommy. Froggy is my world, but within that universe is a room of my own, without Lincoln Logs and Elmo, just a good book, a hot tub and a moment that I can hold onto and let go, without feeling guilty.


Infidel Rooster said...

I don't know how valuable this will be coming from a dude, but I'll put it out there anyway.

I think for me to say you shouldn't feel guilty is true, but also pointless. Me saying it (or anyone) isn't going to magically make it happen. So... I hope that you're able to work through the guilt and accept that by valuing yourself and the time you have to be alone, you come to realize it makes you a more complete person, and thus, a better parent to Froggy. Not to mention a better role model for this little girl who, hopefully, will have more opportunity and choices than you did, just as, hopefully, is true of you when compared to your mother.

I have some friends who have children and what I think makes them such great parents is that they didn't crap their brains out upon the birth of their children. Their lives changed, of course, but they still have interests and lives outside of their children. And it seems like their children are benefiting from that in so many ways. They understand that they can't always be the focus of everyones attention, that mom and dad are people who do things and are interested in experiencing life in a myriad of ways, that it's important to be able to define yourself as a person without having to do it through the lens of another person. To know thyself.

Well, I'll get off the soapbox since I'm just starting to ramble, but seriously, I hope you get to the point where you can see this as the healthy behavior it is, rather than feeling guilty about it.

You all seem to be doing well so far;)

Anonymous said...

I had a meltdown just the other evening. Similar issues.. Was so stressed out and just needed a few minutes to myself to just decompress. On top of the normal treatments, meds, struggles with meals we had some family obligations and work obligations -- our lonely elderly neighbor stopped by to visit...

I love my son to pieces, but I feel I'm a terrible mother at these times -- short tempered, irritable, impatient and he just wants me to play with him.

You're not alone. Hopefully you can find something that will offer you a bit of a reprieve.

Liza aka Ratatosk from CF Board

Casey said...

I love this post. Honestly and truly love it.

Angela said...

I love it too - I hope you are sending this piece somewhere to get published. I struggle with this every single day - how to remain "me" and be a good mom. How not to lose myself in my children. I wrestle with the guilt when I take time for myself as well, and I know I should just enjoy myself, but it is sooo hard. These little ones just want ALL of us! And they have to learn that they can't have it all, it's better for them to learn how to function without us. But that's all easier said than done. And I HATE when people say "oh, they grow up so fast, enjoy every moment..." Like we need something else to feel guilty about.

DutchMac said...

Oh honey, you want guilt? Try being an only child who half raised herself because her own loving and fantastic parents were busy beyond belief holding down multiple jobs and finishing college degrees... You'd be amazed/shocked/appalled if you knew just how much time my little darling spends on his own, simply because Mama is accustomed to her own company, and suffocates from near claustrophobia at just the IDEA of a kid at her feet 24/7.

You cannot be a good mother unless you are a good person, and you cannot accomplish this unless you take care of yourself. Pardon me for getting all 'Dr Phil' here, but your daughter deserves a happy and healthy mother, so make sure you give her that gift. It will be the best thing you ever do.


Anonymous said...

Guurl, we all feel like that.
I am a full-time working single mom to a two-year old. When I get home from work, do I play with my little one I haven't seen all day? Uh, no.
I turn on "Wow, Wow, Wubzy" and go online and read stranger's blogs and Perez Hilton, so grateful for some time to think about what I want. I would feel guilty if I weren't so tired :).

Anonymous said...

This whole post resonated with me, and I agree, I hope you are submitting it for publication, somewhere. But, hands down, the best line was "Toddler time is stoner time. We got all day man." LMAO...out loud. Oh, I have so been there.

I am "guilty" too, of not loving every single second of motherhood. There are times when just the girls' voices, or the way they say "mama" (It's a really annoying, MUHMuh...I should love it, but I don't)almost pushes me over the edge. I have thought to my self, and said out loud a time or two, I wish my name wasn't "MOM!"

And I totally see through Daddy's tricks, too. Honestly, do they think we don't know?

You are a fabulous mom, and so am I. And, like a previous poster said, we are better for the time we DO carve out for ourselves. OUt daughters deserve moms who are whole and complete women. I force myself to take time to go to the gym...simply because no one calls me "mom" there. No one needs anything from me while I'm there. No one has a 12 minute story to tell me. It's good for my girls to know that moms have lives. God-willing, they'll be moms someday, and I want them to be the kind of moms who put themselves first.

I loved this post! Thanks for sharing it!

mom to Emily almost 3 w/cf

holly said...

My favorite is also the stoner comparison. I have now learned to add twenty minutes to getting ready time, just in case there is a power struggle, a gazillion questions, and because we absolutely have to stop and smell the flowers before we get in the car(I really do love this, I promise). I am amazed that you are able to get everything in...nap, treatments, all of those meals, by eight o'clock. You must be up by 5a.m. The earliest we get Ojaio down is by 9:30!

Anonymous said...

froggy mama - this needs to be published!! wonderfully written and relatable...jcn

Jennifer said...

I read your blog because I am a friend of Angela's and linked to it from her blog- this was such a great post! I think you spoke for every mother out there. Very well written!

Lydia said...

Wow, what an amazing post.

About the hug issue... identical things happen in my dwelling. My husband tells the kids to give a kiss to Mommy for the same reasons.

LOVED this part "indoor hurricane or bathtub tsunami." Laughing so hard at that. Hilarious!

Be glad you only have one of them in that age range .. my 5 year old and 4 year old compete at the odd things. Who brought the dirty sock the quickest. Who destroyed the bathroom, the quickest.

When I am finally alone, I also have a guilt problem. I think about what I did wrong with the kids, where I should have been more patient, did I give them enough time, individually... Motherhood = guilt a lot of the time.

Anonymous said...

Oh this is such an brilliant post... like others have said, I love it, and hope it will be published. (and I'll say it yet again, you are an AMAZINGLY talented writer)

I relate to everything you write -- still not getting peace in the loo, no matter how I try to pawn them off on their father. And as for daytime television, the soon-to-be 2 year old is a dab hand at controlling the technology, and he rates Little Bear far higher then Le Destin de Bruno (aka Verleibt in Berlin, the German version/sequal to Ugly Betty).

After travelling for over 12 hours today -- through Heathrow's notorious Terminal 5 (where they lost our car seats last week), with vomit and diarrhea (and a probable stomach bug) and sleep deprivation, not to mention jet lag... today has been a rough day. Your post is all the more meaningful for me today- thank you.