February 22, 2013

Will I Ever Feel Young Again?

Being a stay-at-home mom was the loneliest kind of lonely, in which she was always and never by herself. Days and days, hours and hours within them, and days within weeks, at the end of which she might not ever have gotten completely dressed or read any word larger than Chex, any word not ending in -os, formed a sentence or brushed her teeth or left a single footprint outside the house. Just motherhood, with its routine costs of providing a largesse, that outstripped her physical dimensions. from Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior

Will I ever feel young or carefree again?

Yesterday I had five hours without either of my girls. There for a minute I felt lighter and freer, even though I spent the majority of that time working at a coffee shop. I felt like me.

But after I got both of the girls back and all of their things loaded up and their little bodies strapped into carseats, as I was turning onto the interstate, our car swallowed by the rain and the dark sky and the silence, I felt suddenly angry about all the heavy responsibility I’ve invited into my life.

In my pursuit of children, I inadvertently eliminated “me” time and free time from my life. I cut out spontaneity and travel. And I feel bad about how happy I am when I have a small slice of time to myself. But it's true: These are often my favorite times.

I don’t have anything very inspiring or romantic to say about motherhood today, but I'm just going to write through it. This week I’ve been grumpy and short-tempered, resentful. I’ve been mourning my freedom. The vacations Nekos and I used to take, and the dates we used to have. Even the hangovers I used to sleep off. These days I don’t dare have more than a couple of drinks for fear of dropkicking my already exhausted self into delirium.

I’ve been told—so many times—that going from one child to two is hard, hard, hard—harder even than going from none to one or from two to three. I think this is true. I don’t know why really. Because my new baby is not one of those colicky assholes who understandably makes you dread your life. She is lovely. Cool as a cucumber. Smiley and sweet and a pretty good sleeper all things considered. I love her beyond measure. And there is nothing that I look forward to more than seeing who she will become.

But I am so overwhelmed by the responsibility of having two children to care for for-ev-er. Like some teenager flopped across her bed, I find myself wanting to moan, "My life is so ohhhhh-ver!"

And then there are moments like these:

Two nights ago, putting Tessa to bed, I snuggled with her in her twin bed, tucking my chin into her afro and folding my arms around her warm body.

“I don’t want you to grow up, Tessa,” I said. “I want you to be my little girl forever, just like this.”

“But I have to grow up, mama,” she said without hesitation. “I need to reach the soap in the bathrooms. And learn how to color my name like you color your name. I need to be big like you are big. But I will still be your little girl even when I’m big.”

And then my eyes got wet, and I hugged her tighter to me.

She lurched up suddenly, the way that toddlers do, and then came lurching back down, accidentally banging her skull against the bridge of my nose at full force. I cried then, really cried. Cried because it hurt, really hurt. Crumpled up my face and looked her in the eyes and wailed, "Owwww!" I felt like a kid myself when I went to Nekos to complain about my throbbing nose. I am still a kid—that’s the thing. What am I doing with these two kids of my own?

Two days later and my nose still hurts. And still I'm savoring that moment when Tessa told me she needed to grow up to reach the soap and "color" her name. Motherhood is the most bittersweet thing I know.

The irony is that kids are more carefree than any of us adults. If I can somehow be buoyed by my kids’ energy, Tessa’s especially, instead of letting the weight of responsibility drag me down, I know I’d be better off. I just don't know how to do that yet.

Last night Nekos asked me what might make me happier. I knew right away that the answer was more time to myself and more time to work on my hobbies. And I want to take a vacation again. I haven’t left the state of Tennessee—God love it—in almost a year.

So this is the plan: I’m going to start taking the baby to drop-in daycare at least one day a week when Tessa is at her mother’s day out program. Even though it's across town, and even though I might think I don't "need" the break. That's what I did for two hours this morning, and it was bliss. (Even though I felt bad that Livvy had a blowout all over the daycare worker, I felt OK that at least she didn't have a blowout on me, for a change.) And I’m going to use the childcare at the YMCA several times a week while I take pilates and thumb through fashion magazines and go brain-dead on the elliptical. And we’re going to start planning a road trip with the girls for July. We're thinking of taking a week and a half or so and hitting Asheville, Raleigh, Wilmington, Charleston, and Savannah. The road trip we took when Tessa was a baby still ranks as one of my all-time favorite vacations.

I want to know: If you’re a mom, how do you deal with feeling smothered by so much responsibility? What do you do to feel youthful, to keep spontaneity and adventure in your life?

I'm only 30, but I feel about 95. A good eye cream can't begin to touch the kind of old I feel.