I’m sitting outside in a restaurant. By myself. Yes, I said, By. My. Self.
As the mother of a 3 1/2 year old that is no small feat. I’m not even sure what my SELF is anymore. I used to know. Before I got married and had a child — after a 5 1/2 year tormenting infertility journey — I was a damn good self. I had a handle on that stuff.
Now I wake at 5am so I can eek out an hour to myself before my daughter wakes up. I barter bites of her dinner for treats, I dangle consequences for not napping, and I give tickles on demand. I love my child immensely but, I have to admit, I live for when I’m away from her so I can try to remember who my damn self was.
From what I can remember, I was was a super independent actor turned writer who LOVED time by herself. I loved living in New York City by myself. I loved going to a college where nobody knew me from high school. I loved traveling every year with my two college besties to Mexico for our annual chick trip. I loved my freedom.
Now, I have none of that. But I’m trying to regain it. At least some of it. Just a sliver even. Slowly. Ever so slowly. But surely. Because I must.
I must remember who I am. Who my damn self was. Before the barrage of needles and miscarriages and postpartum anxiety and bottles and diapers and potty training and baby sign language and mom friendships and Baby Shark.
I must remember for myself and for my daughter. She doesn’t care how she got here and how it took the biggest toll on her mommy for it to happen. And I don’t expect her to. She cares about how to become independent herself. She cares about following my lead. She needs me to be an example of extreme self care.
That’s why I ripped myself away from her this weekend — like the stickiest new Velcro that won’t pull apart — to be myself for an overnight jaunt. It was not easy and I feel a little bit extravagant and silly doing it. And I know I’m lucky I even have the option to get away. But do it I must if I am to have the space to remember how much I like being by myself. And how good it is to do.
How it feeds me. How it fuels me. How it makes me nicer. More patient. More resilient. More badass. And a better mom. And human.
I need to pause. Because, just like Tom Hanks says in A League of Their Own, there’s no crying in baseball, there’s no pausing in parenting! We take on the pace of our children, their boundless energy, their need for stimulation and order and boundaries and resisting those boundaries. Pausing is the only way to remember anything, though, especially something like a self.
And, doing it in the midst of a pandemic? Well, that’s not easy. Where do you go? How do you get there? How do you stay safe? How do you stay away from other people?
Well, I booked a cheap off the highway motel room with its own entrance and air system in a beach town an hour away for one night. I left after lunch so her father could put her down for a nap. And I drove myself slowly to my destination stopping to browse an antique shop along the way — something I used to do frequently.
I got to my destination and was pleased to find downtown closed off to cars so it could be strewn with safer outdoor seating for all the restaurants. I got some holiday shopping done and relished in browsing leisurely through the shops. With my mask on, of course.
I took myself out to dinner and savored every bite. I didn’t have to get up from the table to get anyone more juice or cheese or chips. I could take my time and eat until I was done rather scarfing down my food and popping up to go do bath time.
Just having a break from doing bath and bedtime, even ones that go smoothly, was the space my brain needed to remember how much I like myself. That gets clouded out when our job is to meet another human’s needs all the time. We start to forget our own needs — not just what they are but how to meet them.
And, after my mere 24 hours away, I realize all I really need is a break every now and then. Even if I wasn’t able to physically get away, I could take a walk during her nap time while her dad is there. If I was a single parent, all of this would be way harder, I get that. But to remember to pause in any given moment — before we lose it and yell or to soak in the brilliance of our children playing independently — is the goal.
To remember that pausing makes us better moms and better people. More patient, less frustrated, slower to react, and quicker to laugh. The act of pausing will create more space in our brains and our lives. And those pockets of space could form a bubble of sanity around our otherwise crazy cakes lives that just might help us remember who we are, who we used to be and who we could be. And how to get a little of her back.
Reality check though: the room was super dingy, the bed was uncomfortable, I did not get a great night’s sleep and I didn’t want to walk on the floor without socks. It was not blissful. I didn’t do any of the knitting projects I brought or give myself a pedicure because the bath tub was eeeewww. Still. I got a break. And I got a chance to catch my breath. That was worth way more than any luxurious hotel I could have stayed in.
So, next time you find yourself at the end of your rope, take a breath, take a pause, and try to picture who your damn self used to be before motherhood. And, if you can get away, bring your mask and keep your distance. But not from yourself. Get as cozy as you can with her and maybe she’ll help you see yourself anew.
Previously published on medium
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