Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Mother guilt: The uneasiness of time away from the kids


Hobo Mama wants you to know she's a professional blogger! Look at how professional she's being!

The day I am writing this, I am at Seattle Center, the campus where the iconic Space Needle stands, enjoying the filtered shade on a bench on a 75-degree May afternoon. Pink blossoms from the spring-sprung trees are dropping softly down on my arms and shoulders. I've spent two hours working on my latest novel, and an hour wandering the well-groomed grounds, admiring the works of art strewn generously throughout and smiling at the sight of so many other people enjoying the beautiful, illusory weather while it lasts.

I am alone, kidless for this brief period of hours. I am free and thrilled and rested and content.

And also miserably guilt-ridden.

Do fathers feel this way, or is it a culturally or biologically instilled mandate that mothers experience guilt at enjoying time away from their children?

Last night I was breaking down in tears from stress. Alrik had a wonderful opportunity (with scholarship!) to attend a homeschool drama class downtown for the spring. It's an incredible program, and we couldn't pass it up for our creatively minded kid when the doors opened for us.

But I worried how we would all cope with getting three kids and me up very early and out the door, onto two to three buses for the ride downtown, and then whiling away the time Alrik was in his class before picking him up and doing the bus dance on back.

I've had nightmares about those bus rides. It's currently cheaper enough for us to ride the bus (only Mikko and I pay at the moment) to beat parking. Plus, we can stay longer and go on other adventures after if we desire, and we often do. And it makes sense to bring Karsten and Mikko with me so Sam can work and we can play. We have memberships at the children's museum and science center, and there's a fun playground, and soon the fountain will be spraying, and the three of us have a grand time while Alrik's having his own fun in class.

But the bus rides. Oh, the bus rides. I have three little boys and a stroller to finagle on and off. I won't recount all the troubles — the little ones falling in the aisles, the stroller tipping as I struggle to fold it, the hassle of finding suitable seats for all of us plus our accoutrements of stroller, bags, jackets, and, after school, art projects and lunch leftovers and who knows what. I won't describe in detail every time I've had to distract a child from singing loudly (Alrik) or screaming (Karsten) or otherwise get in adults' way, or the times I've inadvertently whacked people with the stroller, or the time our drink toppled to the floor, three times in one ride. And then there are the multiple times Mikko and Alrik have raced off at our stop only to have the bus close the doors and start pulling away before Karsten and the stroller and bags and I can follow, and I have to yell loudly for the bus driver to please, please stop.

It's given Alrik palpitations. It's given me intense anxiety that lasts well after we're safe at home.

I know many things: One is that 95 percent of this is in my head. Buses must accommodate passengers, even if those passengers have little legs and unwieldy contraptions accompanying them. No one has ever said boo to us, and in fact, passengers will join us in shouting for the bus to stop when it wants to drive off, separating our family. But everyone's so quiet and serious and detached on the bus. It's like bringing children into a coffee shop. You ARE allowed to make noise, but you wouldn't know it. I can't help that my whole personality can be summed up as "I hate to be a bother," and that children necessarily break that resolve for me.

Another is that we have it easy. Alrik's class is two days a week, for just a couple months. People get themselves and their families up early and commute to work and school every day. I know I'm lazy and a homebody and a night owl and that that's one reason why homeschooling appealed to me. That doesn't make it easy to change.

It would be easier if Karsten were just a little older and didn't need the stroller. At near-forty pounds, he's too heavy for me to wear for long anymore with my hips and pelvis shot from three pregnancies. But our bus connections are brief, and the distances we walk between long enough, that it makes it easier to stroll him for now, despite the bus difficulties.

So I've been feeling this low-level PTSD over the whole thing, having trouble falling asleep as I mentally rehearse over and over and over just how I might tweak our bus experience to have a smoother ride this time, and how to convince the kids (including a recalcitrant two-and-a-half-year-old) to go along with my ever new and revised plans.

And I'm weary anyway that every night is a battle to get my night-owl children to chill out and go to sleep, and then every morning a battle to rouse them in time to leave.

So last night, I was fretting aloud to Sam about my worries for the next day, and how it would be warm but that would just frustrate Mikko, who would want to splash in the fountain, which is still undergoing its seasonal maintenance. And Sam said the magic words, "Why don't you just leave the other kids here? You could relax and get some writing done."

I went over the cons of this plan with him, and he batted them all away, so this morning Alrik and I set off alone, mother and son, to a much easier transit experience. "Can we sit in the back?" he asked. Anywhere you like, today, I said, relieved at how easy this bus thing is with one five-year-old and no stroller. We skipped on and off our transfers, no problems, although Alrik yelled a prophylactic "Wait for us! We're leaving still!" to the bus driver, borne of his own anxiety at being left behind.

We made it to his class drop-off in record time. Soon he was off my hands, and I was free.

I wandered uneasily to the food court. I checked the news on the health care front. I scheduled some tweets and did some pinning. Then, having skipped breakfast, I decided on a salad for brunch. I was filled with a wave of desolation that Karsten wouldn't be there to eat every single olive and half my mushrooms. I saw the bottles of grape soda that Mikko always begged for and nearly wept as I considered buying him one to bring home.

It's silly, this guilt. This feeling at loose ends without my children. This worry that they're suffering without me. (They're not.)

This push and pull between taking care of myself and taking care of them. The intense need for time alone, to recharge, to replenish, so I have something to give, at odds with the internal and possibly external expectation that my resources should be naturally bottomless, that mothering IS self-care, because it's what I'm meant to do.

In the end, I enjoy my salad with every last olive to myself. I write, I walk, I contemplate. And then I go to greet Alrik with a smile, ready to start again.

This is the face of an unrepentant
olive thief on a different day.
And this is a kid happy to have me
all to himself after class.

How do you feel about time apart from your kids?







 

1 comments:

Olivia said...

I don't think I suffer from mom guilt as much as some, but I feel it sometimes. Last fall I started working sort of part time, and we put our four year old in daycare. I drive for Uber, so my hours are completely my own to make, and when I have a slow day I feel guilty that I'm sitting in my car reading while he is at daycare. This was especially true in the beginning. I have mostly found peace with it because he's learning and playing with other kids, and time away from each other means we appreciate our tine together more, but still. Some days I really miss those years I had with both of my kids at home.

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