It’s July 4th, and I’m sitting alone in an old Victorian office building, waiting to see the 1/4 of my Wednesday night patients still willing to come in on Independence Day. The building is deserted, except for the owner, typically a suited-up lawyer wielding a portable phone, who is spending the holiday scraping the front porch in the sweltering heat. I walk up to him as I leave, asking if I should lock up, and immediately feel badly. He seems embarrassed as I stand there in my work clothes watching him drowning in sweat.
I had scheduled two patients that day about four hours apart. In between I sat in my office working on this blog, doing paperwork, and knocking things off my to-do list I haven’t been able to get to for months. “Why are you working?” so many people had asked me. Sure, there are patients for whom it’s tough to miss a week of therapy. But I am still entitled to days off. If I don’t maintain my own sanity, I can’t be expected to help others. The truth is, I worked today because I preferred it to the alternative.
I’ve learned there is no such thing as a vacation for me since having twins a year and a half ago. I spent our last actual trip fantasizing about coming back to my office and relaxing while kicking my feat up and helping people work through their emotional problems. This week, my nanny and I mis-communicated. She assumed she would be off on the 4th, I assumed she would have asked if she wanted off. When we realized the mistake, I told her not to come in, but she insisted. Seth left early this morning on a three-day back-packing trip with some friends.
The thought of being alone with my babies for three full days in a row made my organs tremble. I know myself, and I know I don’t have that in me. I used to think that made me a horrible, incapable mother. Now I think it’s just something I need to know and accept about myself. I reach a threshold before which I’m a totally fine, responsive, loving mother, and after which, I feel like I’m completely shut-down. The truth is, I’m not. I do what I need to do for my kids. But I do it saddled with the feeling that I’m drowning – like someone’s slowly pouring my soul out my ears, and every moment that passes I have to consciously resist the urge to claw my way out of the house. Needless to say, three full (we’re talking 12 hour) days was way over that threshold. Thank-you nanny for your mercy!!
After the nanny left tonight, another babysitter came over to relieve her, as Seth normally would. Two babysitters so I can see two patients. I think I probably lost money today, but what I gave up in earnings, I more than made up for with maintenance of sanity.
After work, I drive home slowly, stopping at the grocery store, where I spend quite a long time browsing the organic chocolate shelf, and then pile a large quantity of organic chocolate bars into my cart. These will keep me company tonight, I think to myself. As I drive, I hear fireworks going off. The roads are empty, and my neighborhood is eerily quiet. I pay the babysitter and put my chocolate in the freezer (yes, I know, I’m a freak). As the fireworks continue, I start thinking about “independence day,” and the years of independence I took for granted. I always felt tied down to something. My parents. Grad school. But now that I’m a mom, I realize, I wasn’t tied down at all.
After my mom died when I was in my mid-twenties, I packed up a hiking backpack and walked from my apartment to a commuter train. I got some funny looks and questions due to the backpack. “Where you headed?” “Africa,” I replied, like I had said I was going to Staten Island. I returned after travelling around southern Africa with a friend for a month. Now, taking that same train into Manhattan feels somewhat exotic. The term “vacation” has a cruel irony to me. It means hours on end of hard, manual, emotionally draining childcare labor while also trying to do maintain the illusion of doing the “vacation-like” things I would have done in the past. No thanks!
Allow me to provide an example. I spend a week organizing and packing so the family can go to Florida, after which I will spend a week washing and unpacking and re-organizing. While in Florida, I complete all the usual baby tasks I would as a part-time, stay-at-home-mom, but in addition, I spend the mornings packing up and organizing for the beach. Food for us. Food for the babies. Bottles for the babies. Baby suits, diapers, change of clothes, towels, tents, sunscreen, hats, beach umbrella, chairs, toys, books, baby chairs, jogging stroller, kill me please. Between the babies’ naps, we head to the beach where they eat sand and get too much sun for 20 minutes. We then pack up the hundred tons of stuff and head back home, where we proceed to bathe the babies, wash all the stuff, and put it away so I can pack it up again the next day.
Vacation is an evil to be avoided at all costs. Give me my nanny, my part-time job, and my mother-fucking computer! This blog is my version of lounging on the beach sporting a carved-out coconut full of pina colada with a little umbrella poking out. As far as anyone else knows, I’m on the computer writing testing reports for work. I like to keep it that way.
So when’s my independence day? When do I get to rejoin humanity and take a vacation or even a day off where I don’t choose one kind of work over another? Perhaps in 16.5 years when I drive a U-Haul up to a college campus and leave my children to fend for themselves until Thanksgiving? Well that doesn’t sound like a vacation at all. And therein lies the catch-22 of parenthood. We want the vacation, and yet we don’t want the vacation. I could take a trip. I could leave Friday when Seth gets home. He’s gone for three days. I could do the same. But I won’t. Because as much as I don’t want to be with my kids for three days straight, I don’t want to be away from them for three days straight either.
When I’m with them, I want my life back, and when I’m away from them, I realize, once again, that they are my life. Freedom takes on a new meaning when you are a mother. It’s something you remember longingly, fantasize about, and crave, but in the end, you’d never choose it, because the truth is, for mothers, there is no such thing as freedom anymore – only life without your babies – and that’s a kind of independence none of us would choose.
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