Still A Good Mom

We’ve been home a lot the last few weeks. First L. got croup, so we were home for a week waiting for the worst of the symptoms to pass. Then it was a long weekend, and then after three days of work, both my and L.’s classrooms were closed due to a positive Covid case. Ever since, there have been more and more cases added on, and now that we’re close to L.’s return date…G.’s classroom found a positive case. Now I’m looking at even more time at home. We aren’t able to really go anywhere; the children aren’t symptomatic, but L. is a close contact so we’re being careful just in case. We’ve gone to the beach a few times, early in the morning before anyone else came. We go to empty parks. We go for drives for coffee and just to get out. But mostly, we’ve been playing at home. It hasn’t been awful. G. learned how to ride her bike. We have a sandbox and a climbing structure and a swing set. We have lots of things to do outside. The problem is, first it was 30+ degrees outside, and we could only handle being out for short periods of time, and then it started raining every day.

This is worst case scenario for my anxiety. Long blocks of uninterrupted play time with my children, with no buffer, no escape. (Isn’t that an awful thought, being alone with my children flares up my anxiety?! That’s a whole other thing to unpack, some other time). The mess. The noise. The chaos. I was dreading it.

In actuality, it hasn’t been awful. We’ve had moments, but that’s it. Just moments. Not days anymore. Just moments.

I have a very specific kind of guilt. When I get overwhelmed, I tend to disassociate. I want to disappear. Usually by mindlessly scrolling. Which means I leave my children to play independently for blocks of time, and then I feel guilty for leaving them unattended for blocks of time, for ignoring them. They usually start to whine for attention, I start to snap because I’m interrupted from my disassociating, and then everyone feels awful. So, I always feel the need to be playing with my kids, which overwhelms me and kickstarts the whole cycle all over again. Cue the guilt. Because we’re home and she had no kids to play with here, G. asks me to play quite a bit, and it all came to a head when she was constantly telling me I was doing it wrong, and changing everything I touched, and telling me what to say, what to do, how to play. I was annoyed, and told her, no. I’m not going to play if you’re constantly telling me what to do. It’s not fun for me to be bossed around. And ever since, she’s toned it down. She lets me join and actually play. It’s so much calmer, and much less tortuous than it had been. It feels wrong, to not like to play when my whole career is based on playing with children. It makes my skin itch, a little. Like sometimes is wrong. But that’s part of the issue. I don’t like to play the games that four year olds like to play.

This issue of independent play still bothered me. I still feel so much guilt for saying No, you can play alone for a while. In an intellectual, professional way, I know that long periods of uninterrupted, self-driven play is important for creativity and problem-solving and brain development, but it was so hard for me to leave them alone to do their work. As much as people knock on Instagram culture for creating unrealistic standards, it’s actually what’s really helped me. In an earlier post, I mentioned an account that I follow, and she had really settled a lot of the contradictions in my head. She laid out how she handles independent play in her house, and it made so much sense to me. She talks about setting time for connection – genuine connection – and then setting time for independence. That’s when she gets her own work done, and spends time on herself. And it makes sense to me. A lot of my children’s behaviours aren’t attention-seeking, they’re connection-seeking. By spending uninterrupted, focused time with each of the kids, they started looking at me to entertain them less and less. They still ask me to play, but they accept the boundaries a little easier when they know that it isn’t forever, that I will be available to them in a little while. And now they play. They play alone, they play with each other, but they play. The screen time detox that I set into place weeks ago has helped (and so has losing the tv remote) and they start their day off with quiet place, and I start my day off in a quiet place, instead of immediate stimulation. And they play, without constantly asking me to join or to help, or to direct. They just come in and out of play. When they need sometime from me – food, a drink, a few minutes of connection, they come, we hang out, and then they play again. It’s been liberating in a way, but there’s still residual guilt with it.

I’ve started telling myself, I can let my kids play alone. I’m not ignoring my kids and damaging my bond with my children by letting them play independently. We find new ways to do things that we both enjoy. My counsellor suggested it, to find ways to spend time together that feels comfortable for all of us. We go for walks. We colour. We snuggle and read books. We make TikToks together. But we don’t really play together. We connect in other ways. It doesn’t make me a bad mom if my kids play alone.

This is my new mantra.

Not playing with my kids does not make me a bad mom.

Not playing with my kids does not make me a bad mom.

Not playing with my kids does not make me a bad mom.

Weight

She sat alone in the dark, rocking her child back and forth.
The child was heavy in her arms.
The weight felt foreign, an extension of herself that didn’t quite fit.
It had demands that she never quite felt she could meet.
Before had been easier.
The physical connection had been a reassurance, an innate confidence in his moods, his needs. Every kick had emotion, every roll an intention.
Now, the physical touch drove home the separation.
His needs were no longer hers but a mystery.
A puzzle she had to piece together.
This tiny creature loomed larger than life in the dark.
In daylight, her face and her scent were all he would accept. 
By nightfall he both desired and detested her comfort.
And she was exhausted. 

As she rocked, she thought about the child beyond the door.
The one who seemed so mature compared to the child in her arms.
The one who desperately wanted to be the child in her arms.
The one who wanted to be both grown and little, yet didn’t manage to be either.
This child had also been an extension of herself.
Their bond had had time to be nurtured, there was confidence in glances, in sounds and gestures. She was familiar and comfortable and comforting.
Until she wasn’t.
Suddenly this child had become a new entity.
One with feelings that couldn’t be processed and thoughts that couldn’t be expressed and needs that desperately needed to be met. 

And she failed her. 

Again and again she failed her. 

As the new weight pressed her down, she could feel it pushing on the child.
Sometimes the weight was too much and she pushed the child to carry it. 
Such a large burden for a child who wanted to be small. 
No matter how she tried, no matter how much of the weight she shouldered, she could not lift it completely off the child. 
So there was guilt.
So much guilt it was suffocating. 
The weight sat right on her chest.
Constricting.
Some days it was all she could do to breathe.

As she rocked, she breathed. 
Back and forth. In and out. 
She felt the weight in her arms finally relax. 
She heard laughter beyond the door. 
Tonight, she wanted to join the laughter, to find out what was hiding under all that weighed her down.
But the door was so very far away and she was so very tired.
So instead, she rocked back and forth, matching the motion to the inhales and exhales.
Looking at the light that leaked around the door.
A door that seemed like so much more than a door.
There was life behind that door, one who’s pressures she resented and who’s memory she clung to.
A life that used to be hers.
One that she may never fully find again.

The weight of that loss settled in amongst the others as she sat alone in the dark, rocking her child back and forth.
The weight of her new life.
One she was not certain she could carry.

Easter Magic

Motherhood is hard. We can all agree on that. However. Some days it’s hard in different ways. Sometimes it’s not just hard in a “I need to get away, I can’t handle the pressure anymore, if anyone else cries or screams, or stop listening, I’m going to lose my cool”. Sometimes it’s hard in a “I just want to sit on the couch and eat nachos and watch tv, but instead I have to create some fuckin’ Easter Magic up in here.”

But you always do it. You always create that fucking magic. You get your ass off the couch and you write that note from the bunny and you bite that carrot so it looks like the bunny ate it, and if you’re really brave you make powder footprints around your house (spoiler alert: I’m not that brave. Or that masochistic. Who do you think is gonna clean that mess?! The bunny’s not gonna clean shit.) And then you deal with sugar loaded toddlers who are so overstimulated and then you deal with the inevitable sugar crash, and you smile and you play and wonder at the magic of it all.

Except sometimes it doesn’t feel like magic. It feels overwhelming and overstimulating and you know you have to keep your cool because you want them to feel that magic, you don’t want them to remember holidays with a tarnish on it. So you hide in the back and you take timeouts in the bathroom to breathe because if you have to wipe one more chocolate handprint off your couch or calm one more crying toddler who’s been told he’s had enough chocolate or if you hear Mom come play with me! Mom, can you get this? Mom, do that! Mom! Mom! Mom! you are going to lose your ever-loving shit and then no one is happy and that makes you feel even worse. So you smile. And you drink coffee. You put on Easter cartoons and you ignore the chocolate handprints (might as well just clean the fucking couch once instead of over and over). You think back to your own childhood and wonder if your mother ever felt like this. And then you make plans to discuss all of this in therapy in two days 🤣

Holidays are when I miss myself the most. When I feel the loss the hardest. I know others who are grieving their loved ones, and I’m sympathetic. I’m grieving myself. I’m not sure which one is harder. The one where you know you won’t even see them again, or the one where you are scared of that exact outcome. These are the days that I force myself to confront my deepest fear – what if this is it? what if this is how I am now? What if I never go back to being patient, or having fun, or able to play? How am I going to be the parent that I want to be if this is all there is? What do I do then?

Seriously. What do I do then?

That bunny owes me some chocolate.

Breathe.

Photo by Elly Fairytale on Pexels.com

The biggest thing I struggle with is guilt. I think that’s pretty common among most mothers. However, mine is debilitating. I can’t breathe under the weight of the guilt. Over everything. What I feed them. What I don’t feed them. How they play. How they don’t play. Am I providing enough experiences for them? Should I even provide experiences? Should I just let them be? Am I being too hard on them? Am I keeping them safe enough? Am I keeping them too safe? Are they getting too much screen time? Am I giving them enough face time? Enough one on one time? Am I yelling too much? Am I too permissive? Did they even eat vegetables today?

It goes on and on and on.

It’s not fun in my head.

So, I started something last month. I joined some girlfriends on Facebook, and we decided we would do a free 30 day yoga challenge. Every night, I had 20-30 minutes where I turned off the lights, lit some candles, and did yoga. Even when I had online classes, even when Hubby was home from camp, I still escaped into my office and did some yoga. Fuck me, it was hard. I lost so much muscle tone in the last year, I could barely hold my body up. But, I wasn’t going to chicken out this time. I fucking did it. I finished all 30 days.

And then something weird happened that I didn’t expect.

Monday was supposed to be a new work out program. A new fresh start. I did Day 1. Hated it. Tuesday, I did Day 2, hated every minute of it even though it was yoga/pilates inspired workout. Today is Wednesday, and I did Day 1 and 2 of a new monthly calendar of yoga and it felt so good.

Turns out, even though I didn’t notice it happening, I was addicted to yoga. It was a safe space, away from everything going on. I missed it. And lets be real, it gave me some space away from everyone else’s needs. Hubby had to step up and be the default parent while I was in my space, and it felt so nice to not be “It” for a while. This never happens – Hubby works camp, and so I had to step up when he’s gone, and it’s a routine that never changes even when he’s home – which leaves me feeling pissed off and overwhelmed. I didn’t think 20-30 minutes a night would be so life changing (not to be melodramatic or anything).

I still have guilt. No doubt. Crippling guilt. Just, for once, none about knowing I need self-care and all that stuff mom blogs post about, and then failing at taking care of myself in the most basic way.

Weird.