Last weekend I flew to Austin from El Paso for my grandmother’s ninety-third birthday.
El Paso is truly a wonderful city with everything I need, except my family. We usually only make the trek to Austin for major family events like weddings and baptisms, and Grandma is understandably overwhelmed with crowds and lots of lively chatter, so it can be hard to connect with her on those trips. This time, we planned in advance to visit her in small groups in the calm surroundings of her retirement home.
I left the kids at home which I know was disappointing for my family that doesn’t get to see them often, but was probably also a relief for those who would be roped in to helping me keep them alive in Nana’s white house full of sharp corners. Let me just say, only a parent would think of a low-key, two-day trip to visit a ninety-three year old in a retirement facility as a wild vacation. I mean, I brought a book. I didn’t read it, but I totally could have! Unlike the book I brought to the beach last summer when my kids who cannot swim decided they loved jumping over waves.
I got to stay at my sister’s white house with slightly fewer sharp corners for the first time, and she was a wonderful hostess. A room of my own, real wine glasses with stems, and a dog to lick my makeup off a night. Sarah asked me what I wanted to do since I was kid-free, and I honestly had no idea. I knew what I didn’t want to do — cut anyone’s dinner or get up to retrieve a different color spoon three times before taking my first bite of a meal I prepared myself and would have to clean up once I managed to eat.
My sister has her furbaby, but no kids, so she asked me what I missed about The Time
Before. “I miss choosing things,” I said. I missed being spontaneous and deciding to go to a movie on a weeknight. Ordering Thai food (with peanuts!) and eating on the couch while watching a movie. Running an errand without a giant bag full of supplies and a screaming kid who hates to shop. But when she asked me to choose what to do while I visited, I came up empty.
First of all, what do young people do nowadays? I obviously have no idea. I got pregnant seven years ago and before that was ill most of the time, so I haven’t been a spontaneous young person in a very long time. For me, the vacation part of the weekend was not choosing. As a parent I make countless decisions over the course of a week, and spend the rest of the time second guessing those decisions. Planning meals, making doctor and dentist appointments, working on school projects, drilling vocabulary words, choosing the kids’ clothes, taking them to Kung Fu, entertaining the kids who are forced to attend their siblings’ Kung Fu classes, picking birthday presents, working on parenting styles, abandoning styles that don’t work for us, and so much more.
The mental load of a parent is exhausting. Physically, parenting can take a toll when your kids have sleep struggles or beg you to throw them in the air over and over again, but mentally the weight is crushing. Sure, making kiddie lunches every day is tedious, but the knowledge that you are responsible for steady, healthy weight gain and balanced nutrition for another human is the real source of fatigue. Everything parents do is wrong. All of it. Kids are all different, growing at different speeds, picky or hearty appetites, active or calm, and when you get to the pediatrician, they will look at a graph and decide if you are a good mom based on averages and charts and equations because they have never seen what you serve for meals and whether or not your kid eats what you prepare.
When I think of a break, I think of not thinking. Don’t ask me to choose what’s for dinner, don’t force me to pick the time to meet. Someone else be Mom and do all the choosing so I can rest my mind. A lot of parents will tell you they want to nap or sleep in if they get any kid-free time, and while that is definitely high on the list, to me that’s not really the point. When my husband lets me sleep in on the weekends and I lazily come down the stairs at the leisurely hour of nine in the morning, I feel great until he says, “the kids wanted to wait for you to make breakfast.” I honestly don’t get a lot of extra sleep when I lay in bed and Hubs takes care of our three kids in the morning, because those kids are loud AF no matter what guidance you give them, and my guilt at being the one to sleep in keeps me from really relaxing. I am staying in bed to miss being the decision maker for just one meal. I am hoping to skip choosing what to feed them for breakfast, cleaning their plates, remembering their allergy medicine and brushing their teeth.
Obviously, my husband makes decisions all day long at work and then doesn’t get to take a break when he gets home and takes care of our kids. There is something very different about working in an office where you are respected, praised, and compensated for your efforts. My work is at home, and my kids hate everything I cook, are mad no matter when I tell them it’s time for a bath, and instead of a Christmas bonus, I stress myself out trying to make all that holiday magic that Moms are responsible for.
Being a stay at home mom can be lonely, isolating, stressful, anxiety-ridden, and thankless. My husband thanks me for every meal I prepare, and every load of laundry I churn out, but kids don’t understand the power of showing gratitude, or the mental burden of being a parent. So when I left my babies behind for two days with adults only, I didn’t care what we did. We can do something, or we can do nothing, so long as I don’t have to decide. Because as soon as I got home, it was when is their dentist appointment? What did they eat for dinner? When is his project due? Does this prescription need to be refilled? For the love of God, why do parents give out unlabeled candy when every classroom has at least one peanut allergy?!