Mother's Work · Motherhood · Parenting · Self-Care · Toddlers

Taking a moment to get off this high speed train

Ugh, I haven’t posted since April 20th. That’s ridiculous. What in the world has held me back?

Well, let’s just say there were many moments when I wanted to sit down and write. Or better yet, spew. Or announce that I’d had enough. Or tell you exactly how I felt about the time when…

Wasn’t going to happen.

Many things have happened over the past month-plus that would have deserved an essay, but were just not appropriate for public consumption. But one thing remained consistent throughout:

I was, and continue to be, on this high speed train of motherhood with no stop in sight.

When things happen in life – such as family feuds or natural disasters or career surprises – that are outside of your direct duties of motherhood, you can’t just turn off motherhood and redirect your attention to them. Motherhood, especially of two almost-3-year-old boys and a 4-year-old girl, is truly like being a passenger on a high speed train. And it’s not just the high speed, it’s also the unexpected curves at 150 mph that make you stumble and spill your coffee; the luggage overhead that wasn’t quite securely fastened and comes tumbling down on you right after you pleasantly nodded off; the chatter box sharing her life story in Polish one row over; the stop in the middle of nowhere without explanation, lasting seemingly forever; and the fact that you just can’t get comfortable, no matter what contorted position you attempt.

Now, traveling on a high speed train also has its perks: the beautiful scenery; the peaceful murmur of the wheels on the tracks; the sense of being propelled, and going somewhere; the excitement of an impending arrival; waking up from a snooze to realize that more time has passed than you thought; and the yummy ham & cheese sandwich on french bread with dijon mustard. But I digress.

What can we mothers do to get off for a quick stop, no matter what’s facing us in the moment? I’ve tried a few different things.

Sometimes I am just so tired, I tell our daughter that I have to lie down and take a nap. Our twin boys nap, but our 4-year-old doesn’t anymore, so I no longer have a mid-day child-free break. I offer her several options: she can lay next to me and rest; she can spend some quiet time in her room; she can read or color alongside of me; or she can play a game on my iPad, laptop, or iPhone alongside of me. But she’s got to let me rest. This has mostly worked. I ease my worries by believing that I am modeling good self-care behavior for my daughter.

Sometimes life throws you something and you find yourself crying in front of your kids. You’re in the middle of prepping a meal, or pouring milk into a sippy cup, or changing a diaper, and you just can’t hold back. Your kids might notice and take it easy on you, but more likely than not they will act like nothing is happening and continue to badger you with the demands they were badgering you with before the tears started flowing. Sometimes I go along with that – I let the tears flow, but my words and behaviors maintain the status quo, like nothing out of the ordinary is happening. But other times, I go the honesty route. One day I looked at my daughter and said: “Do you see that mommy is crying? I’m upset and need a few minutes. Can you take it easy on me for a little bit?” I hope that I am teaching her some aspect of empathy and that it’s ok to express your feelings. I just have to be careful not to expect too much too soon.

Sometimes all three kids are whining at the same time. I could address each of them individually, listen to their concerns, try to mind-read what it is they want, and watch the whole scene escalate, or loop, or both. Or, I could look up at the ceiling and yell at the top of my lungs: “NO MORE WHINING!” I did that the other day. My kids looked at me with big eyes for about 3 seconds. No one cried, no feelings were hurt – it wasn’t directed at any of them individually. And then the whining continued. But guess what? I felt a lot better and was a little more resourced to enter into the next round of whining.

Sometimes you’re sick. Sometimes you get a surprising phone call that you really need to take. Sometimes your own bathroom break takes longer than the kids would like. Sometimes you need to give yourself a time-out, flee the scene, take a deep breath. Sometimes you wake up with a migraine in the morning.

My goal is to accept my ride on the high speed train for what it is. It is what it is. Let’s not make it more dramatic than it is, or try to downplay it. But I can try to find little escapes – like get away to the restaurant car! – that will resource me just enough to keep going for that next hour, and make it to the next stop.

I just remembered another escape: I could ask for help.

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