Two years ago it happened. The day I had been waiting, anticipating, and desperately pining for like no other day. After being an at home mom to four little boys for 14 years, all of my boys would finally be in school. All of them, in real school, all day. I was bursting at the seams when I finally dropped the youngest son off at kindergarten. The whole day lay ahead of me, and with it so many deliciously liberating options! I could go home and go back to bed. I could go sit in a coffee shop all day and never have to physically get up out of my seat. I could read a magazine from start to finish, all at one sitting, with the same cup of HOT coffee……WHAT!?!?
Unfortunately, I ended up doing very little of that. Instead, when people, places, and things started to come a-knockin’ for help, I said that blasted three letter word, “YES.”
“Yes!” I said, “I can totally do that for you, because you know, all my kids are in school now!”
“Yes!” I said, “I can help chair that and run that and organize that, because you know, all my kids are in school now!"
“YES!” I said, “I know the school library needs help. I used to be a librarian! I can come whenever you need, and also substitute any day you need me, because you know, all my kids are in school now!”
“Yes!” I said, “I will start working a few hours a month teaching at the local college! Because you know, all my kids……..”
Flash forward to this fall, where I found myself burnt out, defeated, and ultimately writing an essay on the five ways I will be a different school mom this year. Read it here.
Anywho, notice anything odd about the very first way I am going to be different? I will be speaking a new word. It is “No.” Feedback from just that one statement was met with bitterness and rage among my so called fellow peer mothers, some of whom felt the need to tell me what a selfish, lazy, and shameful mother I was for saying “No.” GASP! Good mothers don’t use that word! Yes, I sure am lazy, because the prior 14 years at home raising four rambunctious little boys totally included couch lounging marathons. I was even told I had started a volunteerism war between mothers in their 40s and mothers in their 20s, dividing the groups unnecessarily. (Still trying to figure out that one.) What they failed to realize is I had kept up an insane schedule of school and community involvement while I still had little ones at home, and then just jacked it up ten notches when they were all in school. And all I was left with was exhaustion and resentment, and for me, that is a first rate recipe for anger. Who wants an angry mom? Not my husband, and not my sons.
What I had failed to realize two years ago was that it was ok to take time for me for once. It was perfectly ok to spend that first year when all the kids were finally in school, in a kind of debriefing of sorts. Heaven knows I had earned it. It’s almost as if I had a minor form of some type of mothering PTSD. (NOT relating being home with kids to war, ok? So save the backlash) It was like latent stress born of years and years of the endless meeting the needs and wants of small children 24/7, and now I was back from that ‘war’ so to speak, and needed to decompress from it all. I failed to realize it was ok to relish in the peacefulness of the house, to meditatively eat a hot lunch that wasn’t the leftover crumbs of a three year old’s plate. It was ok to be taking a bath at 11 a.m. in total silence, or to take a long walk where nobody knew where I was going, or to just simply sit and rest my body and mind. It was ok to transition out of motherhood and into personhood for the seven hours that my children would be at school. To put it bluntly, I should have left and let go of the outside pressure from the do it all perfection driven mothers, and my own self inflicted pressure to be everything to everybody. I should have just left all that at the front door of the kindergarten room that year. I didn’t.
I have learned a valuable lesson. I have learned my family needs a sane mom, a happy mom, and a mom who knows the value of taking care of herself. I have learned that just because I ‘can’, doesn't mean I ‘should.’ I have learned that it’s vital to tell that mother, who for the first time this fall may be finding herself with ‘all that time’ during the school day, that it’s ok to jump out of the race, or to not even enter. I will tell her it’s ok to spend the time she has alone now to recharge her well drained batteries, to reflect and think about how and what she really wants to spend those seven precious hours a day doing. She finally has options. Delicious and liberating options. I want her to choose those options wisely, and feel no guilt in saying “No,” and instead take special care of herself for once, pampering and being gentle with her body, mind, and spirit. Because in the end, no amount of school or community martyr-ish volunteerism can make her a better or more perfect mom. Only putting herself first can do that.