Last week I wrote a post about the things I missed at home while Lenny and I were away on a kid-free, company-hosted getaway to Puerto Rico. While it was a sweet reflection for me, I was surprised by how wildly popular it was among my friends. On my personal Facebook page, over 40 people liked it. That’s like 20 times more than usual. (I should probably have Little check the math for me on that one, but the point is, I’m not used to that kind of reaction to my posts on Facebook.)
But in the background, I got a few emails from friends jokingly calling me out. They pointed out that sure, post-bath baby butts are great and all, but those butts also come with stinky diapers. And potty training disasters. And, well, just the thought of getting away from it all for a bit was kind of drool worthy.
They were right. I certainly didn’t take the wonderful getaway for granted. It was spectacular. And it wasn’t all rainbows and sunshine when I returned. So I figured I’d tell the flip side of the story. Because of course it exists. And while I certainly do like to find the smiles in everyday chaos, the the chaos is very, very real.
You see, I left thinking, “Eight days. Eight days?! How can I possibly leave my kids for that long? It might break me. Or them. But, yes, something will definitely be broken along the way. Oh, but in eight kid-free days…just think of the things I’ll accomplish. Of course I’ll read those three books that have been waiting for me on my Kindle. And the blog posts I’ll write…oh, the blog posts I’ll write. Heck, I may even get started — like really, really started — on my own book.”
In reality? I read a bit. I didn’t write one bit. I worked on my tan and calorie consumption. I fought a nasty cold and cough. And I stayed out until like 2am(!) every night and only napped for about 30 minutes. Total. And before I knew it, the eight days were over and we were pulling up to our house in the same SUV airport shuttle that Big threw up in a couple months ago, only now it smelled like someone had poured a bottle of cologne over each and every inch of the backseat.
While a wave of warmth rushed over me at the sight of home, the butterflies in my stomach reminded me that home means more than sweet cuddles and giggles. It means schedules, deadlines, responsibilities, demands — emotional and physical. It means reality.
As soon as we walked through the door, my mom — who pretty much earned sainthood by watching our kids for 5 of the days we were away — quickly gave me the rundown. All was well and the kids were sound asleep. Oh, except for the fact that Pink had been coughing and seemed to be getting sick. Of course.
While it was late and I should have gone to bed, my mind was racing. I couldn’t think straight with all the “stuff” lying around. It’s not that the house was messy, but after having been in beautifully appointed hotel rooms with no Legos or coloring books under foot, our house just seemed overrun by junk. Yes, even after the purging I’ve been doing.
Since I hadn’t opened my computer in days, I figured I should check in on email for a bit. I was quickly reminded that as co-room parent for Big’s class, I had two big events coming up that I needed to help plan and wrangle volunteers for. Within minutes I came across the school auction donation requests, the baseball team announcement, basketball playoff info, blog pitches and questions, check and paperwork requests for Big’s upcoming First Communion, Valentines instructions for each of the kids’ classes, a request for help with a Teacher Appreciation luncheon, everything I needed to do to get ready for Lenny’s birthday, the realization that our babysitter was on vacation for the next week and a half, and more…
Reality came tumbling down on me like an avalanche.
Being a mom is not simply being there.
It’s knowing that you won’t be getting much rest tonight because that little cough down the hall could be something, or nothing, but either way you’ll be half sleeping just in case. It’s schedule juggling and flipping and balancing. It’s bracing yourself for an emotional outburst that you know will come when you share news that should be good, but has a disappointing element to it too. It’s knowing that the uniforms need washing — as well as the socks. Because of course only one pair of socks is acceptable on game day. It’s knowing that when you get home from being away, the following day can be spent accomplishing absolutely nothing but being the hand that’s held, the leg that’s hugged, and the reassurance that everything is right again. It’s being an active, gracious, generous community member — whether you feel like you’ve got the time for it or not. It’s spontaneously opening your messy home to friends, knowing that they’ll overlook it, and their mere presence and laughter will be the most heart-filling thing that your family experiences that week. It’s remembering that you’re also a wife — and a person. A person with a dream that’s also begging for your undivided attention.
Yes, this is the reality of a full life.
And while escaping the day-to-day for awhile was truly wonderful — for so many reasons, re-entry has been a lot harder than I imagined. Not because nobody is bringing me drinks or fresh towels, but because when you slow way down, when you return, you realize you’ve set a rather impossible pace to keep up with. It seems that when you’re in the trenches, you just go — without questioning the how or why. When you take a step back, though, you truly do appreciate the little things, but you also have the clarity of mind to start questioning some of the bigger stuff.
Truth be told, I can’t help but wonder if some of the things I’ve signed up for along the way aren’t actually making me a better mom, but a more scattered, stressed out person. One who’s too quick to snap at my kids who for some precious, unknown reason still want me to be a part of their every move. One who’s too quick to dismiss my own priorities because I’m helping others accomplish theirs.
It seems that it wasn’t the leaving for eight days, but the coming back that broke me a little bit. But now that I’ve had the chance to really think about what I missed — and what I didn’t — maybe I can make my time away count for more than an escape. Maybe I can use it to become a happier mom. (After all, I’m already a pretty good one.)