Monday, April 14, 2008

Why Me-Time Feels Like Child Abuse

Weekend fights suck.

For the past week or so, my need to get a break from the girls hit an all-time high. My patience levels, which are not that high anyway, started dropping to dangerously low levels and my enthusiasm for playing hours games, including “Let See What Happens When I Pull Momma’s Hair” and “Let’s See What’s in That Drawer”, was taking a toll. I love my girls to pieces, but I know that I would be a better mom if I had a break from time to time. Like every month or so.

I have not spent more than an hour from the girls (excluding sleep, of course) in I don’t know how long. Literally can’t remember the last time I didn’t have them around, that we weren’t in each other’s orbits.

The thing is, I am lucky because Nicole is very involved and very much around. Her office is a twenty-minute walk from home, and if she works at her other office, it is a mere five-minutes away. Sometimes, when she is working at the close office, she comes home for lunch. She gets to work early and tries to leave by 5:00. She is around on the weekends and takes off when I need to go to the doctor or need help taking the girls to the doctor. A lot of people have to deal with a partner’s longer commutes or partners who don’t get home until after the kids are in bed or who work on weekends. So I am grateful for what we have. It is one of the things that makes living in the city very appealing.

What I don’t have is help, the kind of help most people get from their family, extended and otherwise. My mom never offers to come in and lend a hand, and when I ask her, she usually says yes, but then, on the day she is suppose to come in, she usually cancels because it is raining or she doesn’t feel well or she heard a truck was pulled over in downtown NYC for possible terrorism concerns or she is afraid of track fires because it is hot out (these are all true). So I have stopped asking, as the disappointment of the usually inevitable cancellation stings. Why doesn’t she want to spend time with her daughter? Why doesn’t she want to spend time with her grandchildren? File this under Things I Need to Accept and Stop Thinking It Will Ever Be Different. It is a very thick file.

My sister in law is around to help, but she works, and when she is off, she has two kids of her own. Minding four children, when you are not used to it, that seems like a lot to ask. Besides, I want to spend time with my niece and nephew, so when she is over during the week, I want to be there. And friends who come in, it’s the same situation: I want to spend time with them, not trot off on my own for a few hours.

Here are two obvious solutions that I will shoot down: We have free daycare (20 days a year) at a fabulous place in Rockefeller Center, but the idea of dropping the girls off and leaving them makes my stomach drop. I am not ready for that. Yes, I know I am my own worst enemy when it comes to this but drop-off day care is just not an option right now, even when it is free and convenient. I understand that this is a right of passage for parents. But it is one that I am not ready to entertain.

And then there is a babysitter. Call me overprotective and an alarmist, but I still can’t shake the idea that I leave the girls with someone—a stranger, really—and by the time I get home, the girls and babysitter/abductor are halfway to the Czech Republic (nothing against Czechs, I was just picking a random country). Again, I know this is defeatist as well, but it is not an option.

Still, the need for a break was hitting critical mass this weekend. Which turned into a fight/disagreement/tension with Nicole. She was trying to get me to get out on Sunday and take a break but I just couldn’t. She was frustrated because I couldn’t decide what I wanted to do. I couldn’t motivate to leave the house, Instead I was grouchy and frustrated and staying home and lamenting the situation. There are many, many layers to this:

1.) I am not accustom to leaving the girls. I have no idea how hard it must be every day to get up and go to work and leave them. I don’t think I could do it. But perhaps it gets easier over time. Leaving them raises my hackles, not to mention amplifies every little imperfect moment. Like suddenly I feel guilty that I didn’t spend more time with them or I sat down and opened my computer the day before instead of playing with them or I let them linger in their cribs for a few minutes longer than necessary so I could finish cleaning the counters. Instantly I am a child-neglecter, borderline abusive. Instantly I feel like I should have done better.

2.) Weekend time, to me, is family time. I don’t want a break when the four of us can be together. I want a break between noon and three on a random Tuesday. I want a break on a Friday morning. Basically, the only person who can provide such a break for me is someone like my mother, and we have already established how that isn’t working. But the weekends, when we can all be together, is very important to me. When I leave the three of them, I feel like I am missing out. I hate to feel excluded. And I don’t want to start a trend of me going off on my own every weekend.

3.) Taking some me time on a Sunday makes my life harder during the week. When the two of us are home, it is a thousand times easier for me to do the laundry and go to the grocery store or cook. Pretty much everything is easier. So me taking off on a Sunday means that I will make my Monday (Tuesday, Wednesday, etc) a little harder. Doing laundry in the basement with twins? That is probably my number one most difficult task. Haul everyone down to the basement; put laundry in; go back upstairs; go back down in 25 minutes to put laundry in dryer; go back up; go back down to get laundry in half hour and try to fold as much as possible before the girls try to squirm out of their non-moving stroller. And in case you are wondering, our condo board doesn’t allow washer and dryers in our apartments because they are mean (well, something about plumbing not being able to handle it but whatever. They are mean. And yes, Nicole is on the board).

4.) The concept of me-time is so very foreign to me at this point that it is hard to embrace the things that I might have done. Like sit in a book store cafĂ© and read magazines. Or go for a walk in the Village. Or walk over to the Hudson. Walk around a marina. Visit Chelsea Piers and Chelsea Market and my other old stomping grounds. All of these things seem so abstract to me now, like pieces of someone’s life that I read about in a fabulous book. And they seem ridiculously indulgent. They are activities difficult to pursue when I feel the weight of so much responsibility of me. Maybe that doesn’t make sense, or sounds dramatic, but the way I see it is it is hard to enjoy a walk along the river, chatting on the cell with friends, on my way down to Chelsea Market, when I feel like I should be doing laundry and taking care of the girls. I like to feel a sense of responsibility-closure. I used to stay at work late to finish an article because I didn’t want to bring it home with me. I’ll work to ten so I can go home and feel that weightlessness of No Work To Do. I will unpack as soon as I get home from a vacation or a weekend away so I can sit on the couch afterwards and feel free. But with parenting that pressure never, ever lifts. You always feel like you need to do something. And until we hire a team of house cleaners, cooks and launderers, I will always feel like there is a sink to clean and a pile of laundry to do and bookshelves to dust. I have a hard time enjoying myself when there are loose ends.

Anyway, I finally made it out. I went to see a movie, which initially I was resisting because my stomach was bothering me and the idea of popcorn wasn’t pleasing and I very much NEED to eat a medium popcorn with lots of butter (medium if I am alone; if Nicole is with me she usually makes me get a small) when I go to the movies, even though it pretty much always makes me feel sick to my stomach later (what we call in our house “popcorn sick.”). So if I am not having popcorn, I won’t go. But I ended up going, and didn’t have popcorn, sadly, regretfully, and saw 21. It isn’t going to win any awards, obviously, and the reviews were kind of awful, but I enjoyed it. The problem is, though, I think the point of the movie was Cheating is Wrong and Can Lead to Very Horrible Things, and yet I left the movie thinking I need to find a book on how to count cards and I need to get myself to Vegas asap and start my career in card-counting. I then went for a manicure, during which my manicurist clucked several times, letting me know I waited too long between appointments.

But I don’t like tension and I dislike fights more than the average person because for someone like me, my first thoughts are usually, “Well, I guess this relationship is over.” I get that they are a part of life and relationships but it still sucks. I didn’t really see healthy disagreements growing up. I saw messages written in lipstick on living room walls and the occasional police car in our driveway. And then, of course, divorce. Not the best message to impressionable youth.

I know that children have changed the landscape of our lives in so many great and amazing ways, but it is still going to be a struggle to find a way to balance family time with me time and us time and friend time and, someday, special alone time with each daughter. It is harder than I thought it would be. I still can’t shake the concept that if only my mother would offer to come in once a month or if only my mother would offer to come in once a season, then that would a carrot in front of me. But this isn’t my mother’s fault and she doesn’t owe me anything. I know I will be different when I am a grandmother, so I guess that is enough.

Tell me that three months down the road that I am going to have a popcorn movie lunch without sacrificing family time and without having Nicole take time off from work and without destroying the delicate balance in our household. I still think this is a riddle to solve when it might just be a reality pill to swallow.

Pictured above, what Sundays used to look like (newspaper reading!) and what weekends were all about (laying in the sun with crabs!). Those days are very, very long ago. I feel like I have moved onto a more fulfilling life, but I still feel the need for a dose of that old life too. Yes, I like crabs.


BA said...

I took my son to look at daycares when he was a year old. You could tell immediately that he was ready for it and that he could use the social interaction. Don't rule out the daycare option yet. Maybe wait a little longer and take them there just to see how they react to the setting. It actually made it a lot easier for me to drop him off after that initial visit. Also - what about getting some sort of laundry service for some of your laundry? If you have the extra money for it, it would be worth it to have someone else do that so you can spend time either alone, with Nicole, or with the whole family on Sundays instead of feeling like you have to get all your "chores" done. My new motto in life is that I'm not going to remember cleaning the house and doing laundry, but I'll remember taking my son to the park or the way he laughs when we're playing with bubbles. It took a litttle while for my OCD to let me get there, but eventually I got to a place where I feel like there is a good balance between the everyday things and the special things. Hope this helps.

K J and the kids said...

I went to school with a girl who had crabs (must be said in the Notting Hill, flatmate voice:) ha ha

Let me just get it out there. You and Nicole HAVE is a MUST, NON NEGOTIABLE...MUST have time alone together.
This means that you will need to release the fears inside and find someone related or otherwise to leave them with at night or on a weekend.
You need this. Nicole needs this. and those babies need this.
You will be a better mom. wife. person.

Do you have friends that would be willing to babysit. Does Nicole work with someone who has teenage daughters that would babysit. 15 year olds have ENDLESS energy. and yes...they can be trusted. Even if they turn on a Disney movie the entire time you are gone....who cares....the girls certainly won't.
Give up the control a little.

PLUS..this is a good age. A lot of time if you wait they start getting the "oh my god where is my mom" attitude. and you know's ok, it will pull at your heart strings as you walk away, but I PROMISE...they will be ok, and so will you :)

ms.bri said...

You won't hear any Leave 'Em pep talks from me as I am in the precise same boat. I feel guilty and ridiculous and angry that I feel guilty. It's coming out sort of differently but it's the same shit. I think I need to write my own post about this, a companion response, if you will. But my post will have a disclaimer telling everyone to NOT tell me to go out because I don't want to hear it. Ack.

MsPrufrock said...

I'm not coming from the exact same place as I went back to work full-time when P was 13 months old. Additionally, I never suffered from the guilt of leaving her because I am a horrible mother.

What IS similar (yes, there is something) is that I really felt a loss for all that me-time that I lacked once P was born. I used to savour it so much, and suddenly, it was gone. It is hardly a unique experience, so I hope you don't feel too guilty. I don't want to fall into the trap that Bri mentions, but then again, you do need to take that time for yourself, sorry. I am so much better with my daughter, and in such a better mood, if I have that opportunity for some peace and quiet. It IS needed.

MsPrufrock said...

I'm not coming from the exact same place as I went back to work full-time when P was 13 months old. Additionally, I never suffered from the guilt of leaving her because I am a horrible mother.

What IS similar (yes, there is something) is that I really felt a loss for all that me-time that I lacked once P was born. I used to savour it so much, and suddenly, it was gone. It is hardly a unique experience, so I hope you don't feel too guilty. I don't want to fall into the trap that Bri mentions, but then again, you do need to take that time for yourself, sorry. I am so much better with my daughter, and in such a better mood, if I have that opportunity for some peace and quiet. It IS needed.

Shelli said...

oh, dude - you'll so get over it - trust me. Just this weekend, in fact, Narda took Malka to the park for about 2 hours, just so I could clean the house without "help."

It was HEAVENLY. I LOVE Malka with every fiber of my being, but she's a LOT, and break is HEALTHY.

I didn't need the breaks however, until she was older. As in walking...

Hey - I'm thinking of taking her to the Children's museum sometime soon (after Passover) want to meet up with us?

Travelher and Pufferfish said...

I really hope that (a) you start doing a laundry service pickup and drop off (b) you find one trusting friend that you like enough to watch the twins, but don't like so much that you need to see her (c) after finding such friend you and Nicole go on a DATE! (d) you find yourself on Fire Island or some other sandy crabby place this summer with naked babies running around while you take a few moments to relax in the sun.

Mostly (d) because if you look that good in a bikini, you really need to make sure you wear it again:)

Anonymous said...

I think if you are not able to leave the kids yet, that maybe you should hire a cleaner, get some laundry service, and pay for more prepared foods from Whole Fds. And what about a mother's helper to start, as far as a babysitting option goes? The girls are still getting attention, while you can do your own thing and spy on the sitter all at once. To be completely honest, I couldn't afford any of that, but it seems that maybe you can, so why not? I would if I could.
Leaving your kids at childcare is never easy, but I think it will because more apparent as they grow older what benefits it might have for them, if not you. Give it time.
I've had many of the same feelings you're going through, and it's not easy. I hope you feel better soon.

starrhillgirl said...

Popcorn sick is the WORST. The absolute worst. I love popcorn beyond many, many other things and since my mid 20's, I have been getting popcorn sick. At first, it was just the popcorn from the big chain theater near my house, but now it happens at all the chain theaters in town. There must be something nasty in the oil they use. So sad. I now bring my own contraband popcorn to the movies.

I've done far more than my fair share of babysitting and all the above comments sounds good - particularly in combination. Get a teen-ager to come to the mother's helper thing. The teen-ager will fall in love with the girls and you'll get to know the teenager (read train the teen-ager to do what you want) and then - when you're ready - you'll have somebody who you and the girls know and trust ready to take care of them while you and Nicole have a hot date. You can wear that bikini, but leave the crab at home.

Anonymous said...

definitely a mother's helper. someone who is just another pair of hands for you. I was one when I was fifteen. Worked from 3 to 6 with a mother with b/b twins, one with down's. As you get used to them you 'll be able to take baby steps to walk out the door: first to the incinerator then the mailbox then an errand then maybe a ten minute massage at a cheap nail place.

psapph0 said...

We might make it all the way to the Czech Republic with them...but at least you would know that they are in good hands!

I have done the overnight thing with twins before. Actually, with twins, and older brother and a younger sister. (8, 3, 3, 1)

I can promise you and Nicole an evening during the summer... 3 months from now...

Kerry Lynn said...

I have the exact same situation over here.
I do get away every night to go to work but that's not exactly what I would consider "me time".
Weekends is literally the only time Chris and I see eachother so I really have to limit my weekend activity without him.
I do have a lot of family around but not when *I* need them. And like you, if they are able to come over during a week day I feel guilty going off on my own. So we just end up hanging out together.
If you ever come up with a solution let me know!
p.s. I will never complain about doing laundry ever again.

utRus said...

i have felt everything you describe here, but I am not nearly as articulate as you.

here's what i wound up doing: hired a nanny and told her right off the bat that i was going to be home most of the time. the first couple months i did not leave the house, really, while she was here. i did, however, get a lot of stuff done: cleaning, showering, cooking, phone calls, emails, etc. and i could monitor everything and "help" her. i guess you call this more of a "mother's helper" situation, though this person is a VERY experienced child-carer. much moreso than me. much.

so then, after a couple months when i could totally see that the babies LOVE her and she LOVES them and we have a trusting relationship, i began going out bit by bit -just a walk here (like you describe - just walking to walk, talk on the phone, listen to NPR, whatever) or a trip to the grocery store there. and NOW I feel very comfortable leaving the babies with her for long stretches of time and going to lunch with a friend or going to work out or going to do a job or whatever.

i think it's great that you have that free daycare option - wow! but i can also understand why you're not jumping at it. i did read somewhere that kids who went to daycare do much better in early elementary school if that means anything.

and to be honest, hard work at the therapist has also helped me figure out why i feel such a need to control everything that i never wanted to leave the babies to anyone else. one of the biggest realizations was that it's actually GOOD for them to be cared for by others and to see momma go out and then always come back.

judy said...

Is this not why we blog?
You guys might want to check out my most recent blog....with two kids lullabies are needed. And this one is especially sweet.

A said...

I did what some of the other commenters did and it worked great. I interviewed several babysitters, invited my favorite one to come meet the baby (3 mo old at the time), started having her over for 4 hours once a week while I hung around doing chores or email, then after about 4 of those visits started venturing out on small but increasing errands.

That system worked really well and I eventually branched out to using her for the occassional weekend evening out.

To find her I looked at ads posted at local businesses like the coffee shops, book store, etc.

You never knpw, you might find someone you really like AND there's no need to leave the girls until you feel like she's (or he, i guess) is no longer a stranger.

bleu said...

I have been back reading your blog and this one struck me. I do not leave Bliss well ever. I have a roomie/chosen family who I live with. I am a single mom by choice so there is not another parent but she is his aunt and I trust her. I can do grocery shopping and whatnot but aside from that I do not leave him. He is now 5.5 and still when I am running errands I often even call to check in and talk to him. To say I am clingy is an under statement. I have not, as yet, allowed myself even a yoga class but I have started a new thing. I take a very long bath with a book and read. Of course he is old enough now for me t do this but what I wanted to stress was the me time. I know to some it will sound ridiculous but for me taking that hour to lay in a tub and read a book of my choice (I even splurged and stocked up on books I had wanted from the used book store) is a big me time. I feel better after. It likely seems a tiny step but for me it has been pretty big.

I have no guilt for not leaving him ever, I have huge abandonment issues and made a choice to honor them with how I raise him. I could not do otherwise and so I accepted it. I do worry about as he gets older but for now it works.

Good luck.