My daughters spent Christmas with their father and his extended family in Washington and Oregon. All told, they were away for 21 days. They’ve spent time with their Dad since he and I split up, even overnight, but never anything so long as this, and never far enough away that he couldn’t bring them home early, which he frequently did.
This was the first time in four years–the very first time since I’ve officially been a single mother–that I wasn’t on call. It just so happened that this time coincided with my annual vacation, when the university at which I work was closed. For all but two of the days that my daughters were away, I was off work, my time to be spent as I wished.
As you might imagine, I had grand plans for my 19 days home alone. I would finally unpack the last of the boxes from my move nearly a year and a half ago. Maybe I would even find my swimsuit! I would replace some of the plumbing in my bathroom and wash all the carpet in my home. I would get caught up on laundry and bake in preparation for our annual cookie decorating party and Girl Scout troop gingerbread house event. I would get a massage and reorganize my kitchen. I would clean the children’s room from top to bottom and restore our spare room to a guest room from the little boy room it would no longer be, my attempt to adopt having failed earlier in the year.
I sat down to write out a schedule for my vacation and began to feel stress creeping into my shoulder muscles. Vacation, a staycation especially, should feel stress-free, right? I put away my notebook and decided to wing it. The only things on my schedule would be physical therapy, the daily phone call to the girls, a visit with extended family who would be in town, and returning to work and picking up the kids. (And I managed to miss going back to work. I completely missed my first day back, instead sleeping in and washing my carpets. Big oops!)
I spent the first two days cleaning like a crazy person. My living room became a pleasure to be in rather than a reminder that I was behind on laundry. My kitchen counters returned to a functional state. I baked for fun, rather than under the gun. I sat by the fireplace and read by firelight with a cat in my lap.
After the first frenzy of cleaning, I found myself doing a lot of reading and writing on parenting and other matters, processing getting dumped (in March 2012) and my ex-husband’s rapid remarriage, the end of my army wife career, and the genuine preference I have for romance-free life. It was therapeutic, thinking, without my daughters’ everyday physical and emotional needs front and centre.
Don’t get me wrong. I feel plenty guilty for all that I failed to accomplish during my 19 days of liberty/missing my kids. I feel guilty despite knowing that I needed the time to grieve the demise of my mother-father-and-two-kids family, grieve the loss of my relationship with my former in-laws, and accept the knowledge that I have only myself to rely on.
After the highly scheduled life of a single working mother of schoolchildren, it was foreign, but necessary, to ignore the clock and calendar and just be. I think I have more of a sense of self now than I’ve had in years. I think I’ll be a better mother for taking this time to just be.
When was the last time you took a moment for yourself, to just be?
Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012. She is the divorced mother of 7-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. She lives with them and their 3 cats in the Austin, TX suburbs and works full time as a business analyst. She retired her personal blog, Double the Fun, when the girls entered elementary school and also blogs at Adoption.com and Multicultural Mothering.