By Eliska Counce, TSB Contributor
Spring break! I’m still musing how I morphed from the college student who spent this time largely intoxicated and wearing as few clothes as possible into the doughy mother of today that now spends spring break in places like zoos and museums and the canto of hell that is the Lego store at the mall. Where did the trash can punch, belly shirts, baby oil, and iodine days go? Le sigh. With all due apologies to Bob Dylan, the times, indeed, have a’changed.
For me, spring break now has become a study in survival instead of a week of beer pong and sunburn. Spring break, 21st century momma style, is now figuring out how to entertain the heathens until those cruel teachers open up their school doors again. And this year, I experienced particular trepidation as Hubs got it into his head that the family should go camping. Yep. You read that right. Camping. Outdoors. He wanted to take them fishing. Who in their right minds puts a sharp hook on the end of a long string for a kid under the age of eight to fling around on a pole? It can’t end well.
Full disclosure: I am what can only be generously called “indoorsy.” I don’t mind the outdoors, per se. As long as it’s screened in. And has an outlet for my hair dryer. But I am repulsed and, indeed (I can own it) even frightened by most bugs. Mosquitoes consider me a fine delicacy. My pheromones must smell like barbeque sauce. And I don’t think I’ve been without internet access since…well, the dawn of the internet.
Continued frankness: a “vacation” for me does not involve traveling anywhere with my three children under the age of eight. This is not “time off.” It’s just parenting in more stressful circumstances. I know, I know. I’m about to get blasted by you June Cleavers who seem to actually enjoy making peanut butter crackers in a moving car, but I’m coming out of the mommy closet on this one. It’s just a beating for me. Have you ever traveled with small children? They are the rock stars. They have wild mood swings and unreasonable demands.You’re just the roadie. There may or may not be peeing out the sliding door of the mini-van. It’s just ugly.
So I must confess I was not looking forward to this planned spring break camping trek: the packing, the unpacking, the hauling of food, the non-stop confusion…all jokes aside, I was starting to feel overwhelmed and resentful. My kids have been at each other’s throats this week. The only way it could be worse would be to trap us all in two rooms in the middle of Nowhere, Oklahoma. It became more and more clear to me I just might end up committing Harakiri if forced to camp.
Now, being a female, I started feeling guilty, because if you possess ovaries, this is what one does. Hell, being a mother, you get used to the constant and grinding feeling of inadequacy, so my dread of this camping trip just pegged out the Guilt-O-Meter. I want to show my kids a good time. But I was going to hate this experience, perhaps even affect their good time. Not to mention perhaps strangle my cheerful spouse. What’s a mom to do?
Option A: Go camping. Sulk. Scratch. Not sleep. Eat a hot dog off a stick. Come home to a filthy house that hasn’t been cleaned because it’s spring break and the kids are home. Stress over packing, food, timing, refereeing. Become overcome with the noise, the confusion, the…oh, I’ll just say it…just too much damn togetherness for me. Because this is true confession time, ladies. I am here to say, fearlessly, what a lot of you are thinking: I just wish I could have a few days of vacation for myself. Away from my family. Please, put down the pitch fork.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I adore my brood. I love Hubs. But since the birth of my first child almost nine years ago, I have been alone about 10 minutes. Okay, I’m exaggerating. But it’s been a challenge to say the least. In order to raise several small children without lasting emotional damage to anyone, there is an alchemy of self-care that a woman must participate in or become the main character in The Yellow Wallpaper. You can’t pour a gallon of milk in a shot glass, people, but that’s what a lot of moms do.
So, it’s camping eve. And it occurs to me I could do something radical. There was, in actuality, an Option B: I could choose to not go camping. I was ashamed to even admit I had the thought. At first. But the more I thought about it, the more intoxicating the idea became. Two days alone? The possibility of sleeping for maybe 20 hours straight? Wiping no one’s heinie but mine? But I was wracked with shame. Could I dare? What kind of mother wants her family to go on a vacation without her?
Turns out: ALL OF US. But wanting time to yourself for women is like admitting you’re a Nickelback fan: you expect to be ridiculed. To care for ourselves as fiercely as we care for our family and friends? Preposterous. But the thought of not bathing, feeding, or shuttling short people to lessons of every stripe for two days? Having a chance to clean ALL THE THINGS and have them stay that way for more than half an hour? I started wanting this break like a fat kid wants cake.
Oh, the mental struggle. But as a trail-blazer and mom advocate, I decided to bring up the matter to Hubs. He is a prince among men. He told me no problem. He could handle it all (and he can, y’all, he’s a toddler whisperer). He said enjoy. He said he got it. I just about wept in relief. I had been given the green light for my camping reprieve.
Now, there are those out there who would judge me. Judge on. All I’m saying is for me, there isn’t much a Twilight movie marathon, a cold bottle of pinot, and a slab of Spanish cheese can’t cure. The house has been my own private spa for the last 20 four hours. It, as the kids say, IS ALL GOOD.
Moral to the story? Listen to yourself. There are a lot of people who would call me “selfish” for taking 48 hours to myself while my spouse hauls the kids for their s’more and hiking time. I am actually probably related to most of these people. But, y’all: I am the expert on my own mental health, on my challenges, on what I need to stay balanced, on my marriage, on my kids and their need. NOBODY ELSE IS. As long as I am working with my spouse and taking his needs into account, it’s not only okay to do what you need to care for yourself. It’s a must.
Get what you need, mommas! And daddies and singletons too, for that matter. Even though I felt some guilt at grabbing this time alone initially, I am now proud of myself for being brave enough to shout down the Committee. You know, that group of critical voices in your head that try to shame you into being perfect? Do you, y’all. If it works for your family, it doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s system. Get the balance you need. It makes you a better parent. I am going to be rested and ready to put my Supermom cape back on in a big way thanks to my spring break.
So you have permission from this professional: Get a real break for yourself. Do some radical relaxation. The kind that makes you think you might need to feel guilty about it. Practice some fanatical self care. Come on in. The water, so to speak, is fine. I’ve got to confess I’m more relaxed than I have been in a long time. I wish you the same. But I’ve got to go…the Brad Pitt film festival is about to start.
Happy spring break indeed, y’all!