I have been spending a fair amount of time lately with young colleagues and the children of close friends, all of whom are working mothers of little ones. I hear them lamenting the intensity of the pressure that they feel to be great Mom’s, great wives, housekeepers, cooks, cleaning ladies, soccer cheerleaders. Many of them wish, desperately and aloud, for “one day to myself!”
I hear them. Man, I remember, so well, when my one true desire in life was to have an entire afternoon without having to meet anyone’s needs. A few hours of blissful silence in which I might daydream, listen to music, nap, eat cookies, paint my toenails bright red. That isolation and solitude sounded like Heaven to me in those days, when I was scrambling to keep up with the demands of a husband and three kids while teaching other people’s children all day.
I remember that wish.
Now I find myself at home on a beautiful Sunday, all alone to do whatever I would like. Paul is away on a hike with a friend. He was away overnight last week with our kids, and will be away all of next weekend hiking with two of our oldest friends. I’m happy for him! Mostly. In the old days, the thought of an entire weekend home alone was absolutely paradise. I would have been packing his bags and making his lunch……
But this is now. This is the life of the empty nest. This is the second Sunday with me home alone. The dogs and I took a nice long walk. I made my breakfast and enjoyed it over the Sunday paper. I did some gardening and weeding, washed the floors, threw in a load of laundry. I read for a while, made some bread, worked on some ideas for the next to last week of school.
Everything is neat and clean. Everything is done.
I am sitting on the sofa, counting the minutes until Paul comes home so I will have someone to talk to.
I miss the demands that came with being the Mom. I miss the action, the noise, the need, the endless list of things that I needed to do. I miss my usefulness.
And that, my friends, is the key to my current distress. I have a great job, good friends, a loving family. I read, I write, I bake, I garden. But I can’t seem to find anything in life that makes me feel useful, in the primal way that motherhood made me feel it.
“Be careful what you wish for.”
I think I’m having too much of a good thing.
10 thoughts on “What I wish for….”
I think you are making a brilliant and universal point. We are trained to believe that we will be happiest when we are ‘serving’ ourselves and that is hardly ever true. How many people do you know who swore that as soon as their kids grew up they were going to buy a Harley/travel the world/do whatever they pleased – and yet even when they do they are hardly ever happy?
My youngest child is 21 (I have three kids) so if I die now I won’t be leaving any ‘children’ behind – which believe it or not is a bit of a relief to me!
I have a manic life – two very ill parents (now both with dementia) for the past five years in particular it has been hard going and even so I felt exactly the same as you about my kids growing up. I felt as if I was at a loss as to how I could do something useful in the world. Having children meets that need for most of us because it is so important. But then they grow up and even caring for elderly people is no substitute as it is something – in a way – that could be done by anybody. While when my children were little if I died – even though they would be cared for – there was nobody who could substitute for me. Their mother. It’s a pretty huge dose (and a long time) of being indispensable!
So I got to thinking that the key to the vacuum was to see what it was that only I could do – small, medium and large somethings – but necessarily unique to me. As there will only ever be one of me, exactly what is it that I have to give? A contribution to the world as unique as being a mother to my children. I haven’t solved it but since trying to do this became my focus I feel better. Maybe that’s all there is to do? Maybe I’m missing the point completely. I don’t know. But I do know how you feel and I suspect that it is a much more widespread malady than people know. After all – we’re all unique so it stands to reason that we should (necessarily) make a unique contribution to the world and yet so often we get pulled into being part of an homogenous lump instead.
Long comment – sorry! Got me thinking!
Thank you so much for your “long comment”; I just keep feeling as if I am the only woman out there who is feeling this level of loss. It is enormously helpful to know that I am not alone. And I really embrace your idea of “uniquely me”, and finding what it is that I alone can give to the world. what a wonderful challenge for me to find!!!
…aw, this was so sweet. The quiet wrestling is just the introduction to your third act: writer. The bitter-sweet time will turn out to be a gift, I think, and inform your writing in a very lovely way. Looks like it has already started. All the best. ET
Thank-you, Eleanor! Nothing better to start off the week than being referred to as a “writer” by one of my favorite writers! Enjoy your birthday week!
What the world needs now is . . . a really good mom. I know you are already doing for other kids what you did for your own, but I think beyond teaching there is such a need for genuinely nurturing people like you in the world. You’ll figure it out.
On a different note, why aren’t you out there hiking?
I hope I do figure it out!
I used to hike with him all the time, but it isn’t fun anymore when it is a rigorous hike. I can still do it, but the amount of sweat, strain and sore muscles makes it a chore rather than a pleasure. I still do the smaller hikes; we have several nice little mountains nearby to visit on a Sunday afternoon. My back and my blood pressure advise me not to overdo it!
It sounds as if you need more time with Paul. Three weekends in a row is a lot. You spend all week working and look forward to your time with him and then you’re home, and he’s not, and it’s back to work on Monday.
Precisely! What makes it hard on him is the fact that in the past, I didn’t mind his rare trips away. And this is a first for us; three weekends in a row!
Thanks for the couples therapy; you are absolutely on the money. Where do I send the fee?!
To any animal rescue group you like or to Elizabeth Warren’s campaign!
I don’t blame him for wanting to get out hiking after the long winter, I’m sure he has cabin fever. But there are so many wonderful day trips for couples to enjoy in New England.
I am the woman of whom you speak. I can remember listening to friends who were newly separated and had every other weekend off talk about how initially their kid-free weekends meant sitting around being sad. Then they developed into times to do the things they wanted to do without their children (i.e. grocery shopping, major cleaning projects) and then evolved into times to pursue new hobbies or read books. And I can remember thinking, “Do you have to be separated or get divorced to get this alone time?” Then there were times Brian and I went away for a weekend, and as soon as we got to the hotel room, I would sit on the edge of the bed in the quiet room and say “There’s no one who needs me to get food, pick up after them, help them. I don’t know what to do.” So I get the feeling lost thing when we get the break, and I get the crazy times when we Moms would do anything for a small break. I guess we just need to make more time for ourselves more often than we do. Enjoy your alone time and cherish it just as much as the busy times! You’ve earned it.