My daughter craves daily adventures and excitement. At 2.5 years old, she already has more friends than I’ve accrued in a lifetime. She dances for the mailman. She begs for play dates constantly, which I do my best to arrange and facilitate. We have memberships to the zoo, the museum, the science center. We go to puppet shows, concerts, fairs. I’ve memorized the quickest route to every playground in the city. It’s never enough. She always wants to know what we’re doing today, who we’re going to see, who’s coming over, what’s next, next, next.
I hate it all.
I relish days at home, puttering around, reading together, making crafts. I get terrible social anxiety and hate meeting new people. Plus, I’m a single parent, so all of this adventure-making and people-engaging falls to me. I’ve forced myself to be personable, to make eye contact and introduce myself. I endure all the chaos and noise with a smile.
My daughter has such a beautiful spirit that to watch her in full tilt can take your breath away. But I am so tired. Am I just a selfish asshole? Should I just suck it up forever? Is there any way I can get some rest without sacrificing her happiness? What if I’m not the best mother for my baby?
Missing a Piece
Dear Missing a Piece,
When you’re anticipating your perfect baby, people always ask, “What’s the first thing you’re going to do when you aren’t pregnant anymore?” They expect you to say you’re going to consume something that’s off-limits to a pregnant person, like sushi or blue cheese, or that old stand-by, hard liquor.
So I got quite a few nervous looks in response when I said, “I’m going to ask my husband to take the baby somewhere else for five minutes, so I can be the only human in the room.” This is not a proper answer, but, for me, it was the real answer. It had been nine long months since I was alone in my own body and what I wanted more than anything was just to be by myself.
Growing up, I thought I was an extrovert. I’m loud. I like to laugh. If there was a stage anywhere around, I wanted to be on it. But then I read the actual definitions for “extrovert” and “introvert,” and—surprise!—it was the latter that fit me best. I’m guessing that you, like me, are an introvert, someone who derives energy from being alone, rather than with other people. It’s not that we don’t like other people, it’s just that sometimes (OK, a lot of the time) we need a break. We need a little time to ourselves to check out, fall silent, recharge our batteries so we can go back to being our sparkly, charming selves.
The thing is, though, when you’ve got a tiny kid around, you never ever ever ever ever ever ever get to take a break. And let me be the first to validate your feeling that it is HARD. I completely understand your desire to sit quietly and read or knit or eat an entire bag of chocolate-covered pretzels while hate-reading aspirational lifestyle blogs. I feel you. I really do.
But I’ve got some bad news. It’s going to be a while before those options are available to you with any kind of regularity. Since you’re a single mom, you’ve got to do the work of two people (and, let’s be honest, raising a kid often feels like the work of three or four people), but I hope you’re able to give yourself some relief by handing your daughter off to family or the occasional babysitter. Maybe some of those play dates she craves can turn into childcare swaps: you can take the kids for a few hours on Monday, and the other parent can take them for a few hours on Thursday.
I also hope you’re making the most of your daughter’s nap times. Not in the parenting-magazine-usage of that phrase (Get dinner started! Clean your bathrooms!), but in the way that meets your needs. Tuck that girl in and shut yourself down for an hour. Play Candy Crush on your smartphone. Put on moisturizing gloves and sit completely still. Pick up some of your daughter’s abandoned craft supplies and make lanyards. Recharge.
And for all the other times? For those long, spooled out hours and days and weeks and months? Well, Missing, you’re just going to have to power through them.
When I was childfree and had all the time in the world to do things like attend random yoga classes, I once attended a random yoga class. The instructor kept using this phrase as she moved us from one lactic-acid inducing pose to the next: Rest in motion. If I had had any strength left in my arms, I would have chucked a foam yoga block at her. Rest in motion? What did that even mean? You can’t rest while in motion! These are mutually exclusive states!
But that phrase returned to me time and time again as I tended to my young son who was never comfortable having me out of his sight for a moment. Rest in motion, I would whisper to myself, and rest in motion I did.
I found little moments when I could take a few deep breaths. I would put on music in the car and retreat inward. I would take him to the grocery store when I didn’t have any shopping to do and let him run around touching all the cereal boxes. Sometimes he would be distracted for two or three or five full minutes and I could almost pretend I was alone.
It doesn’t feel good to talk about these needs because now that we have children, only their needs are supposed to matter. We’re supposed to love them so completely, so decisively, that their needs become our needs. Whatever makes them happy is supposed to make us happy.
But I don’t think being so subsumed into another human being is healthy. You’re a mom now, yes. But you’re still you. You still have the needs and desires you’ve always had. This does not make you a selfish asshole. This makes you a person.
You are without a doubt the best mother for your baby. Look how hard you’re working to give her everything she wants. This is going to get easier. She’s getting older, a little older every day. Soon she’ll be able to entertain herself for brief periods of time. And then longer ones. And then she’ll be off to birthday parties and sleepovers. And then she’ll drive herself to the mall on weekends. And then she’ll be organizing pizza parties for the girls in her dorm.
And you’ll be on your couch watching movies, moving silently through your quiet house. You’ll recharge your batteries so that when she comes home on the weekends you can gossip and laugh and talk all night long.
Aubrey Hirsch is the author of “Why We Never Talk About Sugar.” Her work has appeared widely in print and online. You can learn more about her at www.aubreyhirsch.com or follow her on Twitter: @aubreyhirsch