Mothering, guilt and this-too-shall-pass

For The Baltimore Sun

It seems like 10,000 years ago, but really was only about four(ish), when I was sitting on the living room floor in pajamas, bouncing my baby daughter, who was crying, and attempting to read a book to my twin boys, who were whining and fighting over which one would get to sit on my free leg.

Since having children in 2010, this scene – or a similar one – had become all too familiar, repeated day after day, week in and week out. I worked. I mothered. I slept (badly) and then I woke up and did it all again the next day. I was tugged on, tired – and trapped.

Sitting there trying to reason with and wrangle two 3-year-olds, I thought of the old Calgon commercial – “Take me away!” – and fought the urge to leave all three noisy children on the floor while I hid in the bathroom.

This is my life, I remember glumly thinking. And then I felt guilty.

And so, when four friends planned a weekend girls’ getaway and urged me to come along, I tried to get out of it. Despite having a husband better at parenting and most household duties than I am, I felt unable to leave my three babies behind. I imagined myself alone for three days with “the crazies,” as we called them, and felt guilt about inflicting that kind of chaos on him. I wanted – needed – the break from unrelenting motherhood, but I felt frozen in place.

Fast-forward to present day. Our boys are 7; our daughter is 5. Just since this month began, I’ve been on two weeknight dates with my husband, and we’re planning a Saturday outing. We ate French food and saw “Hamilton” during a romantic New York City anniversary trip. I went to a Sunday afternoon book club meeting at a Virginia winery (in a limo, no less). And I crawled home at 3 a.m. last Saturday after meeting out-of-town friends for my alma mater’s can’t-miss Homecoming festivities. In between, because of all the fun events, I also had to miss bedtimes and soccer games for hair and nail appointments, and one long chunk of a day was spent shopping for something perfect to wear.

So that’s the good news for new and newish mothers: There is light at the end of the tunnel. You will get you back eventually. Hang in there!

No longer am I the woman who is trapped on the floor with her babies, desperately looking for the nearest exit sign. I have a life, a full one, accented by memberships on two volunteer boards and a professional organization, plus running twice(ish) a week.

Rep. Maxine Waters would be proud of me: I have reclaimed my time!

But here’s the bad news: I still feel guilty.

This was an abnormally full month. But volume of October activities notwithstanding, what is it about taking time for oneself that triggers the self-flagellation? I know I’m a good-enough mother, and that my children have all the things they need and very many of the things they want. They are showered with love but not coddled. They are bright and independent. They’re fine.

But there’s been no time to keep up our nighttime “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” read-alouds. I worry I haven’t been around to hug and kiss them enough. I don’t know any of the parents in my daughter’s kindergarten class, as I knew them when my boys were her age. If love is a verb, can it be done when I’m not there? Have I swung the me-time pendulum too far?

Guilt, why can’t I quit you?!

I’ve worked hard over the last few years not to let guilt or its toxic cousin shame rule my life. But every now and then, the g-word, at least, can be useful.

Sometimes, it’s there to tell you something.

The overwhelmed woman struggling with her needy babies needed a break; the busy woman always on the go needs some quality time at home.

This weekend, I think it’s time to pull out those pajamas pants, get down on the floor and bask in the noise of three beautiful children fighting to be the one who gets to sit closest to me.

Tanika Davis is a former Baltimore Sun reporter who works as vice president at a communications firm. She and her husband have twin 7-year-old sons, a 5-year-old daughter, a perpetually messy house and rapidly appearing gray hairs. She also needs a nap. She can be reached at tanika@thehatchergroup.com. Her column appears monthly.

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