Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
Dodging the Storm

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Dear Marjo,

Help me before I run away. All day, every day, someone is tugging at my sleeve. It’s all “I’m hungry!” or “He’s grabbing!” or “Look at me! Look at me! Look at me!” Then, when it’s not my kids, it’s my husband, venting about his job (so boring) or talking about football (again, boring). It never, never stops.

I’m so desperate for quiet time that I actually hide in the bathroom. But I can’t even do that without the kids shouting through the door. Even the dog can’t seem to get by without my presence.

I’m a dyed-in-the-wool introvert, so I know that being alone is how I recharge my batteries. But this feels so much worse than that. There are times when I fantasize about leaving, just walking out the door without looking back. I feel so guilty when I imagine it, but I can’t stop thinking about how blissfully peaceful my life would be if I were alone.

How do I get these thoughts out of my head and embrace the chaos?

Signed,

Hush Puppy

 

Dear Hush Puppy,

I’m sorry but I cannot answer your question just yet. I’m too busy weeping in my own bathroom remembering how it felt to be at the center of a hurricane. The eye of the storm isn’t as calm as people say. You’re spinning in wind that’s blowing 120 miles an hour, all kinds of shit is flying at you from every direction, and that tiny glimmer of blue sky above is so far away that it’s nothing but an unfair tease. Who could blame you for wanting to step outside the storm? You’d be crazy not to. Even the most extroverted, chaos-loving mom needs a break now and again.

I’ve had similar escape fantasies, especially when I’m in the car. I’ll be driving to the grocery store, or the post office, or some other mundane place, when suddenly I think: Canada. I glance at the gas gauge: full. It’s only a three-hour drive, and if I start right now I’ll cross the border before my kid gets out of school. Then, after a couple of nights in a charming little hotel (room service! clean sheets!), I will settle in a small cottage where the only sound I hear is the waves lapping on the beach. A cat might be good company, but no dogs, and I might even throw my phone into the ocean.

This is the part where I say that reality came crashing down around my shoulders, or that I was overcome by devoted love for my family, or remembered that good moms don’t do bad things. But I can’t say any of those things because I actually did it once. I never got as far as the hotel, and I didn’t buy a cottage, get a cat, or toss my phone. But I did cross the border with my windows down, hair flying in the wind, singing to the radio and feeling giddy with freedom. Then I had a cup of tea, refilled my gas tank, and drove home, not because I had to, but because I wanted to.

That single day of freedom made me so happy that I stopped suffering in silence. I told my husband that I needed his support so I could go away, by myself, every so often. I was prepared to argue so I could make my case, or, at best, to gently explain that it didn’t mean I didn’t love my family. I was not prepared for him to be excited. “Yes!” he said. “Absolutely! Any time!” I felt a little chagrined. I mean jeez. Why not just pack my luggage already? But then I realized that the eye of the hurricane isn’t the only noisy, chaotic place. That damned storm is hard and even painful for everybody who’s caught in it. Everybody, of course, meaning my family. We all needed a break from our regular routine. My son doesn’t feel best loved by an angry, impatient mom. And my husband hardly likes coming home to a resentful wife.

Now I take a weekend away every three months or so, and I go away for an entire week once a year. Do I feel guilty? Yes, a little. But the world doesn’t fall apart when I leave, and it’s a good reminder that I can’t control anything except my own self. As for my husband and son, they have their own giddy, subversive break. I always return to a kitchen full of pizza boxes, a living room littered with Star Trek DVDs, and every light in the house turned on. I’m happy, they’re happy—what’s not to love?

So, at the risk of being the devil on your shoulder, I say go for it. Run away. Ditch the supposedly calm eye of the storm and the rest of it as well. You do need a break, and even though it feels like you want to be gone forever, it’s much more likely that you just need some time to breathe, laugh, cry, sing, or just be blessedly silent. And it might feel weird, but maybe your family needs a break, too. Why not stop the chaos for everyone? Calm skies and a light breeze will be a welcome relief for everyone, beginning with you.

XO,

Marjo

Do you have a question about the joys, complexities, or challenges of being a mother? Email askmarjo AT gmail.com and I’ll do my best to answer it. Please do not bend, fold, mutilate, or otherwise contort this column into anything it's not meant to be: friendly advice from one mom to another. My opinions and thoughts, no matter how heartfelt, are not a substitute for professional counseling or medical care.



Marjorie Osterhout is a writer, editor, and storyteller. Her essays and articles have appeared in anthologies like It’s A Boy (Seal Press) and magazines including Parents, Parenting, and ePregnancy. She also spent a whirlwind three years travel writing for Disney. She is a former managing editor, columns editor, and columnist (“Dear Marjo”) for Literary Mama.


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