This Feels Like Maternity Leave, So I Left.

I’m typing this from a shitty hotel room a full ten minutes from my home. Three days away from my family, in silence, alone. The idea of doing this, identifying and tending to only my needs for a bit, then hopefully returning home recharged and nice, came from a friend and mentor. (Here’s Tasha’s podcast, too, which soon I will be upon — that grammar feels right).

Actually doing it, actually going away instead of just fantastizing about it, is something I couldn’t do until exactly right now. It would have felt impossibly selfish anytime before now to say to my husband, and then my children, “I’m going to go spend money on just me and leave home because I need time to myself, away from all of you.” Of course, I didn’t say it like that. I couched it in my plan to write my novel while I’m gone (which is true, but not the reason I left), and padded it with all of the fun things I’m jealous they’ll get to do with just daddy while I’m gone (also true, except for the jealous part- the relief of handing off that responsibility, the care, is enormous). I don’t have to worry or care about what they’re doing…and no one has to worry or care about what I’m doing- or to ask a million questions about it, or feel left out or abandoned while I do it, or bring to me their boredeom or snack needs.

It’s a relief not to feel like I’m abandoning all of them constantly in a million different ways, because I’m abandoning them absolutely, in just the one way. I’m not half tending to their needs while I half-ass take care of my own, I’m attending to none of theirs, while I full-ass see to mine.

Prior to this, the only time I’ve ever been alone in a hotel room was for work. Going to medical conferences felt like vacation, even though I was suited up, attending lectures in frigid convention centers eight hours a day. I didn’t have to talk to anyone, perform for anyone, please anyone, and at night, I got to decide what I wanted to eat, watch, read, where I’d go. No one else had to matter to me, just for a few days. Once I went on an overnight training while my daughter was an infant and I was still breastfeeding. I had to take all of my breast pump supplies, to figure out when and where to pump, to subtly steal away without anyone wondering, to store the milk I pumped to keep it from getting deadly and then how to fly it home without it looking like a bomb…even with all THAT, having a night alone in a hotel room was absolute vacation.

In those cases, I was being paid to learn. Now? I’m making none money and my entire schedule is my own. It’s frightening and thrilling.

I’ve been trying to put my finger on what being home with the children and my husband all-day, every-day for the last….183 days straight days feels like. Minus my husband, who then went to work every day, the last time I had this much kid time was maternity leave; the ninety days when I had the first newborn, and then 2.5 years later, another ninety days, then with a toddler and a newborn (it was winter and the pediatrician recommended we not send the toddler to the germ farm daycare center- yes, you read that correctly, my pediatrician hates me).

I remember during maternity leaves feeling a combo of things: 1) fortune/guilt that we were financially able to keep me (unpaid) off of work that long, 2) overwhelming fatigue, fear, stress of taking care of a newborn, 3) like I’d lost myself and was afraid of this new me.

All of that is coming back to me now, during the pandemic. I thought then, and I’ve started thinking now:

Shouldn’t I be grateful for this blessing and opportunity, “time that I’d never get back?” Then why is this SO hard!? Why does it feel like my identity is 100% the tasks at hand? I’ve been consumed entirely for MONTHS by their maintenance and well-being and survival, I long for a few days away from the person/people I made, whom I love more than anything…but that’s unacceptable….isn’t it? I’d made my bed, now I had to lie in it/get up from it seventeen times a night. I want relief, but since I don’t feel like I deserve that, I want what I am doing to matter.

Back then, I couldn’t say any of this out loud. I was afraid of being the bitch who didn’t love her kids right. I was afraid of being mean and selfish, of showing I wasn’t meant for this life, this divine task of servitude, of motherhood. So I worked harder, sacrificed more, asked for less. I was afraid if I whispered my need for help or escape, the gods might harm my nest, my precious, miraculously alive and well, babies. So, I kept it inside.

Now, this time around, they’re heartier and I’m more resilient to shame, so here I am in a hotel. I’ve also decided that there’s no alter I’m supposed to be sacrificing my life on in order to be a mom. I won’t lose my identity to their need of me- it’s not good for any of us. I’ve learned to place value on myself, independently and including, what I bring to our family. I can honor my need to be alone and have them manage without me. I’ve realized, as my sense of claustrophobia and bitterness increased over the past six months, that in my efforts not to fail anyone, I was failing myself. I never included myself on the list of people who needed me.

So, now I am. I am learning.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go do whatever-the-fuck-I-wanna-do. Toodles.

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Find me on Ravishly, The Belladonna Comedy, Pregnant Chicken, & more. Being a human is hard- maybe the kids can help., Twitter: @sarahzimzam

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