It’s a cloudy Sunday at the end of April. It’s chilly, not oddly cold like it has been nor warm like it should be in spring. But it’s comfortable outside with a jacket.
I remind my family I’m going to the Botanical Garden after church. I remind them there are leftovers in the fridge for lunch and that the 11-year-old has math homework. I ask if said fifth-grader is open to working with his dad on his science project. I receive a sharp, “No.” Okay, that project can wait till later.
My son grumbles, “Do you have to go?”
“Yes,” I reply, “I do. I really do.”
My going to the Botanical Garden on this day is non-negotiable. If I don’t take this me time I’m going to be a much meaner, less grounded person, but if I ask permission, I’ll never get it.
It’s not that my son and husband openly love my company. In fact, had I chosen to stay home they would have complained about the lunch I made, grumbled about doing lawn chores and homework and probably picked a fight about something stupid. But the fact that I’m not home just means a change they’re not used to, and secretly they do both like spending time with me. It makes me feel good that they (at least secretly) like to be with me, but not good enough or guilty enough to not insist on this “me time.”
I bought a membership to the NY Botanical Garden so I could go every season. It’s 50 minutes from my house and has acres of beautiful seasonal gardens. It’s home to one of the few old-growth forests left in New York and is one of my favorite places on earth.
Despite my promise to myself, I haven’t been to the garden since last summer. I missed fall, I missed winter, I missed the Orchid Show. For three years running, I have sworn I was going to see the spring blooms and failed every year. I usually make it by Mother’s Day (my yearly request) but in the Northeast that means I miss some of my favorite blooms: cherry blossoms, daffodils and magnolias.
I have been trying to go for two weeks and haven’t been able to squeeze it in between working, healing, homework help, after-school activities and dinner. I decided Friday night I was simply not missing the blooms again this year. I announced I was going Sunday morning if the weather was nice. The husband heard me, but the kid ignored me as he often does when I say something he doesn’t want to hear.
The benefits of going far outweigh the guilt of not going. Yes, I do feel guilty—as all mothers do—when I insist on “me time.” Sure, I also feel selfish. But here’s what I know and am learning to appreciate about myself: I need to be alone to recharge my batteries. When my energy reserves get spent on daily living, the only way I can replenish them is by being alone.
I laugh at myself because I’m alone all day writing between 8am-2:30pm, but I’m under pressure to accomplish a set number of working tasks before I start my unpaid job of mother, provider and wife. I can tell when the “alone-itch” is coming because I get irritable, stop enjoying the time I have with my friends and family, and dream about being alone in a cabin far, far away.
So I’m doing a public service for the world by taking an afternoon to myself. Am I crazy? Maybe. A diva? Possibly. Determined not to get sick again? Absolutely.
Here’s what I do know on a bigger scale – every mother needs some time off. She may not be as extreme as I am and need to escape for long intervals of time, but our sanity as mothers in this crazy, unrelenting, suffocating world is to insist on something that gives us air. I call it “putting on our oxygen mask first.”
So, think about what it is that you need this week to recalibrate yourself. Don’t ask for permission, just take it. Your family will survive without you. Using the oxygen mask analogy – what good are you if you’re on the floor because you put on everyone else’s mask and ran out of your own air? How can you take care of anyone else if you don’t take care of yourself first?
And to those who support moms – kids, husbands, boyfriends, girlfriends – give the mom in your life support to do this for herself this week. Don’t guilt trip her; don’t be all passive-aggressive. Figure out how to feed yourself for g*d’s sake. Remember: a happy mom is a happy home.
By Tracy White
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