The other day I was squinting at a darkened highway shrouded in fog. It was just after dark and Nia and I were driving back from the tiny little historic town of Pescadero. She was supposed to be asleep.
It had been a long day. A great day, but a long one nonetheless: early morning wrangling to get out the door to preschool (one cup of tea), trying to fit as much work as possible into the preschool hours (2 cups of black tea + a cup of coffee), stop for a smoothie on the way up the coast (acai berries boost energy, right?), a walk around a lovely goat-cheese farm that included balancing & walking along literally a hundred eucalyptus stumps, dinner with my aunt (a glass of wine + a cup of coffee), exploring beachy bluffs along Highway 1 on the way back down the coast...
So, a great day. No doubt.
But by dark, I was ready for a break. (Go the &*@! to sleep, baby! -- in my best Samuel L. Jackson voice...) After all, that little dusky beach excursion was secretly & craftily designed to squeeze out the last wiggles, eat up some time to let the sun dip below the horizon, and make the warm car the perfect thing to lull my little one to exhausted, happy sleep.
What was actually happening in the back seat on that dark, foggy drive home:
"Mama, I'm hungry."
*Click!* (the backseat reading lamp goes on)
"OK, honey. I don't have anything for you to eat right now. Please turn off the light."
*Click!* (the light goes off)
"Mama, I'm hungry."
"Thanks, baby. I know you're hungry."
*Click!* (the light goes on)
"Mama, I want 'Ragweed.'"
"Please turn off the light. Ok, I'll turn on Ragweed." (I turn on the audio book. 'Hey, Mouse'...)
"What are you doing, honey? Please keep your car seat straps on."
"Mama, I'm hungry."
"You can eat when we get home. The ride will go faster if you fall asleep."
A few minutes pass and all is still in the backseat. I try to peek in the rear-view mirror, but it is too dark to see if her eyes are open or closed. A few more quiet minutes pass. I look at the clock: 8:10p. I silently high-five myself: Nice early bedtime!
Hmmm, I think, what shall I do tonight? Watch a Harry Potter movie with Joe (we are in the midst of a marathon)? Start a blog post (got a few rattling around in my brain)? Take a shower? Edit some pho----
*Click!* (the light goes on) *Brrrr* (the back window goes all the way down)
"Mama, I'm hungry!" (shouted over the roar of the wind)
Wait, what?! I thought the quitin' time whistle had blown! I was done parenting for the day. I was on to planning my free time. I wasn't just planning my free time, I was already basking in it. Grrr.
Scenes like this are the moments in parenting that are SO hard, right? When you're just D.O.N.E but your little one is not ready to call it a night.
I recently read the most extraordinary blog post that managed to boil down this whole parenting conundrum -- the balancing the good (really, it's often great!) with the bad (when you just want to pull your hair out). It's as simple as this: There are the jobs of parenting, and then there is the relationship.
I really feel for any parents that get stuck with just the job part (you know: the cooking, the cleaning, handling tantrums, researching booster seats, shopping for clothes, bedtime shenanigans, etc...). You really have to have the other side of this coin to make it worth while -- and keep yourself from going totally insane.
And I understand now -- suddenly! -- that for some people, the job part is simply not ok with them, no matter how great the relationship potential is. And so they forgo having kids. And some people who aren't into the jobs part and have the means to do so, outsource every job aspect of it that they can.
Reading this piece was truly a clouds-parting kind of moment for me. It just summed it up so well.
It is a balancing act and, like any job, it must include rewards & mental-health breaks.
So, the other night, when Nia stayed awake all the way home from Pescadero and finally fell asleep way too late after a snack & a couple chapters of Farmer Boy, what did I do with my hard-won free time you're wondering? What did I do to support this evening out of the scales of parenting so that I can get back into the ring the next day?
I fell asleep.