There was a time in my life when I wondered if I would be alone forever. Now, as a mother of two, I am assured daily that I will never, ever be alone. Ever. From showering with an audience to washing dishes with a kid hanging off my leg to viewing Downton Abbey while nursing an infant, life has been a group venture lately. And while I’ve been able to handle the logistics of this setup so far (haven’t ever forgotten to pick up my kid from preschoolSelf High-Five!), the implications of it escaped meuntil recently. You see, I had an epiphany of sorts. As much of an epiphany as a woman operating on minimal sleep and brain function can (picture less light bulb, more flickering candle). That epiphany had to do with an aspect of my personality that I am just beginning to understand, thanks to Susan Cain’s research and my own extensive writing on the subject. http://www.thewheelhousereview.com
Every new mother has been warned about the possibility of post-partum depression. The obstetrician asks barely-veiled questions about whether we have a hard time getting out of bed (seriously? Because the answer is yes, always) just before giving us the green-light to engage in the activity that got us here in the first place. Rather than declaring our lady parts to be game-day ready, maybe OBs need to do a personality screening for their patients. Because I have it on good authority (mine) that introverts such as myself are at a significant disadvantage when it comes to adjusting to life with kids.
If introverts draw energy from time spent alone, then the math works out like this: introverted mom + dependent and ever-present children = one drained woman. It took awhile for me to admit this was happening in my own life because, come onam I such a jerk that my introversion applies even when it’s just my family around, and that family has needs? (And by needs, I mean turn the TV on or remove a now-disgusting but once favorite food from a dinner plate). Then I noticed my short fuse, my constantly flagging energy (even once I started getting sleep), and a nagging sense of despair coupled with a need to escapeand it all felt really familiar. Like a party I had attended too long that was too loud and too crowded.
I needed space.
And I came to accept that this need did not make me an ass, just a true introvert (which some extroverts consider one and the same, but that’s only because we left their party early). Being a better mom actually involves recognizing my own limits. In fact, seeing them clearly helped to decompress some of the frustration I was experiencing: there was a reason for it, and I wasn’t going crazy. Yet. So instead of giving in to my urge to jump in the car and drive far, far away, I came up with a plan of action. And I’m sharing it with you now. You’re welcome.
- Identify your safe space. Plenty of people will advise you to get out of the house, then suggest activities for you. Activities that invariably involve being aroundyou guessed itother people. Sure, getting away on a solo run to Target can be productive. But you know who’s always at Target? OTHER PEOPLE. So for me, nothing’s better than time all. by. myself. Be it throwing on some Kenny G and taking a bath, or just driving around aimlessly for an hour, I feel most rejuvenated when I stay away from all other forms of life, then return to my family ready to be manhandled by a preschooler and willing to be groped by a baby.
- Draw boundaries. Moms are asked to share everything: their space, their boobs, their food. Have areas that are off-limits to everyone but mom. A friend of mine says that when she and her family host guests, she refers to the master bedroom as her “apartment.” No one is allowed into the apartment when the door is shut. I feel that way about my bathroom: don’t you even think about touching my fancy, special-occasion shampoo. The lavatory is sacred space when the door is shut and locked and chained and guarded by an alarmrespect this, and any other area I cordon off with police tape. This goes for anyone who makes it past the armed guard at our front door, which brings me to my next point.
- No means no. Our neighbor is very kind and sweet and occasionally DRIVES ME INSANE. He considers the vintage act of doorbell-ringing to be acceptable in today’s world and for me it is so not. I’m of the mind that, between texting and emailing, there’s really no reason people have to actually see or talk to each other anymore, but if you must, then leave me a voicemail but do not venture onto my porch. After our local Mr. Rogers knocked on the front door three times and rang the bell twice one afternoon during prime infant sleeping hours, I finally gave in and answered just to find out he wanted to borrow a recycling bag. Guess what, neighbor? You just lost your LA privileges. From now on, I grant myself the right to draw the blinds, turn off the lights, and never answer the door again if that’s the difference between me and Mommie Dearest.
- Fear the reaper. Or recognize your personal signs of social claustrophobia. What brings it on most? For me, an afternoon of nursing one kid while the other climbs me like a set of monkey bars pretty much does it: there’s not enough oxygen, I can’t appreciate life, and my children take on the appearance of tiny soul-suckers. It’s not Pinterest, people, but it’s real. When these symptoms arise, I think ahead to the next time I’ll get some space. It may be several hours away, but knowing that Kenny G and a bath are waiting gives me endurance in the present moment and, sometimes, keeps me from locking myself up in my sacred space ahead of schedule.
- Don’t lose your voice. I have become more fluent in baby-talk than I ever thought possible, but enough syrupy sweetness and I go into a diabetic coma. I figure my kids are going to learn sarcasm as a second language sooner or later by living with me, so I’m done trying to be someone I’m not. My son has heard all about the plot holes on the most recent episode of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, and when they mentioned the triangle bush with the red button in the middle, you can bet he heard me snicker. Tacky? Maybe. Me? You know it.
Being a parent is tough enough without attempting a personality change alongside its demands. I love my kids more than I ever thought possibleand that love does not exclude the need for breaks from them. We’re allowed to be more than one thing, ladies! And a mother’s love is big enough to withstand some separation. So the next time my bathroom door is shut and you hear Kenny G playing, just keep on walking. When I come out, I’ll be a new person. Just the same new person.