April 15, 2011
By Ekta R. Garg
I will not lie. Last week was rough.
Two got a nasty cold and cough last week. I describe her to people as my firecracker. Four’s serene nature suits the role of the elder child/big sister. Two, by contrast, exudes playfulness; there’s a certain something in her smile that suggests—strongly—that she’s either up to something or is going to be up to something soon. And while I can cajole and command Four to do what needs to be done, everything with Two runs more along the lines of a negotiation. Between two equals (more or less.)
On normal, healthy, sunny days, the negotiations go fairly well. Two, despite her strong-headed will, can actually be pretty reasonable. But when she’s not feeling well, it brings out more of the “strong-headed” part of her personality and less of the “reasonable” part.
So with a terrible cold and cough, you can just imagine how negotiations were going. By Friday night I was ready to fly the biggest white flag I could find and call a cease-fire. When my husband walked in the door during dinner time, Two was sitting strapped in her booster. In the corner. With the food on her plate cooling on the table.
“What happened?” my husband asked tentatively, having experienced vicariously through me the week’s trials and tribulations.
“I’m done with her for the weekend,” I stated, pointing at Two, near panic and tears (me; Two was already crying and whining in the corner.)
Fortunately my husband took over the situation right away and allowed me to stew in silence while he washed up and plopped down at the table (without eating a bite himself) as Four tried to float under the radar of my frustration. He coached the girls through the rest of dinner and scooted them up to bed as I cleaned up the kitchen and collapsed in a dining table chair. When my husband came downstairs, I served him his dinner and gave in to the tears that had been tugging at the corners of my eyes.
“I just want a break, a whole day where I don’t have to worry about any of you. I want to get away.”
“Do it,” my husband said instantly. “Go this weekend. Just go and do whatever you want. I’ll take care of the kids.”
His offer tempted me, and I almost began etching out plans for what to do with my day away. But somehow just saying it out loud provided a certain relief, as if saying I wanted to do it made it a thing already done.
It also reminded me of a day, almost exactly two years ago, when I did just what my husband was offering. In May of 2009, my kids were almost three and one, and I was a burned out mother. I felt ragged, worked to the frayed ends of my personality, and I couldn’t find the means within me to hem those ends into the edges of a put-together mother and wife. I expressed my despair to my husband, and he said the same thing to me then that he did this past Friday. At first I told him he was probably joking, but he assured me he wasn’t.
That’s how, on May 1, 2009, I found myself finishing my workout at the YMCA and showering there, taking my time and not thinking twice about the responsibilities behind me. My husband had taken the day off from work (a rare pleasure indeed.) My retired father-in-law lives with us and has seen both kids from birth onwards, and between both men they managed the kids and lunch and everything else. In the parking lot of the YMCA, I got in my car, inhaled deeply, and smiled. My day off was beginning!
I spent the day doing a combination of little pending errands and just wandering. I had my eyebrows done, and when I first entered the salon and the receptionist told me I’d have to wait an extra half-hour before I could be seen, I didn’t blink. I just said, “Okay, no problem!” Because that day I had time to wait and not feel guilty about it. Halfway through the morning, my cell phone died and I called my husband from the landline in the salon to let him know I was okay but wouldn’t have access to my phone for the rest of the day. He told me to enjoy myself and not think twice about it, and after that I felt truly free.
I went to lunch by myself, and for the first time in ages I didn’t have to keep an eye on anyone else. I didn’t have to cut food in small pieces on a miniature plate, I didn’t have to watch out for the kiddie cups not to fall, and I could eat quietly and read a book without wondering whose chin needed to be wiped next.
The day restored me. I came home late in the afternoon feeling like I’d just spent a week on vacation, and I found the fortitude within me to keep going. I found the strength to be a mom and a wife and a daughter-in-law again. The day had rejuvenated me and I knew no matter how confused or discouraged I felt in the days and weeks to come, I would have the memories of my day alone to stoke the fire and keep my engine running
I didn’t get the chance this past weekend to go away for the day again, although I contemplated several times slipping away without telling anyone. But somehow I made it through Saturday and Sunday, Two is feeling much better (we’re just waiting out the cough now,) and I’m still standing. Any mother of young children will appreciate that accomplishment.
I’m sure at some point in the future I’ll need another day off again, although my husband will probably have to nudge me out the door (again.) And I look forward—eagerly, with the anticipation of a thirst quenched after a long, hard race—to that opportunity. But until it comes, at least I have the memories of that day in May.
I also have the success of getting through this past weekend without auctioning the kids on eBay, and somehow that achievement helps keep me going too.