“I just want one day where nobody needs me.”
There were many nights I sighed heavily into the dark of our bedroom and admitted the truth to my husband who lay beside me.
Even though I worked hard to keep an identity beyond Mommy, it always felt like I was revealing a dirty little secret when I said it out loud. Deep down I told myself,
“A good mom wouldn’t need a break from her kids”.
Still, I learned to take time for myself.
I may have mixed a drop of guilt with the bubbles in the bath water or buried a scrap of shame in the bottom of my purse when we headed out on a date night—leaving the kids with Grandma.
But I did it. And, in the end, I was always better for myself and my kids.
Until a day came when I got a break I wasn’t expecting—a day where truly nobody needed me.
Actually, it was 70 days. 70 days where no one cried for me or crawled all over me. I didn’t wipe a single snotty nose or dirty bum.
Someone else took over my positions of child chauffeur, snack coordinator and sibling referee. Instead, I was in the hospital and rehabilitation centre—learning how to live life in a paralyzed body.
Perspective moved in quickly—like an avalanche.
It obliterated all memories around the struggle of motherhood and buried me underneath a mound of everything that was good—taunting me with every recollection of what I was missing.
Like my daughter calling me from her crib in the morning and the smile that spread across her face when I opened the door.
Or the way all three kids sat at the counter for breakfast with their plastic IKEA plates in front of them, all sweetly requesting a different mix of toppings for their toast.
Every night that I lay down in my quiet, empty room, I ached to be sitting in one of my children’s beds reading stories and singing lullabies.
I thought about how I’d tiptoe in long after they were asleep to take in the gentle rise and fall of their little bodies beneath their blankets or to push the hair off of their foreheads and kiss each of them gently on the cheek.
I paid very little attention to the difficult memories.
Like the time I had to drop all of the things I was carrying in the middle of Old Navy to escort my three screaming children out to the car.
The nights of interrupted sleep from high fevers and night terrors rarely crossed my mind.
I didn’t focus on the mornings where nobody wanted to get dressed for school or eat breakfast…or lunch and dinner. To me, those things didn’t matter anymore and I naively believed I would never let them get to me again.
Women who took to Facebook to share their overwhelmed status updates about how they couldn’t shower alone or go to the gym started to make me irrationally angry.
Didn’t they understand how lucky they were to be at home with their children?
How dare they complain.
Couldn’t they see that being needed—being the person your child wanted—was everything?
It was easy to be angry at them. Even though I’d been where they were—I knew how they felt—I wanted to pretend these women were selfish.
Like I was enlightened because everything had been stripped away from me and I knew how to be better.
I vowed that when I got home and back to my kids, I would be the good mom who didn’t need breaks from her children.
But during my time away, I clung to being Mommy.
The individual identity I craved while in the trenches of motherhood became insignificant to me.
Wanting the freedom to leave the house spontaneously with friends, to never have sex end abruptly at the sound of a nightmare-fuelled cry or even to take a quiet bath alone, seemed excessively selfish.
So I swiftly removed that identity from the pedestal I’d put it on and replaced it with the one I was so desperate to hold onto.
And—like most things we hold in high regard—I ignored its imperfections and difficult realities.
When we finally returned home and I was thrust back into my pre-existing life—without my pre-existing body—I was quickly overwhelmed with the truths that came barrelling back at me.
Yes, the big paralysis things required a lot of adjustment. But I’m talking about the little things.
Like the tiny hands that slid under my bathroom door when I just wanted to pee in peace. Or the arguments that ensued over knocked-down towers and stolen hot wheels cars.
Just the constant stream of menial conflicts that arise over and over, when multiple personalities live under the same roof.
I tried to ignore the growing feelings of exhaustion.
I was embarrassed that after all the time I spent away—seeing first-hand what it was like to lose everything—I couldn’t be the good mom I promised myself I’d be.
But I knew enough about discontentment to acknowledge it before it turned into resentment.
And in a very small voice, I whispered into the dark of our bedroom, “I need to do something I enjoy. Without kids.”
That was my first step back to finding a balance between my identities.
I was remembering that needing moments to myself has nothing to do with how much I love my kids or how much I miss them when they aren’t with me.
It’s about nurturing my identity beyond Mom in order to recognize my value as an individual—knowing that being better for myself makes me better for my kids.
And when all is said and done, I embraced a truth I could never fully accept before my injury: You can be a good mom—a great mom—and still need breaks from your children.