I’m laying on the floor of our living room. Toys are strewn all about, and this house hasn’t known silence for at least three years. I’ve convinced our toddler to play ‘baby mama’ which is basically when I pretend I’m a baby and he takes care of me. Right now it’s baby mama’s naptime. It’s so sweet, he’s set up a makeshift bed for me on the carpet complete with throw blankets and couch cushions. Our thirteen month old (no longer a baby but not quite a toddler just yet) is participating as best he can by climbing all over me and lovingly smacking my face. At this moment, they’re content and having fun. But me, I know the reality. I’m completely aware of how much I’ve been phoning it in these last several weeks.
I used to pride myself on how energetic and engaged I was with my kids. I used to role play PJ Masks like nobody’s business. You name the hero or villain, I have their catchphrases and mannerisms on lock! I’ve been the sultan of sensory, the princess of play…the queen of creative quiet time. But now, right now? I feel a bit like the mom character on any popular 90s sitcom: tired, nagging, looking to lie down a bit.
And look, it’s not like I’ve been a total lazy bum because of this virus and the mental toll it’s taken on me, I just feel very much aware that I could be doing better with my kids. And the voice in my head reminds me I should be doing better with my kids. They’re absolute delights (most of the time) and they deserve more than what I’m able to give right now. They deserve the whole dang moon and stars. They deserve a mom who’s able to pull out some otherworldly strength from within and be constantly engaged with them. But I just don’t have it in me right now.
If a friend were to confide in me this exact scenario, I know exactly what I would say to encourage her:
“Give yourself grace, mama!”
“You’re doing great!”
“Have you been practicing self care?”
Of course there’s so much more I would want to say, but these mantras of motherhood are always locked and loaded for my friends who are feeling down. They’re the start of a conversation where the goal is to lift them up and provide comfort. So why do I struggle to say them to myself?
Give myself grace? I can barely extend grace to my husband and kids right now, there’s none left for me.
I’m doing great? Are you kidding? My kid watched hours of TV today and the baby hasn’t worn clothes other than pajamas for days. Come to think of it, neither have I…
Self Care?! Hahahahahahhahaa….a face mask ain’t gonna cut it.
What I really need is a night without nursing, a day without diapers, perhaps a meal without “mama!” I need a chance to read a book or work on my writing without negotiating the terms with my husband. I need time with my friends without technology. I need connection without the utter exhaustion of zoom meetings (why are zoom meetings so draining anyways?!). I need to fill this empty cup that continues to pour regardless of the contents. I guess these are all examples of self care, but sometimes it’s the shallow attempts of self care that are easiest to achieve.
I don’t fault my family for any of this burnout. My kids are one and three, they don’t understand the weight of this virus nor should they carry that burden. My husband is just as tired as I am, he’s teaming up with me and balancing working from home. My parents are 1,800 miles away and my in-laws are high risk. We just need to soldier on, and hold onto hope. Hope that soon it’ll be safe to invite friends over, or play with the neighbors. Hope that my job as a teacher won’t be too negatively impacted by the time school starts again. Hope that I’ll be back to my fully engaged self. Soon. And hope? It’s a powerful tool.
So no, I’m not currently able to give all of myself to my kids all of the time. And I don’t quite believe myself when I say that it’s okay. But I’ll keep saying it anyways. I’ll keep saying it until I start to see the truth behind it. My kids may not have all of me all the time, but they have a father trying just as hard. They have each other. They have a pet dog for entertainment. Heck, they have two pet tadpoles now thanks to a quarantine purchase. They’ll be okay. I’ll be okay.
I will give myself grace.
I’m doing great.
I’ll advocate for more self care. Real self care.
I’ll be okay.