Cars need tune-ups, and so do parents

Originally posted Nov. 13, 2007

If you’ve been a parent for more than a nano-second, you’ve probably had a moment like this:

“What’s wrong with you? I thought you were supposed to be sick?” I asked my son. I’d been looking forward to a respite from the usual harem-scarem, but instead watched helplessly as my then 4-year-old bundle of joy stomped dozens of Cheerios to bits on my just-vacuumed dining room floor.

At the time, our telephone number was one digit away from the jail’s, and in my exhausted, giddy, mother-of-two-young’uns state I took full advantage of the occasional misguided caller:


“Uh, yes, is this the County Jail?”

“You know, some days it feels like it,” I replied the afternoon of the Cheerio challenge. I considered the futility of ever vacuuming again as I took my cordless phone on a short stroll around the house. “Just how many crumbs can one Cheerio contain?” I asked the hapless caller, who just wanted to bail out her boyfriend, not witness my meltdown in the face of domestic futility and chronic sleep deprivation.

I remember being so sleepy from midnight feedings that I accidentally brushed my teeth with Desitin. That’s hitting bottom, if you will.

Don’t blow off needed “me” time like I sometimes did during those early years or you just might find yourself with a mouth full of butt paste to show for it. Cars need tune-ups and so do parents. Parenting can be simply magical, but it is also heartbreaking, mind-bending, back breaking labor.

An occasional time-out is a necessity for parents of young children, not a luxury. And you, who sit there with the bathroom door locked against the chaos going on around you, probably understand that without enough internal mettle and external support from family, friends and the occasional sitter, you, too, might make headlines.

It may seem counterintuitive, but sometimes time away from your kids can be a great gift to them.

Desperate for some respite, I made my bathroom my own private panic room. Once my kids left the toddler phase and I got over the need to be available to them even while perched on the potty, I resorted to locking the door. Keeping it locked has been a challenge since my husband (a psychologist!) taught the kids how to use their library cards to jimmy locks, but I still try to squeeze in a hot bath sometimes.

Recently, when I graduated from my 30s and full-time parenting (my baby entered first grade this fall), my thoughtful husband arranged a visit to a local spa where I was to spend an hour in a flotation tank decompressing. I’d never bathed in darkness in 10 inches of water so dense with Epsom salts that I’d float like a cork, but I’ll try anything once.

It seemed simple enough. Take a warm bath, nap even, and relax knowing I wouldn’t be mauled for a whole hour. Pure bliss, right? I hung up my plush white robe, sat down in the tank and closed the door. Two deep breaths later I decided to lay back and let go, but my earplugs fell out and I ended up with water in my ears and a wicked case of vertigo. After the dizziness passed, my mind wouldn’t rest. I wondered if the kids would actually get the juice boxes I’d left in the school office for their lunches and couldn’t shake the thought that the tank reminded me of a coffin. I tried to talk myself into my happy place, but was so distracted by floating into the side of the tank that I tried to gently push myself away from the wall with my pinkie toe. Somehow I got salt in my eyes, so I reached for my towel, which caused the darned ear plugs to fall out again. As I groped around in the murky darkness, I laughed at the absurdity of working so hard to relax and finally bailed.

A reunion with my inner child would have to wait.

Learning to relax takes practice, apparently. Good luck with that. There’s no one-size-fits-all formula for blissing-out, but this respite-starved mama will stick to tried-and-true baths in her own tub.

But I’m changing the lock.

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