Need a break today?

Graduate acting school was a nerve-wracking experience, but my favorite memory of utter relaxation comes from the first of my three years in Philadelphia. I’d just taken the subway back to my South Philly apartment, after rehearsing a play that involved my stomping around the stage in a black leather jacket and periodically shouting at the top of my lungs. Exhausted, I walked into the apartment, threw down my bag and collapsed onto the thrift store sofa.

What an exquisite pleasure, to know I had pushed myself to my limit, and to melt into a well-deserved rest. I would not get up until I wanted to. I would look out the window until it got dark, if I wanted to. As soon as a constructive thought entered my brain, it gave up and left. For once, I didn’t care what time it was.

The most difficult aspect of mothering is never feeling like I’ve worked hard enough to deserve a break. Instead of being exhausted after a day of vigorous accomplishment, I’m just crabby after a day of fits and starts and constant interruptions. My husband comes home from the office and deservedly sits down for a while, in a daze. Meanwhile, after a day of what feels like being constantly ambushed by kamikazes, I’m still stomping around in my sweatpants, trying not to snarl.

So, one might ask, what am I doing all that time when I’m home with the kids? Well, I organize the papers on the kitchen counter, answer the phone, give permission for the children to go places and then drive them there and come home to await the next attack. In between car trips and requests to locate objects that no one else can find, I keep trying to get back to finishing that article or studying that script, but something else keeps popping up that swerves me from my course. Since nothing is ever finished, time for a well-earned rest never appears. I feel guilty if I’m discovered sitting still.

When the children were younger and more hands-on, my parenting work was more clear cut. There was a distinct difference between being with the children, which meant almost constant movement and/or feeding, and being"off-duty,” which involved absence of children and a luxurious sense of privacy and freedom. With my children in their teens, the line between being on- and off-duty is not so distinct. I can be home all alone and still be the parent-on-call. I can sit down to finally start a project, and the next thing I know, I’m in the car again, on urgent business involving poster board or finding live worms for a biology project. When I remind myself that life is not about accomplishment and that I should just relax and go with the flow, hours of uninterrupted time mysteriously emerge.

Do I resent being held hostage by my children? No. I mean yes. No; definitely not. My husband and my therapist keep telling me to set clear limits when I need to work at home. I should just make it clear to the children that they cannot interrupt me for a pre-arranged period of time. The reason that this has never worked for me is either a) because I have a fundamental character flaw, or b) because, given the choice between whatever I am doing and interacting with my children, I usually pick the latter.

My time with them is whizzing by so fast that I won’t have time to rip the pages off the metaphorical calendar before they’re off on their own. Then, finally, the house will be clean, the phone will stop ringing, and I’ll have all the time in the world.

Kristin Gehring, calendar editor for Wednesday Journal, is the mother of three kids.

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