Running On Empty


It’s not just a great Jackson Browne song. It’s a state of being in which, unfortunately, many mothers find themselves. I’m there. I’m so empty I can barely see straight. After finally losing it earlier this week with a friend—and I mean really losing it—it was all I could do to drive myself safely home, forget about hitting Trader Joe’s on the way as I’d planned.

In the past month, our family has been through it and in it deep. Our house is on the market which means Open Houses every Sunday and agent showings at a moment’s notice. The new house—our new house, damn it—is still actively on the market. The builder won’t take a contingent offer so in order to get it, we need to sell ours first. You may have noticed the economy is a little off; there is not much home buying going on these days. And, finally, we got hit with back-to-back sicknesses including two rounds of strep, several colds and croup including an ER visit. It was ten straight days of me caring for a sick child, a sick me, or both. And just when everyone was well, I got hit with one more three day whammy of a cold/flu. And, as the stay-at-home mom in this scenario, the bulk of it fell on my shoulders.  

During all of this, I was a mess. One day I took the boys to the doctor while still in my pajamas. Another, I asked a drive-thru Starbucks barista how many packs of instant coffee came in a twelve-pack. She did a double take and I said “Did I just ask you how many are in a twelve pack?” “Yes ma’am you did.” “Huh,” I said “Well, feel free to tell whoever you want about this.” She smiled and said “Ma’am, you made my day.”

After I cried and railed against the injustice with my friend, and man I was going at it “No one listens to me, no one appreciates me . . .” and on and on, it became clear that I needed a break. Not just a few hours but an overnight, maybe two. Pampering, checking out, a mini “strike.” So tomorrow after dropping the kids at school, I am off the clock for a few days. I am taking myself, my cats (because relaxing, reading and watching movies all day is just not the same without my cats), a bottle of wine, books, DVDs and some snacks to the W Hotel for the weekend. Yes, the W. I am actually going to a hot-shit hotel (buy one night get one half off) for two nights and I can’t wait.

I did something else after my meltdown earlier this week. I want things to shift when I come home. I don’t want to just steel myself against my next empty. I told my family, including my kids, that I felt taken advantage of and that I expected change. I told my boys how much I love them; love being their mom. Taking care of them is a job I relish. But I also expect appreciation, respect and gratitude. I expect “thank yous” and awareness of the work that goes in to maintaining a home, taking care of people, feeding, driving, nursing back to health. I love being their mom. I also need to know that they love it too. Then I told them I was going away for the weekend. “Are you going because you’re mad at us Mom?” my older son asked. “No sweetie. I’m not mad. But I do need a break. I need some time for myself where I don’t have to take care of anyone but me. When I come back I’ll feel better.” My younger boy immediately hugged me, sat back down at the table and said “Thanks for the pasta, Mom.” And they’ve been better, more appreciative this week. And I want them to learn not just to appreciate me but to appreciate their lives, what they have, how lucky they are. At the risk of using the “children are starving in Africa” defense, I did remind them of how lucky we are. Whenever we see someone on the street asking for food or money, we talk about it, we try to give whatever snacks I have handy. They have given up their snacks to people before. They need to remember that all the time. Sometimes you have to give someone else your snacks. We live in a community where everyone plays a part, everyone needs to be loved and appreciated. And to not run on empty.

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