I felt that way this past Sunday, when I read nearly all the articles I wanted to in The New York Times, and I had to tamp down the urge to run down our street screaming, “We’re getting our weekends back!”
It’s true. That teeny-tiny, barely visible little light at the end of the parenting tunnel has lately bloomed into a full-blown lamp. Neve’s self-driven potty training has left us diaper-free; the girls’ extracurriculars are scheduled on weekday evenings, leaving our Saturdays and Sundays blissfully open and obligation-free; and, perhaps the biggest difference of all, the girls have, in these past months, reached an age (3 and 6) where they will often happily play with each other – whether it’s in the bath or in the playroom – for significant chunks of time. (This is the paradox the second child: you have to start from scratch again, and give yourself even more tasks and responsibilities to juggle, but as both kids get older, they’re playmates for each other, thus making your job easier.)
Yes, when they’re too quiet for too long, we have to make sure they’re not giving (more) dolls new haircuts, or painting the cat with blue fingernail polish. But more often than not, they’re doing things like building a project from stuff found in the recycling bin, or playing “indoor beach” (a blue blanket is the water, a brown blanket is the sand), or cutting out and coloring Easter eggs.
Meanwhile, Joe and I lounge around in our pajamas until midday, dozing or reading, or doing chores we used to have to do late at night. We make chai tea. We lean against each other on the couch, pointing out the day’s best comics in the paper, or hang out at the kitchen table, chatting.
We’re remembering again, in bursts, what it was like to indulge in small pleasures, and why people so look forward to weekends.
Because to be honest, since becoming a parent 6 years ago, I’d forgotten.
There were really good reasons why I regularly welcomed – nay, yearned for – the arrival of Mondays, and why I referred to work as “Vacation in the Land of Adults.” While there were lovely, fulfilling moments and good times, too, obviously, the girls regularly used up (by about Saturday evening or so) every ounce of energy, effort and patience we could muster, so we had to dig deeper, seeking more from our already-overmined stores.
Sometimes you don’t find more, of course. So you announce you’re walking to the nearby drugstore for wrapping paper or batteries or packing tape, and once there, you wander the store aisles like a hollowed-out, lost ghost, trying to pull yourself together before – deep breath – heading back into the chasm of need that your home has become.
And what had I become, I’d wonder in these moments. I certainly wasn’t the me I’d spent years defining and growing to love. So where did that leave me?
Disoriented, and hanging on by my short fingernails.
The good news I’m here to report now, though, is that a time does indeed come when your children need you, but in a less Death Eater-like fashion. A time when you get to really enjoy playing with them, and they want your attention, but they also want to do their own thing sometimes, allowing you to do the same.
And while you know, in the most rational part of your brain, that this is simply the natural progression of things, it still feels like a fantastic surprise when it happens.
For parenting plays with your mind (not surprising, given the sleep deprivation). I distinctly remember, for example, after being home for weeks with newborn Lily, trying to convince myself that this phase of nursing-every-half-hour, and sleeplessness, and inconsolable baby-wailing wasn’t permanent.
But the emotional truth for me, at that time, was that it FELT permanent. I was staring down day after day after day with these challenges, so the words “it gets better” rang utterly hollow in my ears.
In this way, parenting little ones is a bit like a (much more harried and emotionally exhausting) version of yoga: the practice of both forces you to focus only on the moment you’re in, as it happens.
This makes for some long, tough days of parenting. So if you’re “in the weeds,” as waitresses say, and in the thick of tending to a baby’s (or a toddler’s) constant and overwhelming needs, my pronouncements about you eventually getting your weekends back probably sounds like so much yadda yadda yadda.
But for parents like us, who are now suddenly able to reclaim a few modest indulgences each weekend (and thus feel a bit happier and more relaxed), let’s just pause and celebrate this moment. Mazel tov! There’s still a long way to go – I’m looking at you, puberty and adolescence – but it sure is nice to have made it this far.