I was at Target the other day, Prince Day, and there was a woman on the next register with 4 kids. The oldest looked about 8 or 9. Two looked like they could be twins or maybe just really close in age. Anyhoo, the kids were dressed super cute (and well behaved), but the mom looked BEAT. Hair in a messy bun (not the cute kind, but the “I ain’t touched my hair all week” kind), eyes looked dull and in need of sleep, and she was dressed in some sweats that had definitely seen better days. Poor thing was tired. From the looks of it, she was shopping for essentials for the kids: socks, undies, pants, toothbrushes, undershirts, combs, brushes, etc. She had a whole mountain of stuff. It was so big that the cashier turned off her light so the line wouldn’t get backed up.
I watched as the cashier went to work… $300, $400, $500. The total grew quickly. The mother looked stressed. She probably didn’t expect to spend that much. (We’ve all been there before.) As the kids talked among themselves about which items were theirs, the total kept going, $600, $700… The cashier announced, “Wow, we might break $1000 on this one!” The mother looked like she wanted to cry. She studied the conveyor belt, probably to look for something she could put back. She put nothing back. The kids laughed, whispered and pointed. They were happy, oblivious to their mother’s sacrifice.
By the time I was out of line, she was up to $780. I have no idea what her final total was, but I couldn’t help but think about all the things she couldn’t buy for herself because of all the money she spent on her children. I thought about all her unmet needs and all the sacrifices she’d made so her children could be happy and carefree. I thought about all the dreams she’d probably shelved and all the wants she never even allowed herself to speak.
Or not. I could never really know that woman’s story. Could be that she’s usually glammed to the hilt and I just caught her on an off day. Doesn’t matter. The fact remains that mothers everywhere, myself included, struggle to find that sweet spot where childcare and self-care dance beautifully together, where responsibility and indulgence melt into the perfect melody.
Why that’s so hard, I’m not sure. But there is something that pulls at mothers and cheers us on toward our own disguised defeat. Disguised because we don’t see it. We don’t recognize the slow drain. We think it’s normal to clip our own wings. Normal to be overwhelmed, overworked and over it. We halt our own progression as if their successes will be a consolation for our abandonment of ourselves. But when our beautiful children have grown strong enough to usher in their own victories, we will be left with our buried dreams, too cold to give us warmth… unless we unearth them.
And why not do that now? Why not give ourselves license to reclaim giddy and glee? Or does it seem fitting that mothers should never have a happiness of our own? This is what I tell myself when I do things that take me away from my children. I remind myself that I have a right to myself, to my own time and space. And you know what? My kids accepted it. They didn’t drop dead. They didn’t go insane. They didn’t start acting like those kids on Scared Straight. They adjusted, just like humans are made to do. And so we adjust together to the stirring of my soul.
Honestly, it’s hardest on me because I now have to stand face to face with fear and doubt. No excuses. No “I can’ts.” Only “I am.” It’s hard. The progression is nowhere near linear, and I’m not always sure I can do it. In fact, I’m often (momentarily) convinced that I cannot, but those moments pass and life goes on. We all keep moving forward on our separate yet connected paths.