Take a Mommy Time-Out
Moms just NEED to have fun–if you’ve forgotten that, here’s a refresher
-Melina Gerosa Bellows
Nudie Scarf Dancing. That sounds provocative, sexy, or even NC-17, right? Well…not exactly. Let me explain.
I was sitting on the beach with my friend Isobel. Now, lounging next to this skinny mother of five could make anyone feel depressed by comparison. But I’ve known her since high school, I needed advice, and I figured she just might have some good insider tips. After all, in college Isobel was best friends with Brooke Shields, who admitted in her memoir that she knew a thing or two about the state I was in: Planet Ugly, aka postpartum depression.
I couldn’t stop crying, and I alternated between being barely able to cope with the daily responsibilities of motherhood, and mind-numbing confusion. I was stumped. What did I have to be sad about? Seventeen months after giving birth to my son, Chase, God had blessed me with my daughter, Mackenzie. Instant family, my dream come true. Still, I felt as if I were sinking, drowning, and disappearing into toxic black ink.
My dirty secret was this: I just didn’t see what was so great about motherhood. My days seemed like a marathon disaster movie starring me racing around after my kamikaze toddler to prevent him from hurling himself from high places, swallowing metal objects, and/or gleefully electrocuting himself. My nights were a protracted exercise in sleep deprivation, with Mackenzie getting up every two hours and screaming from acid reflux. Plus, talk about psychological whiplash. I had just experienced nine months of being treated like a pregnant princess, and now I felt as invisible as a ghost. A fat ghost.
I told Isobel about my plight, and she immediately flew into action, rattling off all of the wonderful ways she whiles away the hours with her brood: family karaoke, eating chocolate-chip-cookie batter together, firefly-catching contests. I was years away from all of this, but I scribbled down the ideas anyway. Then she mentioned Nudie Scarf Dancing.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“Isn’t it self-explanatory?” my skinny blond friend said.
I glanced down at my stretched-out stomach, which was lying next to me like an affectionate pet. Surely, she couldn’t be suggesting…
The tears welled up in my eyes. I felt horrified and hopeless. There was just no way I was up for this, no matter how fun it was.
“Not you, silly!” she said, laughing so hard that she was beginning to snort. “Daughters! Don’t you have a box of ugly old silk scarves that you have no clue what to do with? Turn on the music and it’s a way to kill time with the girls before their baths!”
Isobel was giggling so hard hat she was on the verge of wetting herself. Before I knew it, I started laughing too, harder and harder until I was crying-a condition that Dolly Parton once called her favorite emotion.
Then it hit me: Fun was going to show me the way out of my drowning pit! The relief of reclaiming my long-lost sense of humor embraced me like a bear hug. The problem wasn’t that I was exhausted, scared, or despairing, because motherhood comes with all of that. The issue was that I wasn’t having any fun to offset the exorbitant emotional cost.
Isobel had a point, and her ideas were encouraging. So I sent out an SOS email to my other girlfriends seeking advice, laughs and suggestions for how to enjoy this roller-coaster ride called motherhood.
The flurry of answers came back fast and furious. First the funny, if dark, one-liners:
- “Report yourself (anonymously) to Child Protective Services and have your children taken away for a day or two, instant vacation! Ha, ha!” –a mother of two under two in Boston
- “Fly first-class and let your husband and kids fly coach. When you hear howls from the rear of the craft, pretend you don’t know them.” –a mother of three in New York City
- “Put a rubber band around your sink sprayer so when your kids turn on the water, they get squirted in the face, always good for a laugh!” -a mother of three in San Francisco
Then the practical tips:
- “Steal your kids away for one-on-one dates. Play cards, or go for nature walks and look for treasures. Nothing fancy, just make each child feel special.” -a mother of four in San Francisco
- “Get everyone in the family to write down one fun outing–such as a trip to the zoo, the lake,- etc.-and put all the suggestions in a jar. Every Saturday, one person gets to draw an outing, and the whole family participates.” -a mother of two from Portland
Then I got an e-mail that shifted my perspective. It was from a colleague whom I didn’t know well, just enough to know she was still sane after raising five teenagers.
- “I remember biking around with my firstborn on a weekday and watching all these serious-looking adults doing important things. And meanwhile I could waste time, lie on the grass, make funny noises, or wear a ridiculous hat, and nobody would think I was nuts because I had a kid with me. What a great ploy!” she wrote. “Years later I realized that I could also blame my house being a wreck on the kids. They’re a great excuse for having fun and for not doing housework.”
It occurred to me that reconnecting with joy wasn’t a skill set I had to master, but rather a possibility that I might open myself up to. So I tried my friends’ suggestions-okay, maybe not the one about turning myself in to the authorities! Slowly but surely, one good time after another, the depression began to lift. Chase and Mackenzie were my guides as I let go of my expectations and allowed the fun to take whatever form it fancied.
I remember reading once that if we want enduring satisfaction, we have to maintain a mind-set that allows us always to be on the lookout for small miracles. Mothers have these small miracles in their lives every day. They are our children. And the time to enjoy them is right now.
In addition to blogging on BettyConfidential.com, Melina is the author of The Fun Book for Moms: 102 Ways to Celebrate Family