My Children Are Not My Life

The sky is perfectly blue.  The clouds are spread just so. There’s a man doing some sort of slow Tai Chi thing about a hundred yards in front of me, gazing into the distance before catapulting his body downwards every so often in a circular cartwheel.

To the left of me, down the grassy hill, there’s a couple completely intwined, though I can’t understand for the life of me where their heads are and if they are sleeping or awake, but it seems like every so often they shift positions slightly.

I’ve just eaten my tuna salad and I’m listening to the quiet of the day.

My 4 year old is in camp, doing some sort of art project they send me whatsapp photo messages about every so often.  My two year old is being entertained by my amazing cleaning lady/sitter.

And I am here, all alone, on the top of a grassy hill, recovering.

Welcome to Mommy Camp.

At the start of the long summer that began almost 10 weeks ago, I fearfully stated that I would try to do what people colloquially call “Mommy Camp”. My girls, home with me. No official camp to send them to. We would travel around, do all sorts of activities. Bake. Art projects.  Take the subway. Explore the city. 

It was okay, for about three weeks, maybe four. Even enjoyable, endearing, and interesting at times. Then I started to crash.

Here’s what I understand now after 10 weeks of struggling to find myself surrounded by the weight of Mommy Camp responsibilities: there’s a reason why Mommy Camp is hard. Because I’m not 2 and I’m not 4. I’m 31. My mind and emotions are in a totally different place than my girls’, and even though I love them love them love them, going down to their level is an effort.

After awhile, it gets exhausting. And then totally exhausting. Because I need the input and sensory distractions and intellectual stimulation and emotional fulfillment of a 31 year old. I need the input of mission and global awareness and complex social conversation.

I need to have my own life, that has nothing to do with them.

My mind will always go back to that illuminating moment, years ago, when I asked a Rabbi- “How can I think of Gd without thinking of the world?” and he retorted-“Think of your mother without thinking of yourself.”

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“But I can’t!” I responded emphatically, thinking I had won the argument. “When I think of my mom, I think of her connection to me, as being my mother.”

“Ah,” he smiled wisely- then, “But your mother has a whole life that has nothing to do with you. So, too, Gd. He has a whole life that has nothing to do with this world.”

And if it’s exhausting for me to come down to my children’s level, I can’t even imagine the effort it is for God.

Throughout the weeks of Mommy Camp, it was hard to extract myself from my motherhooding. I felt a profound sense of floating and being lost.  All of my projects, friends, self-care habits, and husband dates, were so difficult to arrange in the midst of the ever-growing sea of Mommy Camp duties and recovery periods.

After the summer started derailing faster downhill, I reluctantly forced myself to come to terms with who I am – a 31 year old, complex and needy human being- and enrolled my older daughter in camp. I hired a sitter to help with my other child. Not because I could afford it. But because I needed to feel like me. I needed to build a home.

I hope I’ve learned my lesson.

In the future, when it is necessary for me to take care of my girls for longer than usual, I’m not calling it euphemistically “Mommy Camp”, which would connote the inaccurate perception that I am an amazing camp director who is thrilled with the possibility of creating day long projects and activities to entertain my kinderlach. Some women do love that stuff. Some women want to be preschool teachers and camp directors and cannot get enough of being around little kids all the time or being around people all the time for that matter. I am not any of those women. 

So rather, I’ll call our precious  time together what it is- “Family Time” or “ Getting Through The Day Trying To Have Fun” or “Waiting for Camp/School to Start” Time. And when the babysitter arrives to relieve my of my duties so I can get a little bit of “me” time on those Waiting Days, I’ll grab my bag, kiss my wonderful girls goodbye, and head out to the park, library, or whatever I have planned for that day, and say, “See you soon, girls, Mommy has to go to Mommy Camp now.” Because in that sentence and situation, that term is accurate.

I know in my heart of hearts that sending both my girls to camp while I do what I want and need to is more than okay and expensive. It’s really, really important.

On that note, I’m going to get back to staring out into nothingness and enjoying my 31 year old thoughts until I return home again.  The couple has de-twined ( they were alive after all!) and the tai chai man has apparently drifted off to catapult himself somewhere else.

There’s one more day of Waiting For School To Start Family Time, and if I don’t replenish myself before I head back, I’m not sure I’m gonna make it.