MomTalk Talks Identity: What keeps YOU from being a Mombie?
Sure it's Halloween, but do you spend all year as a character called a MOMBIE? Who have you become now that you're a parent?
mombie [mom-bee], n.
A mom who has nothing else remotely interesting going on in her life and does nothing but focus on her children, to the point she lives vicariously through them, finding no other means of fulfillment.
School is back in session and some of us find ourselves with time during the day to do something of "our own" instead of being a pre-occupied parent. What is it that you do that keeps you sane and fulfilled? How do you hold on to "you" in the whirlwind that is family life? Do you remember who that person is?
Tasha Schlake Festel
The fact that I'm going to try to desperately prove to you that I am not a mombie likely reveals something about me. I'm probably a mombie.
But let me make my case. First of all, most of my Facebook profile pictures are not of my kids, and if they are, I am also in them. That has to count for something.
Also, I have a life and interests outside of my kids. I do, I really do. Let me prove it.
I work. I have a job as an Internet Marketing Manager. I work part-time, from home, and enjoy having something of my own to think about. I am immersed in a website redesign, learning a new technology, writing about science-y stuff, having conference calls, and doing all kinds of other stuff that professional people do. I am productive.
I write. Not only do I write this weekly gem for Patch, I also record the random thought or two that will inspire a fabulous blog post for the blog I will one day maintain. I scribble down a few thoughts every once in a while for that blockbuster memoir I'll write. I spend time considering who will play me in the movie adaptation of my True Wakefield Story and who will be cast as my husband. I feel creative.
I create. I make cakes, though not as many as I used to, unfortunately. It allows me to incorporate science (baking), engineering (building), art (decorating) and eating (yum!). I spend so much time creating words and using the left side of my brain that a creative outlet - building something original with my own two hands - allows me to bring the old right brain along for the ride sometimes. I look to expand my creative horizons. I make things.
I do other things that don't involve my kids too. For example, I read. I have rediscovered books (OK, iBooks) and have been devouring words (relatively speaking) of late. I've read good books and terrible books. Meaningful books and fluff books. Life-changing books and life-affirming books. I had forgotten how awesome books are. I also think. I think about my life, my choices, my options, my future. I think about all of the businesses I will one day start. I think that I have more ideas than I have time. In addition, I exercise. My children used and abused my body for years, and I've made a commitment to myself to take it back. I run, I lift, I punch, I stretch, I practice yoga. I move. And last but not least, I groom. I take pride in my appearance. I shower and put on makeup. I do my hair. I care about my clothes. I do not go to drop-off or pick up in pajamas. I remind myself every day with a swipe of the magic mascara wand that I am not just a mom. I am Tasha.
However, despite all of these "outside activities" I still find my mind wandering to my kids almost obsessively. I think about whether they're having fun. I worry that they're being included and sitting with friends at lunch. I wonder if those new shoes gave my daughter blisters. I wonder if my son will be too cold in the shorts he insisted on wearing even though it was 35 degrees when he got dressed. I concern myself over whether that little stomach ache this morning is blossoming into a full-blown bug for everyone to share. I stew about them sharing hats and scarves with other kids in the class despite the warning letter we got about lice in their classrooms. I stress over whether they're stressed because they don't understand the new math and if they don't, I stress that I won't be able to explain it because I don't understand it either. I wonder if they'll eat their lunches and snacks and if my daughter is being teased because of the green smoothie she insisted I pack in her thermos. I worry that their sunflower butter sandwiches will be confiscated by well-meaning lunch moms who think it's peanut butter. I hope that they're not talking in class and being disruptive. I worry that they're missing me. I worry that they're not.
My children really do consume a large part of my brain.
But I'm not sure that makes me a mombie. I think that just makes me a mom.
I am not a mombie. However, this is a relatively recent development. I don’t live vicariously through my children, and I don’t obsess about them while they are at school. I really don’t worry about them at all unless one of them has a test or a presentation on any given day. I take them to school in the morning, and theoretically, the day is mine until pickup time. My day should be full of creative, fulfilling pursuits, right? However, although my children aren’t with me for a lot of the day, my time is eaten up by tasks that I wouldn’t be doing if I didn’t have children. I have more time, but it isn’t really mine, but it is a still a big improvement over the mombie days. Until about two years ago, things were very different.
I had three kids in four years and for a while; I quite literally lost my mind. I had a child on, in, or feeding from my physical person at all times. I was not so much obsessing about them and their well-being as I was engrossed in their daily care and upkeep. I rarely slept more than three hours at a time, I usually had someone else’s food on me. I could not carry on normal adult conversations. I had no knowledge of current events. I was terribly jealous of my husband’s full-time job. I wore yoga pants every day, but never went to a yoga class.
Now, I seem to have all kinds of creative ideas and energy and my head is busting with projects I want to tackle, from artsy-crafty things I can sell on Etsy to finding more freelance work. (Shameless plug – check out my portfolio! Need a designer? I’m your girl!) Somehow much of my time seems to be eaten up by the daily chores and errands that are necessary to feed and clothe three children and there still doesn’t seem to be enough time to do all the things I want to do. I am also really bad at managing big blocks of unstructured time.
Now I have more time, but I feel like so much of my day is filled with mindless things it is sometimes hard to tell which part is “wasting” time and which part is more like doing time. By the time I make breakfast and pack lunches, my kitchen looks like a war zone. I do a lot of grocery shopping and cooking. I run a lot of errands to gather supplies for kid projects or my own projects. I empty and re-load the dishwasher about 800 times a day, or so it seems. I am always doing laundry, yet the hampers are always full. I will admit that I waste lot of time puttering around on the internet when I really should be doing something else. I am definitely guilty of that, too. I am the first to admit that I am totally addicted to Facebook and that I spend far too much time poking around on news sites, crafting sites, cooking sites, blogs, and more. Are these mindless activities? I don’t think so. Are they the best use of my time? Probably not. For me, these are an escape from the mindless activities that take up so much of my time.
I definitely felt like “me” was lost until all three of my kids were (finally!) in school all day. Now I have lists and lists (mostly in my head) that have been accumulating over the summer— and some over the last few years — of things I would like to do now that the kids are gone for several hours a day. Now that I have the time, I need to figure out how to channel my creativity into something more fulfilling than bad housekeeping and lots of good, but unnecessary cooking. Even though my day is theoretically “mine” from drop-off until pick-up the “me” that existed before I had children is gone. I am someone else entirely now. Now I have to figure out what to be when I grow up.
"It's pretty pathetic when you realize you consider a dental appointment to be 'Me Time!'"
- Me, in a dental chair, not that long ago
This column is the first thing in a very long time that is mine and for me. Believe me, the irony is not lost on me that the point of the column is to talk about our kids. Nevertheless, it is a true creative outlet for me that I really enjoy. I get a passive-aggressive little thrill whenever I tell the boys, "I have no idea what's for dinner tonight- probably cereal- because I've got my article to write."
Never mind that on any other occasion, cereal would be cause for celebration among my children who mostly dislike my cooking. You see, it ventures beyond that narrow category of acceptable American "kid cuisine" that includes peanut butter & jelly, pizza, macaroni & cheese and chicken nuggets. Sigh.
They also don't appear to like reading, travel or "existing in nature." How are these my children?? I must be doing a poor job of selling these enjoyments to them. What they DO develop an immediate interest in, however, is ANYTHING I set out to do on my own, for myself.
It's taken me having this many kids to really crave and successfully find outlets for myself. I never really was a person who needed time to herself or her own "space." It caused a fair amount of misunderstanding when I was a newlywed and my husband expressed interest in doing anything other than to sit by my side, clasping hands and gazing into each other's eyes.
But, eleven years of marriage and five kids later, I confess that I've developed an avid interest in this thing called personal time and space. Or, as I call it, "breathing room."
I don't have profound or exceptionally fulfilling outlets, but mine recharge me all the same. I love an occasional pedicure, a more-than-occasional trip to my massage therapist, a good nap, a good book. I've also finally come to enjoy exercise. I trained for and ran a 5k race in my hometown a few years ago, and now it's a yearly tradition with my sisters.
I used to be a lot more active in many more adventures and pursuits. I have lots of crazy stories to reminisce about and share with my kids. Some are edited to protect the guilty. I have scads of sewing, knitting and crafty stuff that sit patiently in boxes, waiting for me.
I'm not sad about the loss of these parts of me, but only because I know it's a temporary loss. Right now, I'm up to my eyeballs in boy-raising. I'm happy to have finally learned that taking care of myself and nurturing myself is as worthy a pursuit as any other outlet I might have pursued in the past or will pursue in the future.
By definition, I can’t be a mombie, but as a stay-at-home parent I know what it feels like to lose your identity to raising kids. Most of my time is spent catering to the individual needs of others and tending to the collective needs of the family. I know carving out some “me time” is important to retain sanity and to nourish the soul, but guilt or exhaustion often suppresses the yearning to do something for myself.
When I take personal time, I like to do something outside. I like geocaching and letterboxing but I do those with the kids. I think people would find a 43-year-old man searching the woods for hidden plastic storage containers by himself a little creepy. Or just plain sad. Instead, I tackle the Ridge Trail in Breakheart with my hiking buddy, Rachael. We pause at the top of Crow Hill to catch our breath, look down over the power lines to the Boston skyline, and listen to the hum of cars racing down Route 1 to the Square One Mall. Ahhh, the wilds of Saugus. I’m hoping the third time’s the charm when I take to the woods in Rehoboth this November on what’s become an annual deer hunting trip with high school friends—look out, Bambi! While enjoying time in the woods treasure hunting (with kids, of course), hiking, or attempting to harvest surplus wildlife from the carrying capacity of an environment are high on my list of “me” activities, it’s tough fitting them into my schedule.
My two primary vehicles for quick, spontaneous mental vacations are reading and writing. (I really know how to cut loose, right?) Reading for enjoyment is essential to my well-being. Mysteries and thrillers top my reading list, likely because my life is neither mysterious nor thrilling. My streak of completing at least one paid writing project per year goes back to 1992, so writing also lets me earn a little money. Platitudes of having “the toughest job in the world” notwithstanding, getting even a small paycheck through writing builds self-esteem.
Thoughts of my kids constantly run through my head, and I spend the bulk of my time trying to make sure they are cared for and happy. While my means of escape (mostly) run on the tame side, these pursuits keep me from becoming the dad equivalent of a mombie.