A benign case of Stockholm syndrome? Some of what I’ve learned this summer.

Big Boys Week

We touched down on the outskirts of my hometown knowing that eager arms waited close by to ensnare the three of us in warm hugs. From within that circle of loving embrace, profuse excitement bubbled up as if we were a magic cauldron whose power only worked when none of the five was absent. After a short, familiar drive, we walked through the back door and settled in, and it was clear that no time had passed; this truly was a second home. Is a second home.

Mom, Dad, Jack, Ol, Tom and I always look forward to the annual summertime Big Boys Week in Louisiana. My parents relish unhurried time with the boys, especially in, but not because of, our absence. Pretty much every grandparent with whom I’ve ever spoken has said that the relationship (s)he can forge with his/her grandkids when the parental middlepeople aren’t around is wonderful and different from the one enjoyed when everyone’s together. I love watching my parents work as a team with the boys. They are so truly happy to be with them, delighted with their silliness and charm and interests.

And it’s completely mutual. The boys and my parents have always shared a particularly close connection, a real point of satisfaction and pride for us all, particularly in light of the geographic distance between Louisiana and DC as that makes visits more infrequent than we’d all like. But in all the important ways, the distance has never seemed to matter, and so the kids look forward to their Big Boys stay with such enthusiasm every year. They get to fish and swim and eat junk food and spend endless hours with people they love who sincerely want to spend endless hours right back with them. Who doesn’t win in this scenario?!

Naturally, Tom and I also go bonkers over the idea of Big Boys Week because it means having a protracted (and free!!) holiday to ourselves. Usually we go away for some of it, and part of me is desperately missing the Union Square Greenmarket right now because New York is our most common destination, but this time decided to stay put because, in short, we are deeply tired. I have gotten done this week many, many things I never have time for and have so enjoyed the hours I could spend accomplishing them. Jack’s room is now unrecognizable in a nicely non-hoarder way, and I bought him new sheets to celebrate all the ludicrous cleanliness happening in there. I spent some hours today setting up a fish tank in Ol’s room- he’s been asking, and since the dumb hermit crabs died, why not?

I really don’t think the kids miss me a lick while they’re in Louisiana. I’ve had to get used to that, but as Tom reminded me last night, “Em, they pretty much molest you at all times when you’re together, so why don’t you just enjoy a molestation-free week and know that it’ll start up again soon.” Point taken, and really, I should be and truly am very proud of how independent the kids are. They are usually completely open to new experiences and times away, and I think that’s a reflection of their security in our mother-child relationship and of their own senses of self-confidence.

Mom’s Experience of Big Boys Week

I, on the other hand, have missed them more this week than I usually do, seriously leading me to wonder if I’m suffering from some sort of benign form of Stockholm syndrome. I mean, honestly, sometimes when we’re apart, I don’t miss them at all, so what gives? Many a parent spends a decent amount of time day-dreaming about time off and space for self, and then, when we get it, we sometimes miss our tiny captors. It’s enough to make me feel like I’m slightly nuts, but I guess that’s maternal love for you. A few nights back, I would have given anything to sneak into the boys’ rooms and kiss their warm cheeks and slightly sweaty brows. To place my hand in theirs and feel their fingers curl gently, reflexively around mine. Instead, I put my ear plugs in and slept the night away which was pretty dreamy too, but still…

It’s been harder than usual to let down and relax this past week. Don’t get me wrong, I havedefinitely lazed about and savored every second of uninterrupted solitude and time with T and friends. But it’s been a sort of effort that, in my opinion, comes from my body having to relearn how to not be so “on” all.the.time. In the absence of constant and important responsibilities and the energy and adrenalin needed to power through and on behalf of those, my body is confused: “What is this thing called free time? What do you want me to do right now?” I didn’t feel this at BlogHer because that conference is a minute-to-minute ride in the best of ways. There, I’m on, but in a much different way than when at home.

Clearly, I need to “do” this more often if possible, because I hardly think it good that R&R feels difficult. Or maybe it’s just felt that way because I’ve had a headache the entire time. But I think that stems from the same source: when your body can let down, all it’s been holding back and disallowing let’s down too. It makes me think of how, after a massage, you often leave with the strict advice to “drink LOTS of water because when your muscles release, a whole bunch of toxins release too.” All that bad energy or those worries or sadness or fatigue…it all comes rushing through the rarely-open floodgates, and that’s part of what makes a massage a healing experience. Perhaps this migraine is just a massage aftermath in altered state.

As I often do, I think about what I might learn from times like these. What does it mean that my weekends in Richmond and San Jose (for the conferences) were so enlivening and prompted me to consider some important questions of purpose and aim? That the boys’ weeks at Calleva worked so well for us all? And that this down time has, for me, felt so needed and lovely and challenging?

Some of What I’ve Learned This Summer

At BlogHer, because it was my second time there and so I could focus a bit beyond just immersing myself in all the opportunities, I tried to keep front and center the big questions the conference poses: What are my goals? What about my blogging endeavor is most important? Why do I continue to blog? What do I hope to accomplish by doing so? How best can I make those things happen? Who in my life is supportive? Who’s not?

I came home with a number of thoughts and have since processed most and acted on some.

-For starters, I see that I desire a different sort of balance in my life. “Balance” is a tricky concept because it means something different to each of us, and often, it’s influenced by external models and ‘shoulds’ that don’t always ring true if we pay attention and are honest with ourselves. Long story short, it can be hard to both define and find.

To me, balance is shaping up to mean a responsibility to spend my time and energy and love on the activities and interests and people that/who need and appreciate it. It’s also the selfishly unselfish act of realizing that taking time for myself and my interests makes me better able to mother, friend, wife, volunteer, etc, (All those should be read as verbs, y’all.) and because of that, setting limits, saying no and standing up for what I need doesn’t require apology. It requires acceptance of who I am and that, in the sage words of Jenny Lawson, “I might not be for everyone.”

Balance is why Calleva worked so well for the boys and me. Each day provided them the opportunity to exert themselves physically and emotionally and socially for the number of hours they really need to do those things completely. Calleva ran longer than school, was basically a fun P.E. class outside for the entire time and each week, the kids and counselors in each group changed. I learned so much about the boys as I saw how happy they were in that environment. They love school deeply, and about that I am thrilled. But there is something to the unstructured, physical stuff that is extraordinarily good for them, and I need to figure out how best to keep that going. Concurrently, I finally had enough time each day to get my stuff done in a relaxed versus harried manner. Because of that, I didn’t have to race all day to fit things in between drop-off and pick-up which meant that I wasn’t wiped out just as my real day began. Critically important!

-Secondly, and in response to how best I can help advance my goals, I will no longer be catering as I wish to use that time in other ways that fulfill me more. Thank you to everyone who has been a wonderful “client”- you were always much more than that.

-Thirdly, someone recently asked me a simple question that rang as profound: “If your “closest” friends aren’t supportive of your having found a passion and following through on that, are they really great friends?”. I love when such a basic, objectively-asked query sets me straight. Answer: No. And thank you very much. This needn’t mean anything except that I need to adjust my expectations regarding some relationships; this is always good to know because it avoids both superfluous energy expended and disappointment.

-Fourth, I am working with a woman I met at BlogHer on an Em-i-lis redesign (mostly visual), believing that investing in myself is never the wrong tactic in life. Neither is investing in others in whom you believe and wish to know better (the woman I met at BlogHer who is helping with the redesign; also, many others!). Because of that, I’m spending my own money on this renovation and feel awfully proud of that. My mom always said it was important to have your own money. Another story for another time, but she was right.

And thus…

As I sit here this evening, slathered in peppermint oil which is not doing a damn thing besides smelling nice and snarfing cheese like I’m Bridget Jones, I am grateful.

I’m grateful for these lessons learned, and I’m grateful to the people who and experiences that helped me learn them.
I’m grateful to my parents and Tom’s parents for being so invested in our children’s lives and for the needed breaks their love often provides us. You make us all better.
I’m grateful to be getting older and just -finally!- not caring as much about some things as I used to. A giant amen to that last one, for the love.
I’m grateful for clarity when it comes, even if its path to me can sometimes seem awfully inefficient and muddy.
I’m grateful to my husband who may only bring me flowers spontaneously (he knows about Valentines Day, friends) every eleven years (last week; clock starts anew, T) but who is always supportive of me pursuing the things that make me tick.
I am grateful to my darling boys who made me both a besotted mother and Stockholm syndrome sufferer because without them, neither this post nor its title would exist.
I’m grateful to you for recognizing the sarcasm in the last part of that previous gratitude.
I’m grateful for all the real deal folks out there as well as all those who pave ways and provide opportunities that the rest of us can traverse and take.
I’m grateful for all the loud, funny, honest-as-shit women who inspire me daily.
I’m grateful that I love the written word and have some facility with it, and I’m grateful for this platform which allows me to write and share daily.

www.em-i-lis.com

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