Getting out of the Motherhood Time Trap

When I made the decision to relocate to my family home in North Carolina to focus on my writing and help raise my nephew I thought life would become a lot less complicated. I couldn't have been more wrong. Being a full-time surrogate (and single) mother for an eleven year old boy is exhibit A of my internal struggles with masochism. I think I'm losing.

I guess the "White Savior Complex" doesn't solely pertain to Hollywood or white people. After years of pleas from my nephew to either return to NC or move him to New England, I packed up my car and made the move with more arrogance than confidence that I could save him from his educational and behavioral woes and possibly even Forrest Gump my way into saving myself.

Two months later and I'm pooped. I'm glad I did it and I'd do it again but I'm in search of a word that doesn't yet exist. Single mothers of attention deficit tweens need to band together to brainstorm and find the right word to describe the trauma of day-to-day living. Some days my voice reaches new registers. Some days 800 mg of ibuprofen doesn't dull the throbbing behind my eyes. And it's on those days that I find gratitude that I don't keep liquor in the house because I'd drink without hesitation and probably land myself in the hospital.

And now for the cliché: it's worth it. It really is. Sometimes I seriously think I'm about to stroke out. Sometimes I think he's seriously upstairs in his room during time-outs plotting my demise. Sometimes I cry. But then he hops in the car after school and says he got into trouble with the principal and as troubling as that is I'm glad he told me. Something is working here. Or we visit a book store and he buys an age appropriate book for himself (with his own money!) without any nudging on my behalf. And I feel enough relief to get me through another week. He now wants to read. Thank God. Or he comes downstairs for one more hug and kiss goodnight. He is easy to love even when he's being difficult. 

The downside to being overwhelmed and exhausted other than just feeling and acting like blech 24/7 is that I don't actually make time to do anything I need or want to do. If the true sign of a new mother is becoming completely selfless then I hope the signs of a mature mother are around the corner because I'm ready to phase out this "everything I do, I do for you" state of being. I love my nephew and I'm glad I am present for him both physically and emotionally but I need a life outside of long division, multiplication with decimals, vegetables at every meal, carpools and tween attitudes -- especially because this can't last forever. As mothers or caregivers we're constantly reminded to treasure this time because it flies by. And it does. But that's also exactly why I can't entirely lose sight of my professional and personal interests. He will be leaving us.

It's easier said than done because in the two months that I've been back I've published two blogs, both in the wee hours of the morning because it's the only quiet time I can find completely uninterrupted by phone calls or snack requests or carpool lines or anything. God, I'm tired. So tired that I don't even make time to sit and write but those days are over. I'm putting a cap on the amount of energy I expend on mothering in a single day and anything over that amounts yields an early bedtime without a shower, snack, teeth brushing, or our version of nightly prayers.

One of my friends suggested I join a parent support group. Another suggested a single mom meet up. Guess what my response is -- I don't have time. I have to talk to them about the trials and burdens and frustrations (and delights and surprises) of the daily traumas of being a single parent because I can't afford a therapist and I don't have time to make new friends with single parents. I don't have time to maintain old friendships and whatever time I do invest is loaded with conversations about him. I make motherhood look bad, not just the emotionally taxing burden of it all, but the fact I can't take a phone call without yelling or directing or reminding or fielding questions makes it look like stuff for the birds.

He monopolizes all of my time. Wait, let me rephrase that. He used to monopolize all of my time but after today I'm calling a moratorium on selflessness. Yesterday I slept in twenty-five minutes to 7:45, dropped him off at school by 9:00 after a morning bout of sickness, spent the drive to the grocery store on my cell setting up his appointments, shopped and restocked the kitchen for the rest of the morning and did not sit down to eat lunch until 12:25. I'd been awake for almost five hours and hadn't given my body a minimal amount of care. Technically, I would have foregone lunch for a nap but I noticed one of the eggs cracked in transport and I couldn't fathom just throwing it out. Whatever future outcomes I hope to produce with good parenting, I know one of them is modeling a healthy balance of responsibility to self and others.

12:25. No water. No food. I hadn't checked my email or read the news or read my Google Reader. I hadn't blogged. I hadn't written anything in days. I hadn't edited anything in months. I have cover letters to write and phone calls to make and a life outside of my nephew and if he is to have any sense of relationship boundaries, I have to do a better job. I looked at the clock and wondered where the morning went. I looked at the clock and wondered where the summer went. I looked at the clock and knew the scenario would easily repeat itself if I didn't make the conscious decision to take care of my needs as much as I tend to his. A year from now I hope to look back and say that I reclaimed my life and balanced motherhood with everything else.


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