A Room of My Own

Since we returned from a family vacation last month, I’ve tried to see one friend each day; I’m not at 100%, but overall my hit rate is terrific, and it’s been such a treat. This is yet another way that I’m working to better balance life, making time for leisure in addition to work, prioritizing myself in addition to my family and responsibilities.

This week has been really good for me and my sons. They are away at camp for eight hours each day, and these longer hours are just enough that I can get things done and take a load off and feel rejuvenated when they return. It’s reminding me that balance, for all of us, is good and wise. Speaking from my experience as a stay-at-home mom (others have their own challenges!), it’s so easy to get into a groove that shouldn’t be and/or put others before self, to struggle with maintaining an identity and passions separate from those within Mom. I hear this refrain from many others, friends and readers, too. That I have another three weeks of this schedule feels very luxurious, and I am realizing anew the value in trusting my maternal instincts.

I initially registered them (they are 8 and 5) for this day camp without hesitation. It receives rave reviews, and I loved the idea of them being immersed in nature, outside all day. I wanted them to get dirty, meet a whole bunch of new friends, play with farm animals and be far, far away from electronics. Most basically, I wanted to push them just enough in ways I knew they could be pushed, to expand their comfort zones and senses of what they can do. The confidence and independence and new experiences they’re amassing right now are invaluable, and I can see, every day, how good it all is for them.

When I spy them rounding the bus aisle and heading down its stairs, they look tired in the great, healthy way one does after spending hours playing and sweating and learning outside. They are filthy too, their bodies, clothes, lunchboxes and water bottles coated in all manner of earthy detritus. They sing silly ditties and prideful anthems-  164! The bus you can’t ignore!- and I find myself recalling the summer camp tunes I once sang with equal enthusiasm. They talk about new pals, new games, new knowledge, shared laughs. They are really, really happy.

Several people seemed flabbergasted that I’d signed 5-year-old Oliver up for this camp because of its long hours, bus ride and so forth. But I think I felt him ready and this to be the sort of experience he’d cotton to immediately. Though I didn’t take them as judgments or anything, these reactions did give me pause -had I misjudged? erred? was he too young?- and I believe that hesitation constituted half of my nervousness Monday morning.

Balancing your own and others’ senses of what kids can/can’t/should be able to do or handle can be a really challenging part of parenthood. When should they start eating solids? What type? When should they be potty-trained/talking/reading/writing? Questions about diet, bedtime, manners, habits can seem very fraught and you realize just how personal, in some respects, they are.

At the end of the day, most of us just try to make the best decisions we can based on who we know our children to be and how best we believe our family will function. And that’s why it’s so important for us to trust ourselves. To seek advice when we don’t know and to act confidently when we think we do. I am so incredibly thrilled for the boys right now; both say they want to go back all summer next year. And frankly, I’m really thrilled for me too.

During the hours I’ve spent making jam this week, I’ve thought about the concept of having “a room of one’s own.” Virginia Woolf was talking specifically about the space a woman needs if she wishes to be a writer, but the brilliance behind her idea was how encompassing it is for most everything women need in order to feel fulfilled, as women and all else they are.

I recalled that a friend once joked about the playhouse in our yard that the boys never use: “You should turn that into your own spot.” This “playhouse” is a seriously top-shelf playhouse. I know because I paid for it myself -it’s flipping cedar and came from Canada- and built it with my husband. It took a week, a hot sweaty, middle-of-August-in-DC-which-was-built-on-a-swamp-and-boy-can-you-tell week. We were beyond excited to show the kids, and two years in, I think they’ve gone in there about 8 times.

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