I’m Not Coming Out & You Can’t Make Me!

My family knows that my shower- and getting ready time is “my” time. They know that, unless I am absolutely forced to, I will not open the bathroom door during the entire 45-60 minutes it takes me to shower and apply makeup, which is something I do every single day, unless I am so sick I can barely stand. Like the Fly Lady needs her shoes, I need my shower and eyeliner.

This doesn’t mean that in particular life seasons I don’t have someone either in the bathroom with me or banging on the door, screaming, from the outside. In fact, with a teen, toddler, and infant in the house, this happens more often than not. And my husband and I are often forced to plan an entire day’s schedule by shouting through the bathroom door. Nonetheless, the fundamental rule remains the same: if mama is in the bathroom getting ready, you better leave her alone or be prepared to face the consequences.

Sometimes I hear major chaos going on beyond the locked door of my sanctuary. Loud thumps and bumps followed by cries, phones ringing, dogs barking, teen requests intermingled with toddler tantrums and an infant’s demand to be feed. In these moments, I sigh, hastily apply 8-minutes worth of make-up in two, and head out the door to sort it all out.

The other day I heard all those things at once. My husband and mom were surviving, but they certainly could have used more (wo)manpower to ease the hurt.

As I listened to my husband try to make a phone call for our sixteen-year-old while the little ones’ battles raged around him and my mom pleaded with Rachel to stop poking her in the eye, I sighed a sigh of resignation and started to go into getting-ready overdrive.

But then… I didn’t.

I thought, “I am not coming out of here and you can’t make me.” If I could have locked the door even tighter, I would have.

No one knows what’s going on behind the bathroom door, and they aren’t going to ask. And if they do, I’ll tell them that mama’s getting-ready bathroom time is like Vegas—what goes on in there stays in there.

This was a particularly empowering moment, but don’t worry. I have no intention of abusing my loved ones by hiding out in the bathroom during the morning crazies. But you know what? Despite the cries and chaos coming from beyond the door, despite the stress and frustration I heard in the outnumbered grown-up voices, everything turned out just fine. My oldest son’s car got to the shop, the phone call was made, the baby was fed, and my mom’s eye remained in tact. And all of this was done just fine without me. Can you believe it?

Leaning Into, and Living In, the White Space

As a poet, I think of white space as letting the shape of words on a page give cadence to a poem.

As a mom, I think of white space as the blank smoothness of my calendar. Quiet time with a book. Snuggling with the kids. Being available for the varying needs of a busy household.

Seven years ago, when my oldest son, Collin, was in 5th grade, we had a talk about what we wanted life to look like. I remember that we were sitting in rush hour traffic, trying to get to downtown Oakland for one of my son’s activities. The night before we had rushed between baseball and clarinet lessons and spent a good amount of time in traffic then stayed up late doing homework. We were both exhausted and close to tears. It seemed like every day brought more stress, more things we had to do, more places we had to go.

I had already slowed down my more-than-hectic lifestyle after starting law school—law school and single parenting simply didn’t allow for extracurricular activities. But Collin still had things he wanted to do, so we did them. But while Collin enjoyed the activities, he didn’t enjoy the lifestyle we had. So that night, sitting in rush hour traffic in a little stretch of freeway that consistently ranks in the top five list of worst traffic in the US, he and I decided to make a drastic change: Collin would quit all activities but baseball, which was where his heart really was.

Our lives significantly improved after that. Collin missed some of the things he had done before, but he was able to focus more on schoolwork, baseball, and just hanging out and playing. He seldom got bored, and he was certainly happier and less stressed.

A similar situation presented itself 4 years ago when I was pregnant with my daughter, Rachel. I needed to decide if I wanted to rush around like crazy to get us all out the door in the morning, go to work, then come home exhausted and rush around again trying to get everyone fed and in bed.

After talking it over with my husband, we both agreed we didn’t want to live that way. I had done the soccer/baseball/music/gymnastics/work/school/community activities thing for 10 years, and although parts of it were fun, exciting, and fulfilling, I knew that wasn’t how I wanted life to be. I wanted white space on my calendar, time for reflection and peace, reading books and playing Scrabble. So, we decided I would leave my fulltime job behind.

I have ample white space on my calendar now, and some days (although it’s rare), I even have time to sit down in the middle of the day to read. Usually, though, even with all the white space I work so hard to create, we are often overwhelmed. This is the byproduct of living in a six-person household. There are 6 schedules to balance and work around, a husband who works nights, and at least 4 different dinner times for 6 different people. And I wonder, if I hadn’t made the choice to slow life down, where would we be now? What would life look like?

Today I spent a lot of time running back and forth, and in general had the type of day I tried so hard to put in the past. It wasn’t running the kids around, but was instead going back and forth between the pharmacy and the dentist’s office so my mom could have an emergency root canal.

I got stuck in traffic. I got cut off by rude drivers. I had to grab fast food for lunch then felt like a heart attack in waiting. My radio station wasn’t coming in, and during his 2.5 hours trapped in a car seat, the baby cried so hard that he vomited. Eight years ago, this would have felt normal. Easy, even. But after enjoying a more white-space lifestyle for so long, it felt…. horrid.

I checked in with my oldest son by phone around 6:30pm to see what time he would be home. I told him, “Tonight is the third night in a row I’m NOT making the roast. I didn’t get home until 6pm tonight so I can’t cook dinner.” And then the absurdity of that statement hit me: I didn’t get home until 6pm so I can’t cook dinner???

I laughed at myself and felt a number of things: grateful I’m able to have a slower pace of life (although it doesn’t always feel like it!), embarrassed at my inability to live at the pace I used to, shame for the same reason. The last two emotions are, of course, ridiculous. Most moms want to slow down. Whole libraries of how-to books are written on the topic. That said, there are also people who would be miserable if life weren’t chock full of activity. My sister is one of those people, I think, as is a friend of mine who I won’t name. Their calendars are overflowing and they love it that way. Then there are others, like another friend of mine I also won’t mention by name, who, to her dismay, lives a breakneck-speed life only because it isn’t feasible for her to do otherwise. Neither type of person is better or worse than the other. Each option is equally worthwhile. But both types don’t work for every person, nor do they work for every family.

To me our house often feels like a play…. the stage props (I’m including myself as a “prop”) stay the same, while the characters rotate around them. One kid comes in, one kid goes out. One kid sleeps, the other wakes up. One kid is sick, another one needs a ride. So in large part, for me it isn’t so much about what I want as it is about what my family needs. And what they need is a parent who can not just clear her calendar to make room for them, but instead have a clear calendar to be there for them.

Author’s note: Thanks to Michele Sbrana for helping me realize some mom out there may be interested in hearing about how to find more white space.

Leaning in: An Example

My mom, who lives with us part-time, arrived home tonight after having been gone for 3 months. My husband, who happens to be in Boston right now and misses us all very much, emailed and asked me if she had made it home yet, and if so, to describe what her first night back was like. Here was my response:

Although it took her 7 hours to make a 4-hour trip, she has arrived.

Her boundless energy exhausts me.

The kids are thrilled; the toys come out. Thus begins the endless parade of “look at this,” and “I brought you that.” “Do you think so-n-so will like this or will she think it’s tacky?”

The kids won’t stop smiling. There is somehow sweet and sour sauce in the living room, on the coffee table, on the couch. But we are all smiling.

Later, I rock the baby as she reads to the other little one. As the baby’s eyes drift shut, I fear she will too-loudly shut our daughter’s bedroom door and say, decibel upon decibel louder than necessary, “goodnight, I love you!” and the finally-sleeping baby will wake.

But tonight, for the first time ever, she remembers to close it quietly. Whisper her goodnights.

She doesn’t know I can see her, and she dances down the hall. Shuffle step snap. She shushes the wall when she bumps into it, so the wall doesn’t wake the kids.

Later, unloading her truck, she hands me a jug of water. I question it and she says, “It’s good. You can drink it,” and I see her driving 85 mph down the wrong road, swigging from the gallon as she curses herself for getting lost. That little shake of the head I know so well.

The house, previously so tired, so full of illness, is alive. A better place than it was before.

1000 Moms Project