Ghost-limb mama

I didn't do anything universally new this week, but to my universe, it was new: I was without my husband and my son for 7 days. And it has changed me.

First of all, I didn't have to think of anyone but myself, something I haven't had the pleasure of doing in more than six years. Secondly, I could do, literally, anything I wanted. And lastly, I was able to reflect on my good fortune in a way not normally afforded me.

It was bliss. It was difficult. It was powerful.

I don't know why something like this isn't more institutionalized in our culture. I mean, at any paying gig we are given, by law, the opportunity to not work for at least two weeks. We get sick days, too, where we can put our responsibilities on hold and tend to our own needs. But as a parent, as we all know very, very well, vacation and sick leave is non-existent. Utterly. We drag our sorry asses out of bed with fevers, coughs, and no-sleep. We push on when we are on the verge of complete breakdown. We put our families before us because we feel we must.

Most couples are tapped to the max and barely have the reserves to maintain their marriages and lives let alone give their partner a full-press break from this work intensity. Maybe you've been able to work out a half-day vacay or an occasional night out, but a days-on-end kind of reprieve? Almost unheard of!

For me, it's been six years since I didn't have to think of anyone else buy myself. Obviously, I was single (meaning, I hadn't even met Anthony, yet). I had Levi to worry about, but that was it. I came and went as I pleased, did whatever I felt like, and never felt a shred of guilt about any of it. I got a taste of this again this past week.

I slept whenever I wanted and for as long as I needed. I went out with friends with the same kind of abandon. I did chores when it best suited me and I reached out because I wanted to, not because I was desperate for contact.

And through it all, I was enormously aware that if it weren't for my husband and his willingness to take Hollis 1200 miles away on his own for a week I wouldn't be able to rediscover any of my hedonistic ways and for that I am eternally grateful.

I almost felt like part of a sociological study because whenever I yearned for Hollis or felt aimless and lost I had to stop and ask myself, "Why??" Was it because of conditioning? Because I was lonely? Because of guilt? And, not surprisingly, the answer was mostly just because of habit. I have been so used to thinking of someone else that I felt as if I were missing a limb, but could still wiggle my non-existent fingers. So many times I thought I heard Hollis rustling in his crib or calling to me from his room. I heard motorcycles from down the street notifying me of Anthony's imminent approach. I would shake my head to break the pathways of alertness and try to relax; remind myself that it was just me here and that it was ok.

But it was still hard. I slept with Horse, one of Hollis' tractors and a sweater of Anthony's every night. I put away all of Hollis' toys and generally kept his door shut so I wouldn't feel a pang of longing when I saw his things or passed his room. I even avoided the rear view mirror in the car to avoid that big, empty car seat. Just thinking about it makes my heart clench.

And while it was a magical week for me wherein I recharged and soaked up the Me Time like a starving wanderer, it was an unholy week for Anthony and Hollis.

They both left Austin sick and within less than 24 hours Hollis took a very dangerous spill down a hardwood staircase. I only found out last night that he had tumbled down, head over heels, two-thirds of the way from the top only to be caught by my sister-in-law who had rushed to catch him. His deeply blackened eye and a bruised shoulder are the only traces of his fall. And then, only hours later Anthony lost Hollis' boots on their way into a store and then Hollis pinched his fingers in a door. This was all in Day 1.

Anthony felt like a colossal failure and his guilt was crushing: he could have prevented the fall, he wasn't paying close enough attention, it was his fault, he's incompetent, he's incompetent, he's incompetent.

When I found out he'd hidden the truth about the fall his mountain of guilt all made sense. It had terrified him to the core and he was shaken up... and badly. I don't know that Anthony has ever really realized just how intense my job is until that moment when he, just for a second, looked away. But I'm touched that he hid the truth from me to keep me from worrying and grateful that he finally shared the truth so I could say, "Oh, Anthony. It's ok. It happens and that must have been so scary. You're not a bad parent. You're not. You're a great dad."

And in that moment I was able to shift back to my real life. The life where I think about Hollis and his life every waking moment and do it with renewed energy and a renewed sense of responsibility and joy. My ghost-limb reattached, fingers wiggling away.

I truly hope that every parent, main-caregiver and their partners alike, get the opportunity to reconnect with the person they are and to get the space to appreciate what they have and not just in stolen moments here and there, but in a block of time you would expect any worker to get. Because parenting is work. It's intense, emotional, and powerful and we shouldn't really expect to be able to run at full steam every day, day in and day out. We just cant. Or, at least, I can't.


  1. I am very glad that you got this time. And I am trying to think about how I can get some. A week would be impossible, but even one day would be immense. Hmmmm.

  2. oh wow, what a wonderful gift to receive, a whole 7 days to just be ones self. It sounds like heaven!

  3. glad you managed to have such a week :)and sorry to hear all that happened to Hollis and Anthony on their first day away

  4. That was wonderful, to get that time. And the fact that it felt hard too was maybe good. Because then you could know that being with Hollis is what you want to be doing, even if you sometimes want/ need a break.
    I think it was great that Anthony had that chance to be the primary parent for so long. Until you do it all I don't think you can really understand how hard/ tiring/ encompassing it is.
    Yay that everyone made it through the week.

  5. Sounds like a whole month of parent guilt built into the first day.
    I know what you mean about the ghost limb feeling. I'm generally not a mopey, "I miss my kids" kind of mama, not in the least because I'm hardly ever away from them and when I am my time is full up, but I still have the sensation that they are here. I think you both, well all 3, had a wonderful opportunity this week.

  6. You wrote this so wonderfully. I love how you are continually examining and exploring the stay-at-home gig because you're right, it's so hard. I think Anthony probably gained a hugely better understanding of not just caring for a child, playing with them and meeting all their needs 24/7, but of the crushing weight of responsibility that comes with being constantly vigilant of another person's health and happiness, ensuring their very survival, day in and day out, for years on end. I hope there is an opportunity in the not-too-distant future for Noble Husband to experience that with our children, and for me to get that oh-so-needed alone time. I'm plotting something for within the next year...

    Lovely, insightful post as always Jessica.