I used to strap on stilettos and step into a little dress, kiss my cat on the nose and head out for the evening with a petite cross-body bag over one shoulder. I would plunge into the world beneath Manhattan, rocket to an evening’s destination, clink glasses with friends, and spend hours in revelry before pouring myself into a taxi and stumbling home in the late dark. Answering to no one. Enjoying my time off!
These days I am lucky if once or twice a month I zip up a maxi dress, greet a babysitter, and shift my SUV into drive without three children strapped into the backseat. If I spend a few hours shopping alone, meet a friend for a quiet brunch, or (gasp) hit the streets of sweet suburbia in search of a glass of rosé.
I know I deserve the break. Social media tells me I do. My mum tells me I do. Even my husband, weary from work and swimming in the demands of parenthood himself, always encourages me to go. Go get your nails done, don’t stand up the book club, take an hour and drink a cup of hot coffee alone.
But the real world? The people in it? Sometimes it feels like every last one of them wants me stuck at home. In my mummy box. A uniform of leggings and T-shirt’s stringing the days along until they all become a blur. Motherhood.
More specifically, the motherhood of young children. The bottles and nappys, night-time stories, and fixing of little dinners. The short, sweet years that I love so much it hurts my heart. Sometimes I wake up in a cold sweat from a dream in which my children age and reject me. Sometimes I wet their shiny heads of hair before I even know the tears have pricked my eyes… ruminating on what it will feel like to lose them to adolescence and later, adulthood.
Seriously. I love having babies at home so much it makes my heart race to imagine a future when it is no longer so. I crave the chaos and embrace the crazy and hug them and hold them every moment that I can.
But also… sometimes I need a break.
And lately it seems, every time I go out without the kids, I’m met with some version of the same criticism I just don’t need to be hearing.
“Where are the kids?”
With a warm smile, I answer. “My husband is home with them,” or “They’re with a babysitter” or… whatever! But I want to be honest here. I don’t feel I owe anyone an explanation about where my kids are!
First of all, they have another parent who is just as capable as I am of watching them. Second of all, I know I am not the only mother in the history of the world to employ babysitters to mind the children when I need or want to leave the house.
In a moment when the zeitgeist is all about empowerment, about women forging their way, being strong, being fearless, why the hell are we still asking them where their kids are every time they leave the house? I find it accusatory. I find it a thinly veiled criticism for leaving the children. I find it an implication that since I am a mother, I should be with them at all times. Otherwise, I’m being selfish. I’m being vain. I’m doing it wrong.
Maybe it’s not meant this way. Maybe I’m reading too deep. But I know I’m not alone because every time I’ve heard it asked of a friend in my company I always see her roll her eyes when the offender is out of view.
Maybe mothers just need a minute. Maybe you should mind your own babies. Maybe the fact that I am out without my children means I am recharging my batteries so I can get back to the trenches with a sense of calm. To the laundry and the breastfeeding and the boo-boos and the slathering on of sunscreen.
“Where are your kids?” is not an innocent way of asking after them. If you’re interested in how they’re doing, go ahead and ask that instead. But the subtle implication that my afternoon or night on the town translates to abandonment? Keep that opinion to yourself.
I may no longer be young and free, unfettered and untethered to a gaggle of children who need my endless care. I may have ditched the high heels and even the slinky dresses for the time being, too. But I am still that woman. A part of me, often hidden deep inside, is still an individual with an identity and passions outside her children. Sometimes, that woman needs to get out of the house alone.
I love that you care about my kids, and I hope that you care about me, too. But do me a favour next time you see me out without them ask me how I’m doing, what I’ve been up to lately. Ask me what the book is that you see poking out of my oversized tote bag or what shade of lipstick I’m wearing (because we know I put a lot of effort in, if it actually made it to my lips).
And sure, let’s chat about my kids! I’d love to fill you in on the latest anecdotes sprouting out of our busy home. But do me this one kindness, that we both know I deserve: trust that my children are in good hands even when they are not in my own. Respect my right to time away from them. Let me feel, if only for an hour, the joy and peace that come from taking a bit of space. And please, for the sake of my sanity, just don’t ask me where my kids are.