My house is currently quiet. I sit by the window as my boys play outside in an attempt to gather my thoughts and I already hear one of them crying. I don’t get up right away because I can see them and know that it’s just a normal sibling squabble and the 4-year-old is already over it.
There are these quiet moments I experience that happen for 5 minutes here and maybe 15 minutes there in between fights and requests for snacks or band-aids for the latest scraped knee. Those little moments where things are still and everyone is getting along and all is quiet are actually pretty frequent in my house when I stop to think about it. But they are like short unexpected bursts throughout the day that a mother can rarely depend on, and it’s hardly enough time to accomplish anything meaningful.
Usually when one of the quiet moments happens, my mind is anything but quiet. I’m usually wiping the counter while going through a mental checklist of things.
When I’m done cleaning the kitchen, I’m going to start the laundry, then I’ll sit for a minute and eat something. Swim lessons start next week; I need to go buy more sunscreen. What am I making for dinner? I really should get Kyle into dance lessons. Chandler is going to walk in any minute and tell me he’s bored again. What can I do to entertain him? Have I spent enough time with Avery this week? Summer is going too fast. I wish I could take a nap. What IS that smeared on the front of the cabinet? I need to start teaching these kids to clean up after themselves. Did I ever make that phone call about the life insurance?
It’s a non-stop parade of worries and emotions coupled with tasks and to-do lists that never stop. The moments of quiet are anything but in a mother’s mind. It’s simply a fleeting blip across my ongoing reel of things going on inside my head at any given time.
I often hear it lamented that women lose themselves to motherhood. I hear others declare that they haven’t gone anywhere, and I feel both sides of the debate. While I know I’m in there behind the ongoing dialogue in my head that’s keeping me on task to get through the hours of the days that feel like weeks, there isn’t much of a moment of silence in my mind that allows me time to think my own thoughts that aren’t tangled in with the thoughts of the needs of my family.
That’s what I mean when I say I’ve lost myself to motherhood. It’s not that I’m no longer capable of having my own thoughts, it’s just that there isn’t much room for them anymore amongst the checklists that keep me focused and keep my head above water so our family can stay afloat.
When I look back at my life pre-kids, I can’t remember what it was like to act on a whim or not consider how my schedule might impact a soccer game or the school schedule of one of my kids. That’s where I feel lost. I can’t remember what it’s like to sit down and not have that dialogue relentlessly begging me to check another thing off my list or reminding me to make sure I’m teaching a child to do something really important like become independent.
The thoughts that are swirling around in my mind consuming me most days aren’t all negative. They’re more like the equivalent to practicing a survival skill that not only your life depends on, but also the lives of all of those around you. While it’s not exactly that dramatic some days and the list sometimes just involves finding the toddler’s favorite bouncy ball he lost two days prior and hasn’t stopped talking about, it feels all encompassing just the same.
So when moms feel like they’ve lost themselves, it’s mostly because they just need a minute when it’s quiet to realize they are still there. Instead, there is a deafening guilt-ridden voice telling us we should be accomplishing something since the kids are happy, or there is a blank stare out a window because we’re happy to not be breaking up a fight and we just want to sit for a minute without someone needing us.
Whereas we might have read a book in our quiet moments before, now we want to stare into space. It takes longer now to shift gears and create something, or reconnect with a friend, or remember that we have needs too. Those things that were part of who we were before kids aren’t gone; they’re just bogged down by the day-to-day needs of everyone else.
That’s why you find women mindlessly wandering the aisles at Target looking at pretty things. It’s because for a few minutes it feels luxurious to do something mindless. It’s not that we are empty shells of our former selves. We’re still here — just as artistic, or creative, or spontaneous, or talented as before. It just takes longer now to quiet the mind and remember who we are.