Getting away from it all: Don’t forget Respite!

The night I sat on the couch with a bowl of ice cream and started the first episode of the first season of the “Gilmour Girls” and felt guilty that I wasn’t on my computer doing “work” at ten o’clock at night was the night I realized I really really needed a break.

It was also the week before I flew to Seattle and drove north for a couple hours before crossing over to a small island by ferry for a few days of respite. My aunt’s sister had just purchased a house on the island and offered a weekend away and I jumped at the opportunity. For the first time in over ten years, I slept in a queen-sized bed all by myself for TWELVE HOURS without the possible interruption of small two-footed or four-footed creatures. It was amazing!

My friends asked, “What did you do while you were away?”

“Absolutely nothing,” I replied, “and it was glorious! I sat on the couch with a cup of coffee and watched the clouds blow off the peaks of the neighboring island and examined the fishing boats and ferries as they passed by.”

That’s it. Sleep. Rest. Good conversation. Coffee. Food. Two books that had a higher ratio of words to pictures in them (okay, they didn’t actually have any pictures in them and that was fine).

For the first time in over ten years, I spent three days as me. Just me. Not as a parent getting boys ready for school or bathed and into bed at night. Not picking up Legos and dirty clothes from the floor. Not at work making decisions on grant writing or presentations or people’s health. The only decisions I had to make were whether I was hungry or not and what I wanted to eat.

I’m a firm believer in “respite.” I spent my entire college, grad school, and medical school years taking every Sunday “off” as respite. I consistently counsel new parents to build in respite to get away with each other, and I have many times watched children for the weekend for parents to get away. I also co-founded a “crisis nursery” in our community a few years ago to provide respite for every and any parent who needs it. And yet, it took me ten years and near exhaustion and a wonderful person to say, “Can someone watch the boys for a few days? I’m serious” to get me to apply my philosophy to myself and get on a plane.

guemes1I have absolutely no regrets. I actually relished having six hours on a plane where no one could reach me and all I needed to do was read a book and munch on some pretzels. I woke up on the second day feeling rested and refreshed. When a winter storm blowing in caused us to push back our flights by a day, I fretted for a while about how my eldest (and least flexible) son would handle another day without mom, but soon realized that clearly I was the one who needed that extra day to sit on the couch and watch the boats go by.

My mom is my joy. She willingly moved into my little home for a few days to juggle the boys, get them to basketball games, handle the push-back of not wanting to go to church, deal with the major emotional complete melt-down of Super Tall Guy before school on Monday morning, keep the dog alive, coordinate the babysitter and my sister’s kids’ after school care, all with a smile and grace and love. And my sister lovingly filled in to give the boys a few extra hugs and attention while I was away. I am so grateful for the support of family and friends to make this happen and the chance to meet new friends on my trip.

If there’s one thing I learned – it won’t be ten years before I take my next break. In fact, it’s been rolling in my head for years to get away with some other moms on a regular basis in January or February. This experience reinforced the importance of making sure that idea becomes a reality. Parenting is exhausting even when you are getting sleep. Sanity is maintained by getting breaks!

Who’s with me in 2018?

 

 

 

Seeking the not-so-faint at heart…

 

There are some unexpected challenges that come along with parenting in some families that are usually not spoken about….including struggles to finding a babysitter. I mean, yes, if you have seven kids, it’s pretty hard for someone to volunteer to babysit. But that’s also true if you have four boys. And it’s very true if you have “challenging” kids.

Parenting is exhausting. Same routine day in and day out. Dinner, bath (sometimes) and bed. Brush teeth. Read books. Take micro naps while lying beside the kids yearning to hear them snore. Every night. Doing it by yourself is especially exhausting. Naturally, I try to heed the advice I give to all parents, “Make sure you get some time out to rejuvenate and revive yourself. Get a break from the kids. Find time to talk to a fellow adult in sentence form rather than word fragment.” Yet sometimes it feels like it’s not worth going out at all. No matter what time I pull into the driveway, there seems to be a kid greeting me at the door.

This week, I lost it. It was 10:05 pm. I had had a very long day and an evening engagement. The lights were out in the house as Super Tall Guy and the Little Guy (well, I’m sure it wasn’t his idea) wanted to prevent me from knowing they were still awake. I politely paid the babysitter, assured her it was “no problem” that the boys were still bouncing off the walls, and said good night. Then I snapped. “Why did I just pay a babysitter to do the work of caring for you and putting you to bed….and I still have to do it all myself?”  “You’re nine years old – you know what it means to go to bed.” “I can’t believe you are so disobedient that you refused to go to bed,” tired Mommy roared. I was worked up enough to almost pull the ice cream out of the freezer to soothe the inflamed throat, but dinner had been too good.

In the calm of snoring children, I realize that my family just doesn’t do the “average” babysitter. The boys chew them up and spit them out. They don’t return my texts when I reach out to ask if they’re free to watch the boys. They don’t leave with a “call me anytime” response. They probably spread the word throughout our childcare center, “Don’t give your number out to babysit those crazy three.” Yes, finding a babysitter is easier than keeping a babysitter!

This difficulty in finding respite is amplified for families who have children with medical complications. I can’t even imagine their struggle to find someone able to care for medically fragile children. I have spent countless hours in the area of non-profit respite work. I know it’s tough.

It just hadn’t really occurred to me that I also needed to be looking for a babysitter who was “strong” enough to deal with active boys and defiant behaviors. Someone strong enough to say “No.” Strong enough to not back down in the face of opposition. Strong enough to impose limits. Strong enough to recognize and escape the wily kid traps. Heck, sometimes I’m not strong enough.

So if you know anyone who’s worked in juvenile detention, or as a therapist for emotionally and behaviorally difficult children, send them my way. Or to any of the other numerous families with challenging children. For a little bit of respite is good for the soul. And my boys really are good kids – you just need to have a ton of energy and a firm look to your eyes….and the desire to play hide and seek a million times!