After another long day at home with the kids, I start planning my escape as soon as my husband gets home. “I have to go to the store,” I say in a whisper so that my toddler won’t realize I am leaving and get upset. The baby has been fed and put down for a nap that should last at least an hour and a half. As I slip on my shoes and sneak out the door, I let out a deep breath and release the tension in my shoulders that I hadn’t noticed until this moment.
I make the seven-minute drive with no crying or questions from the back seat. After parking my car, I get out and walk right into the store without having to put shoes on my son, or strap the baby to myself in the carrier. I walk as fast or as slow as I want, and there in that supermarket, surrounded by people, I am finally alone.
The thing about being the primary caretaker of little people is that there is no “alone time” automatically built into your life. When I was working at a law firm before my oldest was born, I had my 30-minute commute each way to talk to myself and process my thoughts. I would listen to audio books, music, or simply enjoy the silence. And once I got home, if I needed more time, my husband could totally cope with limiting our interaction until I was ready to be fully present.
Not so my children. I find myself struggling to put dinner (and lunch and breakfast) together because I haven’t had a moment to think about it all day long. I often save my grocery shopping for the evening so that when my husband walks in, I can run out the door and wander through every aisle in peace, alone with my thoughts.
My obsession with “alone time” reminds me of a very distinct memory I have of my mom. When I was around seven or eight, every time my mother went to the grocery store I would beg to go too. My younger self was even more outgoing and gregarious than I am now, and I had so many things to say that I craved my mom’s undivided attention. Only now do I understand what a huge sacrifice it was for her when she agreed to take me grocery shopping. I’m a fairly standard extrovert and knowing how much I value that time alone, I cannot imagine how important it was to my mom, a classic introvert.
Back then, it never occurred to me that we – my five siblings and I – were the reason she was always so tired and stressed. I thought it was just part of being an adult. (I’ve recently learned there are some adults who get enough sleep and have time to do the things that they enjoy, though they typically aren’t the ones with small children!)
For my mom, taking me to the store with her was an ordinary activity that showed an extraordinary love. She frequently gave up her legitimate need to be alone in order to make me feel heard, which to me feels like love. In my own motherhood, giving up my alone time is a huge challenge to me. I am the mother of the most extroverted human I know. He’s two years old, and I am his favorite person. History is repeating itself before my eyes every day.
My mom gave me an example to follow of sacrificial love. (She also set an example of self-care by saying no from time to time.) If I can love for the long haul and eventually have a close, respectful relationship with my grown children, I will be more than pleased.
And maybe someday, when my son and daughter ponder their own lives with their children, they will determine to love their little ones fiercely, as I have tried to love them, as my mother loved me, one moment of sacrificial love at a time.
BIO: Katherine Lopez is a mom to two incredible children who keep her busy and exhausted. She enjoys spending time with her family, eating, reading, and music, more or less in that order. She and her husband live in Phoenix, AZ.