What’s Holding Me Back?

After a nearly six-year, part-time journey through graduate school, I am almost at the finish line. During those years, I’ve seen many of my friends juggle work and school and get their masters in two or three years. I feel sheepish admitting that I’ve been at this for such a long time.

Then I remind myself to keep things in perspective: in those five years I had a baby, had to come to terms with the sudden death of my father, and scramble to find care for my elderly, mentally ill mother. The journey has been rough, but on good days, the shrink in my head reminds me that I should value my persistence and tenacity–I could have given up, right?

I’ve reached a point where not so many people vying for my attention: my 2 1/2 year old sleeps through the night, my elderly mother is safely ensconced in an assisted living facility. I finally have time to devote to me.

So why am I having such a hard time asking for the time I need for my graduate work? My husband told me I should take any time that I need to work on my assignments, even if that means multiple evenings away in a single week. Yet, I hesitated to take him up on his offer at first.

“I can do work once my daughter goes to bed,” I told myself. Or: “I can work while she takes her nap.”

Even during those free hours, I found myself doing things like reorganizing the sock drawer and paying bills. Walking away from being a wife and mommy to focus on myself was, well, hard. But why? What was holding me back?

Fear of losing my control over the household? As harried as I felt sometimes, I did feel some smug satisfaction knowing that if our household ran smoothly, that it was in large part because of my efforts. Without me, their would be no food in the house, we’d run out of toilet paper, the bills wouldn’t be paid.

Fear of losing the self I felt safe and comfortable with? Hmm. Possible. What would my husband think of me if I started demanding time for myself? What would happen if I (gasp!) inconvenienced close friends by asking them to watch my daughter so I could interview someone for my upcoming assignment? Would I be perceived as needy? Selfish?

My husband finally told me that if I didn’t take the time, he was going to throw me out of the house, so one night last week, I kissed him and Z goodnight and headed to Borders to write.I felt fabulous. I had an interview set up for the following night. “I’ll be home by Z’s bedtime,” I told my husband. “What if you’re not?” he said. “Just take your time.” So, I did, and got to spend a few extra hours focused on my work.

Take care of yourself and you’ll be a better mother, partner, friend. I used to say it, but I’m beginning to believe it.

What’s Better Than Five Minutes in the Bathroom? Mondays.

I remember when Sunday evenings filled me with a vague ennui, very much like that low-grade sadness that overtook me as a child the night of Christmas or my birthday. The lethargy. The aimlessness. The feeling that I could’ve used my time more wisely instead of letting the hours slip past.

Not anymore.

Sunday evenings are Christmas Eve for me now. Why? Because Monday means that I can be alone. I can drop Zora off with her nanny, I can kiss my husband goodbye, and bliss out to NPR while crawling up 395N. When I arrive at work, I can brew a pot of coffee for my floormates, crawl into my office, and not come out for hours. If I do leave my solitude, it’s only for a meeting or a quick trip to the kitchen to nuke my lunch and grab a Fresca before heading back to my office. My Space. It’s decidedly unsocial.

After a weekend of serving as my family’s chef, chauffeur, concierge, personal shopper, accountant, entertainer  — Mama, I want yogurt. Mama, I want up. Hon, can you hang up your coat and put away your boots? Play with me. What’s for dinner? What do we need at the store? — I’m ready to unplug. Five minutes behind a locked bathroom door once a day is not enough. Besides, my dear girl knows how to knock, turn the doorknob this way and that, and push her little fingers under the door to wave at me. “You pooping, Mama? Can I see your poo poo?”

Yep. I love being alone, and I am not alone in feeling this way.