Many late Saturday afternoons with my kids can be a drag. We've likely had a great morning on our "adventure day" -- hitting the farmer's market, or a music festival, visiting friends. But between 3 p.m. when Lucas wakes up grumpy from his nap, and 5 p.m. when their dad picks them up, I can find myself counting the minutes. It's like the last day of a long vacation -- sad for the time to end, but eager to get on with it already. As a single parent with shared visitation, it can be tough to tell what is work and what is vacation -- I miss Helena and Lucas when they are gone and always look forward to their smiling hugs upon return. But I also can look very forward to booting their grumpy, needy tushes out the door and going out on a Saturday night like an adult.
So when my ex informed me a few weeks ago that he'd be going on vacation and miss two weeks' worth of visits, I lost my mind. Couldn't he have told me sooner? Couldn't he arrange it so it missed fewer visits? Does he realize how much I depend on those weeknights with him to work?
But over the past few years I've gone many stretches without relief from my ex, and I always come to the same conclusion: it is fantastic. That I feel that way always surprises me. After all, it flies in the face of the assumption that single moms are stressed out, overburdened broads in dire need of a break. But what I find time and again is that without the whiplash of a visitation schedule, it is easier for the kids and me to fall into a more relaxed routine of just us. It's summer and we're doing all kinds of fun stuff like hitting the beach, zoo, pool and picnics. We camped on a farm upstate New York, and met up with bunches of friends. We eat watermelon nearly every night.
But more than all the special activities, there is a positive psychological shift that comes with thinking of myself of being a mom all the time, with less distraction from the other parts of my life. Dating distracts me less, since my weekends are not as free for dudes. Work takes a refreshing backseat in my mental space because hanging with the kids becomes so fun. I accept that I will not get a workout in on the weekends, and I haven't gained 20 lbs.
As I find myself melting into being a mommy all the time, I am a better mommy. I'm not as quick to bark, or get frustrated. I say "yes" more often: Yes, we can watch Cars and eat a dinner of popcorn, cheese and apples (a third-generation Johnson tradition, started with my mom's family who ate the meal while watching Lassie on Sunday nights). Yes, you can play with my iPad again. Yes, you can skip your nap. Yes, feel free to keep dumping even more raisins in your Cheerios. Because, honestly, was I really so stressed out that I felt the need to stop a child from putting fruit on his cereal?
I guess I was. And I see now how much better behaved my kids are now that they have that better, more chilled-out mom. More polite language. Better listening and chore-doing. Fewer meltdowns -- and quicker apologies in the event of a spazz-out.
This goes back to what I often say about divorce, single parenthood and, well, life: You can do more than you think you can. You are where you put your energy. Often my energy can be focused on the break I get when my kids spend time with their dad, and the fun adult things I do when they are not home. But all that energy spent on getting rid of them shifts my energy away from enjoying them. Which is human, but it is also counter-productive.
In a couple weeks we will be back to our old routine, and I will return to my regularly scheduled programming that has many components aside from mothering. But I vow to myself to keep being a fun mom. The relaxed one who enjoys her kids in the moment -- even if that moment ends at 5 p.m. Saturday.
Follow Emma Johnson on Twitter: www.twitter.com/JohnsonEmma