For me; for Beaner.
I’ve been dreaming about today for nearly a year. I knew I’d never be a dedicated stay-at-home mom. At least, not in the sense that I’d be with my kid(s) 24/7. I still tell people I’m a full-time mother, and I am, playing chef, taxi, entertainer, sleep coach, nurse, librarian, butler, personal assistant, and many other roles for my daughter – sometimes begrudgingly, sometimes with joy – but it’s not the only thing I am. Like many parents out there, I wear many hats, trying to keep my career going (let’s think retirement, people), start a new one (writer), and maintain the castle at home (cleaning, cooking, pets, garden, laundry, etc.). Oh, and also keeping in touch with friends and family at least occasionally, to keep me sane. This leaves precious little “me” time.
As a Marine, I was conditioned to focus on the mission – the most important aspect of service – shoving any distractions out of my mind for set periods. This is called compartmentalizing and it’s an especially life-saving technique for pilots. Though I am easily distracted in most of my waking hours (my callsign was very nearly Scrat, from all those Ice Age movies), I can pull this skill out when I need it. And, as I now have four hours to myself in the morning three days a week, this is when I need it. No answering the door for the mailman, no picking up the phone, no social media, no walking the dog, no running errands, no cleaning, no cooking, no watching T.V., no reading a book, no nothing but working out and writing. (Okay, I’ll put a shower in there, too.) This is my mission. My priorities are clearly defined. Yes, emergencies will take precedence and life will happen, but if I do not violently protect this time I have battled to free, I will fritter it away on things that, in the end, aren’t that important.
Two life events – deployment and having a child – taught me to reflect on what matters most. They taught me that you must take care of yourself first before you can assist others. Easier said that done. I easily fell into a workaholic routine as a student and then as a pilot. It is fulfilling to work hard and see your efforts pay off in the form of good grades, scholarships, a decent paycheck, positive feedback, qualifications and designations, recognition, awards, and admiration. But everything has a price. I had no home life. I barely had a social life. I had no boyfriend for a long time and only saw my family once a year. I struggled to find time to work out and keep in shape. My sleep habits were random. I almost never cooked for myself. I would often come home and fall asleep on the couch, still wearing my flightsuit and tightly laced boots. I didn’t consider this abnormal.
I broke this cycle on my second deployment to Helmand Province in 2013. It was my first, and last, nine-to-five job. I worked the day shift, six days a week (the seventh was for flying), and I fell into a glorious schedule: wake up, Crossfit, shower, breakfast, book, work, lunch, work, dinner, emails, sleep. I felt good, I looked good, I was good. Of course, when I met my husband-to-be, that threw a wrench in my nice routine, but I still mostly stuck to it. Today, I feel like I’m on deployment again, sketching out my schedule and prioritizing what’s important. The two things I lacked in the past eight months due to having a child (never mind just the freedom of not having a small human relying on you for everything), were time to work out and write. These are now my goals.
My daughter is probably having a ball at nursery (day care) right now. Actually, I hope she’s napping. My time away is just as important for her development as it is my sanity. She’ll meet new people, work on her social skills, practice rolling and crawling, read new books, eat different food, settle into a routine. Understanding my nature and style of parenting, and my limits as a mother, makes this decision an easy one for me. Shoot, if I hadn’t been gallivanting around the States and Germany for the past few months, I may have enrolled her sooner. The benefits are mutual and we’ll both be better people for this separation.
I’m okay with this time apart. In fact, I’m ecstatic.