It’s a tough age for any child, but her situation is complicated by her ever-shifting feelings about her adoption. She’s harboring a lot of anger and resentment, and even though I know she is bearing a terrible emotional burden, even though I know deep down this anger and resentment is not actually meant for me, her adoptive mother, I cannot help but feel the sting of her cruelty and react to her in kind—matching her anger for anger, resentment for resentment.
Things can get pretty heated between us—fights escalate quickly. My husband can attest to this. He’s quick with the fire extinguisher, but the coals never seem to die down. There’s a constant heat between me and my daughter, and it takes very little to fan it into flames. One catty snap from me or a snide retort from her and things are blazing again.
It is draining to exist in this way, with the gas always on. I was fast approaching burnout.
I pray, as I often do, the most helpless and honest prayer I think any mother can utter: God, make me into the mother this child needs.
It’s the purest prayer I know, the most loving, the most humble. I pray it more than anything else, often through tears of inadequacy, or through embarrassed anger at myself for losing my temper with my daughter, who cannot help her situation.
I’m the adult. I should know better.
I know I’m not the only mom who feels that way.
I hold regular communion-via-Zoom with an old college friend who lives two states away. She’s a mom, too, and even though her daughter is nearly a decade younger than mine, a three-nager and a teenager seem to present similar challenges. COVID blessed us with the realization that we could be together without actually being together, so we started a book club, and our friendship flowered in new and exciting ways as a result.
But there truly is nothing like being together, in-person, (COVID blessed us with that realization, too), so we started to fantasize about taking a mom-cation—just the two of us, alone (together) for a whole week. At first, it seemed ridiculous, almost fanciful—leaving our own worlds behind to inhabit another for a whole week. It seemed scandalous. It seemed luxurious. It seemed ludicrous.
Still, we talked about it during our weekly meetings, building our sky castle, brick by brick, basing our imaginary itinerary on the book series we were reading (the works of Maggie Stiefvater, if you were wondering).
As I spent more and more of our Sunday night book club sessions venting my own parental frustrations instead of discussing the actual book, I came to an important realization . . .
In order to become the mother my child needs, I needed to get away from my child. I needed time and space to breathe, to cool off, to pour water on the embers.
I needed a mom-cation.
Our husbands—God bless them both—recognized our burnout and gave us the green light.
It was nothing extravagant. But it was holy.
We stayed at an adorable Airbnb in the Shenandoah Valley where I slept on a (very nice) futon. (But it was still a futon.) We toured a cave. We hiked some trails in Shenandoah National Park. We drove down dirt country roads and walked among the trees and waded in the rivers. We watched a thunderstorm; we walked in an old cemetery. We saw a double rainbow over the mountains. We visited an independent bookstore. We read a lot. We talked a lot. We listened a lot—to each other, to nature, to ourselves.
I left to get away from my child, yes. I feel a measure of guilt about that—especially since she’s been left by so many caretakers in her young life.
But I also left so that I could return to her.
In her absence, I was able to lay down that heavy, tangled mess of feelings I have and start to unravel some of the knots we’ve made. Missing my daughter was healthy—it reminded me of what I loved most about her, about being her mom.
I came home feeling healed, and I cannot tell you how good it was to be reunited with my daughter. We fell into each other’s arms, and she let me hold her—something she’s been tolerating less and less as she ages. But at that moment, her arms were as tight around me as mine were around her, and I felt the tense heat that had existed between us cool into the warmth of a second chance.
I left to become a better mom, to return to my daughter renewed, refreshed, restored. Anne Lamott said, “Almost anything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.”
That was sound advice indeed.