I love the idea of a play-room. Some spot in the house where all of the toys can remain and the kiddos can go off and play, leaving the rest of the house looking clean, picked-up, and not like a wild bunch of hooligans live there. In fact, having a play room was a big feature of our house-hunting when we moved here. I felt that it was important to have that separation. It was as if, in my mind, having some small space of the house off limits to children was a way of keeping some small part of my identity intact. A way of preventing “motherhood” from fully swallowing up whole the person I was before children. I am more than my children’s mother, right? I’m a nurse. A woman. A wife. A thinker and a creator. For me, there was a fear that having a house overrun by toys and toddlers was the same as losing a big part of myself. I don’t even know if that makes sense, but it certainly did to me at the time.
I mentioned the play-room feature to my mom, and she had an interesting comment. She said, “You know, it doesn’t matter if you have a play room or not. The kids are going to want to be wherever you are.” Boy, is this true. If I’m in the bathroom, they want to be in the bathroom. If I’m in the kitchen, they want to be in the kitchen. If I’m hanging laundry on the porch, there they are banging on the screen door demanding to join me. If I leave to go volunteer, there’s wailing and weeping that I can hear even as I shut the back door.
In the end, we found a house with a semi-designated play room. Our house is fairly open-concept for a 1970s single-level home (I can sit in the dining room and view the master bedroom, the kitchen, the den/fireplace room, and the laundry room all without leaving my chair) and the play-room (what used to be the den) is fairly open. I’ve blocked it off with baby gates and set up a desk in there as well, so it doubles as our office area. You can’t walk in there and not know it’s a playroom thanks to the thick foam interlocking mats that create a child-safe rug over the wooden floor. It’s a fun place to be – lots of light, books, toys, a fully-stocked play kitchen and table… you’d think they’d never want to leave.
Except, the boys don’t seem to understand that it’s their play room. I say, “Go, play! Look at all of these toys! Do you really need to sit underneath my feet while I’m getting dinner ready? You have your own kitchen!”
And in their minds, the answer is, “Well, yes. Of course we need to sit here, as close to you as possible, even if it means risking being stepped on. Being near Mom is the place to be!” They’re like little ducklings, trailing along after me. Sometimes it’s aggravating and sometimes I think it’s good to set a boundary (“No, you may not always join me in the bathroom. Sometimes you have to sit outside the locked door, whether your like it or not.”). Many times, I enjoy it. But if I’m being completely, totally honest – it can be frustrating. I feel guilty even saying that because what mother doesn’t want her children to gather around her? What mom doesn’t want her children to love being near her?
I do love those things. I want those things. I just don’t always want them all of the time. Like when I’m midway through making lasagna and I turn from the stove, nearly kneeing one kid in the face because he silently scooted up behind me. I end up having to hop-scotch across the rug (trying and failing to avoid the measuring spoons and cups that my children want to play with) and find myself biting my tongue to keep from saying sharp words. Sometimes, I have to bite down pretty hard to keep from yelling, “O-kay – everyone out of the kitchen.”
Motherhood can feel the same way – I’m trying to do what needs to be done, only now there are 2 small people that have silently worked their way into every part of who I am. I love it, but it can mean that I have to do some pretty fancy steppin’ to keep from hurting them or myself.
This is why boundaries – baby gates – are so important. I don’t think it makes you a bad mother at all if you say, “I need some time to recharge.” I need to set up a baby gate here at this part of my life and, eventually, I can take it down and put away as I do with all baby things. But for now, I need to step on the other side, read a book, take a deep breath… and allow myself to be filled up. Filled up with the words of good friends, filled up with the peace and assurance that comes from God. It may mean taking an evening off – hiring a sitter or asking your husband to let you skip dinner (I think that a good book can be as filling as a good meal some times!). It may mean taking a brief moment for yourself in the middle of the day (it’s amazing how the simple act of deep breathing – in through your nose, out through your mouth – can recharge you).
For now, right now, I’m at peace. I can’t say that I’ll feel the same once dinner time rolls around and I’m hop-scotching across the rug, trying to avoid the toys while carrying a bowl of salad greens. But for now, I’m glad that I can take a moment to breathe, relax, and let myself be filled.
What are some things that help you recharge? Do you feel stressed, overwhelmed, and overrun? Where are some areas in your life that you might need to set up a “baby gate”?
“Now may the Lord of peace Himself continually grant you peace in every circumstance. The Lord be with you all!” – 2 Thessalonians 3:16