My mother spent an hour or two every other day in a tiny neighbor-owned gym in the middle of nowhere North Georgia. She was often alone, building a muscular body whilst keeping herself sane with the much needed time away from her family. As a kid, I sometimes went with her, but more often than not, I stayed home thinking she was strange to want to spend so much time in that small, smelly gym.
Now, I totally get it.
Now, I know just how lucky she was to have that fragrant island in the middle of a working mother’s often turbulent seas.
Now, I am a mother in a similarly desperate need of time and space, and I’d take a sweat-soaked carpet any day if I could run away to it. But, unfortunately, with a husband who travels, and a two-year-old clinging to me like a needy koala, I do not have the freedom of even that hour away from home unless it is spent in a doctor’s office or at the grocery store.
So, to keep my head above water during turbulent seas at home, I’ve decided I’ll float better if my brain is full and my hands are busy.
Firstly, I’m teaching myself Korean. I’m working on learning a language because I feel like my brain will turn to mush and leak out my ears if I don’t restart the misfiring neurons in some fashion that avoids all Frozen songs and mental reruns of Mickey Mouse’s Club House. When we are in the car, and everyone is engaged in songs that lead to insanity, I can dive into vocabulary practice and verb conjugations. As a side benefit, it’s super fun to teach my two-year-old some Korean words and my seven-year-old how to count in a new language. Thanks to the haphazardness of my studying, I don’t see myself ever being bilingual, but it is a fun and fulfilling pastime for those days when I need a minute of adult time and have to retreat inside my head to get it. If you don’t feel like learning a language, I suggest finding some brain exercise to help you keep your sanity.
Keeping my hands busy is another way to preserve my overtaxed mommy body from spasms of despair while facing yet another load of laundry to fold. So instead of working feverishly to match the 111th sock to its missing partner, I often take a few moments while the baby is toddling around to pick up my latest project to distract my hands: bobbin lace, embroidery, knitting, kumihimo, sewing, or some other fiber-oriented project.
I love that many mobile projects can entertain my brain and my hands while I watch my eldest flip and flash through her gymnastics class or when we are waiting in line at doctors’ offices for the youngest’s 18th cold of the month. Another benefit of this particular habit is the curiosity it engenders not just in my children, who are learning to knit and sew, but also in the moms around me! It’s a great icebreaker and a way to engage other moms and, thus, perhaps form a friendship with someone whose favorite words don’t involve binkies, chips, and poop.
All this to say, where my mom had the gym, I have Korean grammar and thread to keep me sane. Every mom needs something that is just hers. Every mom needs a “thing” that they do outside of their children, husbands, and overall family life. Without it, whatever it is, the likelihood is high that we will lose touch with ourselves and sink the entire family ship without meaning to.