Last February, after much agonizing, recurring nightmares and stress symptoms, I left my job. It wasn’t an easy choice, but it was an important moment for me as a professional, as a woman who wants to be healthy and centered, and even as a mother.
It was an arduous spring of consulting and project work and a different kind of stress. As a single mother, I am the sole income-provider and the person responsible for modeling what it is to set high expectations, use talents and pursue big and kind-of crazy dreams for my son. As relieved as I’d been to leap out of the window and feel the wind rushing through my hair, I knew it couldn’t carry me. And it couldn’t pay my bills.
So I worked and I worked, as many hours as I did when I was beyond-full time. I cut back on expenses and explained the situation to my son. And then I tucked him into bed and went back to work some more. When I finally crashed, my brain kept playing on fast-forward, with anxiety dreams reeling in my mind all night long.
Summer arrived. School ended. It felt like time for another transition. I took another jump and decided it was time to stop stressing.
My son went to theatre day camp and I wrote and wrote and wrote during those hours. But when, I wondered, would I have the chance again to pick him up after camp, head to the beach, play in the sand and run through the lake until suppertime?
When would I have such a golden opportunity to spend this time this way?
That’s when I shut the door on the worry about money and full-time employment and adding to my 401(K). That’s when I realized that sometimes the most responsible thing is to just be there, whether that’s mentally or emotionally or physically present. I got a ticket to all three. I took it.
We spent many afternoons with each other and friends at the beach, in the library and running in the park. We hung out and read chapter books, side by side. We planned the trip we took weeks later to Washington, D.C. We learned how to draw cartoon animals and paged through pictures of puppies on Pinterest. We made friendship bracelets.
It wasn’t all a joyful montage of sunshine and rainbows. There were days I had a deadline and my son had to spend an afternoon with my parents. There were rainstorms that kept us inside. There were days I was so tired from staying up late to finish a project that our big adventure was getting snacks (him) and a bucket of coffee (me) from Starbucks.
Some things had to be exchanged for the more carefree days we shared over the summer. I cut my budget way back. I added more to my credit cards than I would have liked. But since I’d vowed to stress way less, I decided those things were far less important than the time I was there to pick up my kid instead of paying a nanny to be there.
Then, autumn. School started and because of a teachers strike, was placed on pause for a couple of weeks. At that point, rather than being too wistful about the end of all this freedom and sunshine, we both felt ready for another change.
Maybe because we were both willing or wishing, a lot of change landed at once. I secured a new position that I love, my son became a second grader and the Not Boyfriend, who I’ve been dating long-distance for nearly three years, moved to our city.
I felt the tug of vulnerability and security — roped in tight to the kid who I’d spent so much of the summer with and still worrying if all these transitions would make all that good stuff slip through my raw, tired hands.
As he does, my son put words to what was in my own head as all these first-days arrived on the calendar. We were snuggled up in his room, had just finished a chapter of “Stuart Little” and were talking about what it would be like to have the Not Boyfriend so near our neighborhood, in our home and over for dinner more often.
“I am happy he’s here,” he said tentatively. “But can we still be sure to have lots of Mommy and Me Time?”
It was a moment seven months in the making. It wasn’t worrisome. It wasn’t piled high with stress. It was just bouncing around on the rafters a little, making sure what we’d built could still hold us, could bear the weight of even more stuff, of other people.
I pulled him in close.
“No matter what,” I said, making him turn his face to me, “no matter what changes, no matter how our lives are different, no matter who is in our lives, no matter what happens, you and I will always, always have Mommy and Me Time.”
ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS, I thought.
He nodded, then quick-jabbed my ribs to make me laugh and minutes later, was sound asleep.
There’s more to come — and that’s healthy and happy and the way life should be. There will be thousands of hours to put in and hundreds of bills due. There will be big and exciting, bigger and challenging, and huge and overwhelming. There will be much more bliss. There will be other sorts of stress. I don’t know what’s ahead, but I know my promise will stand true.
And hopefully, the choice I made to release the recurring dreams and some salary will be the beginning of finding ways to have more summer times inside all of transitions ahead.
He won’t always want to throw a football at the beach with his mother, won’t always answer when I challenge him to a game of Battleship, won’t long ask for time for just the two of us.
So I am soaking up now what we just had and what we will sneak in, and I am holding tight to my promise, even if the changes are inside each of us.
Read more of Jessica’s adventures as a single mom in the city at Sassafrass.
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