The Breakup By J’Mae Shemroske

I wish I could say I was surrounded by 4-year-olds, with our feet soaking in hot water and lavender aromas rising up around us, sitting on felted wool cushions that I had made during my yearly millet cleanse. In reality, though, it is 5 a.m., and I am in my living room writing this newsletter contribution on my laptop, fully clothed and drinking caffeine.

I am a mother of a 3-year-old and a 5-year-old, and I spend my days at home with them on our tiny homestead in upstate New York. I try really hard not to be on the computer in front of my kids. It is difficult.  At the end of our day I am usually just as tired as my kids, and I lie down with them and sing as they fall asleep. This has always been a part of our bedtime routine, and since I am home alone with them during this time, it is the part of the ritual that I am very attached to, as are they.  There is nothing I like more than lying between my sleeping children and knowing they are safe and quiet.  I breathe deeply. I relax deeply. I relish that peace. Most days I, too, fall asleep, and because I am awake with my kids when they are awake and asleep with them when they are asleep, I do not get a lot of time for the computer.

This morning I awoke at 4:30.  I moved my daughter’s leg off of me and my son’s arm off of me.  I crept out of the bedroom. I added wood to the stove and got it going for the day.  I love being up early, in the silence, while the world is still asleep. All my thoughts are my own. I am free to stretch or make tea or start breakfast. It feels like heaven to act out of my own impulse. No one needs a thing from me. I run to get on my computer like I am going to visit with a girlfriend I haven’t seen in a while. I am a little embarrassed about running to the computer, but I can justify that excitement because I am writing my first ever submission for a newsletter.

Oh no! I hear some pattering of feet. It’s only 5:15 and they never get up this early.  A little one comes scampering out and jumps up on the couch next to me, then a second little one comes running out. Darn! I hadn’t gotten anything done yet. I didn’t get enough time on my own. Really, I can’t even get out of bed without them. I notice I don’t feel happy to see my kids. They want to snuggle, they smile up at me, happy to have found me. I want them to be back asleep.  I don’t want to worry about or tend to them. I encourage them to go play. I want to keep working. I dim the screen to dark and wait for them to start their play. They want a story, a snack, to snuggle, and for me to play with them. Ugh. I just want to do what I want to do. I feel annoyed. Please go and play, I implore them. You could play blocks, you could color, I am just going to finish my work and then I’ll make breakfast. My kids refuse all offerings–they want to stay next to me. I would let them stay, but I feel so strongly about not letting my children look at the computer screen. I am struggling inside between what I know is right to do, what I want to do and how to handle all of that. I tell the kids they can have some mango and they run to their little table to eat. They enter their own world: they talk about what they will play when they are done eating.  Whew, now I can work and I don’t feel bad. If I could write this article and sing a developmentally appropriate lullaby while they play to feel like I was adding something to their lives, I would, but I can’t. My kids are setting up a puppet show on the window sill in the dining room. I smile to myself; play is enough. I focus on my typing and before I know it, an argument has bubbled up between my kids about where one of the dolls should stand. There is hitting and crying and yelling as the doll is being pulled in two directions. Frustration is rising in me until I storm over and take the doll away. I inform them I can take all the toys away if they don’t share. They return to their play and I to the couch. I barely sit down and they are fighting again. Annoyed, I slam my laptop down and grab my daughter’s arm and pull her towards a time-out. For some reason I sit down with her and hold her instead, I love her, I try to connect.  It is hard for me to let go of being mad. It is hard for me to let go of being on the computer.  I stretch myself and whisper in her ear. She giggles, I giggle, it worked; she is helping me transform. I let go of her and get up to start breakfast. I’ll get to type when I get to it. I am relieved to get back to honoring my no-computer rule and back to the morning routine.

Nothing ever got back to normal that day. That night, I was thinking back over the day, wondering why there were lots of meltdowns and why everything just felt off. It occurred to me that the computer was to blame. Every morning I wake up and I honor my role as a mom and carry my intention to be available to my children; it keeps me on track with what is important . That morning, not only was I unavailable when my kids woke up, but I expected them to politely adjust, and I was negative and resentful. It is obvious I need to re-evaluate my relationship with the computer. More proof that I don’t want to be on it around my kids. Originally, the motivation to limit my screen time in front of them was because their free play was including a lot of computer play. Now, the fact that it is hard for me to pull away and stop is all the more reason not to do it around my kids.

Let’s say everything was the same about the morning I describe above, except that I was knitting instead of being on the computer when I heard the pitter patter and my kids ran out. I know that I would put down my knitting, reach out my arms and welcome each child with a good morning embrace. What different reactions. This realization has been very useful in my relationship with my children.

Doesn’t it feel wonderful to be anticipated and received with love and happiness by someone you love? That is forever how I plan on greeting my children.