I Love My Kids — But Give Me a Break

A Pennsylvania mother — who loves her children — also loves to get away from them. And on a recent trip away from her family, she realizes that one of the greatest restorative places for an overworked wife and mother is... an airport waiting lounge.

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There are more than 80 million mothers in the United States according to the Census Bureau.

Commentator Marion Winik is one of them. And she's willing to bet that she's not the only one who enjoys getting away from her family every once in a while.

MARION WINIK: When I had only two children and they were small, I spent a few days by myself in a cabin in the woods. When it came time to stock up at the grocery store, I was befuddled. What did I like to eat? I had no idea.

A mother can forget what she likes. She can even forget what she is like. Wherever you go, there you are. But so are they, the children. Though it is difficult to abandon those who count on you for their varied Hot Pockets, if you play your cards right, distant obligations arise. Goodbye. Back soon. Just microwave them two minutes.

To gaze at the ocean, to meditate on a mountaintop, to steam in lavender and eucalyptus. To this list, I would add another restorative experience of spiritual solitude - to sit alone in the airport terminal. Like magic, the presence of strangers combined with the act of transit, resets your sense of self. See? You are a woman in black jeans sitting in a chair with a book - a compact self-contained organism.

If somebody speaks to you, they do it politely. And if they look at you, they do so covertly, because that's all that's allowed. Your boundaries - usually under continual assault by the condition of motherhood - start to firm up. You are mutating into that least maternal and most impermeable of beings, a stranger.

You will be untroubled, as if wrapped in a cocoon, reading the paper and drinking coffee. How could aroma therapy on Big Sur be better than this? I used to be a friendly traveler, but these days I just want to read my book or make my lists, for the other urge that comes over me shortly after liberating myself from my responsibilities is making lists of things to do when I return.

Lists of things to do are poems of a kind, the free verse of a vast and efficient future in which cars are inspected, birthday presents wrapped, boxes of books packed up and sent off to young nephews. What a beautiful life I'm going to have when I return. And yet despite the bright promise of the lists and the refreshed quality of my identity, I've never once managed a smooth homecoming.

I walk in the door, and all the things I'm responsible for seem to fly towards me neglected and furious. Everything is wrong and crooked and left out on the counter. My husband, who has done everything a person possibly could, is annoyed in advance.

So how was it, he asked. Oh God, it was great, I say. Already in the other room, they're shouting mom. They never stopped the whole time you were gone, my husband says. So what did you do? Nothing, I say, dropping my suitcase and moving swiftly toward a jar of peanut butter with the lid off, also shouting my name - nothing.

BLOCK: Marion Winik lives in Glen Rock, Pennsylvania.

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