Knowing what you want is one thing. Knowing what you need? Quite another.

You can’t always get what you want, right? Hey – the Rolling Stones told us so! But New Year’s Eve was all about my son getting what he wanted, and me – not getting what I needed.

Yep, I did it to myself. My kid asked for a party and I said yes, then found myself cleaning and shopping when I should have been paying bills or writing or relaxing – one of those items on my personal priority list that always gets shuffled to the bottom by yours truly.

Move over Mick

Teenagers began gathering about 10pm and by 11 or so things were in full swing in the back yard as they played music, socialized around a small fire pit, and I fielded a few phone calls from other parents, assuring them it was fine for their kids to stay the night. We were fortunate; the weather was mild and clear and that kept the giant adolescents outside rather than lumbering through my little rooms other than occasionally.

I was hostess and vigilant monitor; filling bowls and platters with chips, chocolates, and sandwiches was gracious, yes, but also my way to keep an eye on the goings-on. Not unpleasant, and it’s not that there weren’t good moments. There were. But today? The full body hangover. From lack of sleep. From too many stresses. And this isn’t exactly how I had planned to greet the new year!

Sleep, my missing lover

Shall we say that little sleep was had by all? Or nearly?

Despite a living room of chatty teens that woke me through the night, my son had the good sense to catch some zzzzzzs somewhere around 4 am. But when I dragged myself out of my room to brew coffee and pop Excedrin, I felt lousy. And I resolved to stop giving away my sleep.

Then I wrote. I paced. I was grateful when the kids left. I pondered bad habits, in particular this tendency to put my needs last. This is the legacy of my childhood and equally, the rhythm and habit of my years as a solo mother.

And I remind myself there is a point at which STOP is required. Sleep can only be sacrificed for so long. And I am there – waving the white flag and staring down my reality: all stores are depleted. I am ragged like this writing, when I wish to be polished. I am run down, when I wish to start the year refreshed.

Single parent guilt

I have been here before and I know it isn’t about my son so much as it is about me, single parent guilt still bubbling up to the surface, that recurring, ridiculous sense that I should have done better for my children, that I should have managed to keep an empty marriage intact knowing full well that was impossible, and barring that, I should have succeeded in providing a father figure to participate in our lives on a daily basis.

As if it were that simple.

As if this argumentation in my head were anything more than pointless guilt and finger wagging, another manifestation of my need for sleep, and conditioning to take the blame for whatever goes wrong while deflecting credit for what goes right. The former remains a challenge; as for the latter, I practice the words in my head and on the virtual page: I am a good mother, I have done the best I can.

Needs vs. Wants

Yesterday my son slept and I knew he wanted to sleep and yet two college applications remained, due by midnight. He needed to take care of business.

Eventually he got to it, completing everything with less than an hour to spare as my stress oozed out of every pore and he knew it, and I chided myself for allowing him to party the night before. Yet I know he not only wanted those 12 hours off; on some level, he needed it.

But what about my needs? To sleep more and stress less? What about my wants? More “self” for myself? How many other parents allow their wants and needs to slide to the bottom of the list, and how do they undo that habit?

Today, tomorrow, the future

Today will be a replay of yesterday with one more essay and portfolio due by midnight. I must unearth whatever calm and support remains, fully aware that my son is bordering on burnt out.

As am I.

Of course, I’m the adult and aware that rest will ultimately right the world for both of us. But rest isn’t on the agenda; tomorrow is Monday and school begins again, project work begins again, driving and cooking and the usual pace of our lives returns as if there was no break at all. The only option as I see it? Toughing it out. Taking our good moments where we can. Being patient with each other.

And yet.

Can we change?

January 15th shines like some long-awaited finish line; the due date for everything that is required of my son. Somehow, he will make it. Somehow, I need to let go of my stress, for him.

As for what I want?

Perhaps I should rally around my recollections of being 17 – albums depicting Mick belting out his raucous rock, lips protruding, hips gyrating, dancing into the night with friends, feeling the ferocity of the music, fantasizing about the future, feverish with my own vitality, the voracious appetite to venture out, to live an exuberant life.

I need to reclaim that girl as well as the woman, the woman who gives without giving herself away, whose passions necessitate energy which in turn necessitates change. Positive change: belief in the right to go to the top of the list.

  • Do you know your own bad habits?
  • Have you been able to change?

© D A Wolf