Mar 2011

Finding Peace in Strange Places

So I have an appointment that I’ve been looking forward to for a long time. A chance to stretch out on my belly, under a blanket, in dim lighting, in the middle of the day. No one can call me, email me, pull at me, or ask me any questions. It’ll just be me and a kind therapist, for 45 minutes. Mom nirvana, and I cannot wait.

But this is no day spa, with thick white robes, flickering candles and aromatherapy; no, I’m at Fairfax Radiology, for a routine MRI.

How did this happen?

How is it that a noisy, clanging, banging MRI tube has become my spa?

Or that a longer-than-usually-acceptable-wait at the dentist’s office seems perfectly acceptable now, because it means more time with a trashy magazine on a comfy couch?

That a delayed flight to visit my brother’s family (without my own family) is like an added bonus to an already fabulous solo trip. (More time to grab a Starbucks! More time to people watch at the airport! More time to read my book!)

That I rarely crank the stereo when I’m home alone anymore, because I cherish the silence too much.

That the highlight of a recent conference I attended in DC was not necessarily the speaker’s tips and ideas, but the delight in meeting people who actually wanted to shake my hand rather than hand me their cast-off garbage and used lollipop sticks.

This is pathetic.

This is not what the parenting magazines advise when they feature advice articles about the importance of taking time for yourself and pampering yourself and not losing yourself in the swirl of backpacks and cleats and homework and playdates and PTA fundraisers and social secretary’ing for second graders.

But who has time for leisurely walks through the woods to reconnect with nature when onion grass has taken over my yard, or quiet time with a favorite novel when I have stacks of books that need to be returned to three different libraries?

I sometimes fall into the trap of blaming “this area” (You know the argument: “This area is so fast-paced!”), or pointing a finger (a badly manicured one at that) at “society” and “technology” for speeding up our lives to an impossibly frenetic pace.

But it’s faulty thinking, this blaming of society or technology or the much-maligned Northern Virginia area, because I very clearly remember my own mother—living in a time without Crackberries or SOL testing or HOT lanes—also feeling the need to carve out some private time in places not much better than an MRI tube.

The downstairs powder room in my childhood home, for example, was one of her personal favorites. She’d grab the kitchen phone receiver, stretch the long curly cord into the bathroom, and close the door on her noisy and intrusive world so that she could catch up with a friend in peace.

(I also remember her saying that her dream would be to have an electrified phone booth in the house, so I suppose we should have been grateful that she chose instead to merely hog the bathroom.)

She also reserved her bedroom, particularly during the 10:00 news hour, as a kid-free zone, and although I can’t remember actually wanting to watch the news, I do remember feeling vaguely offended that my brothers and I weren’t invited in. Now I just shake my head in amazement that she made it until 10pm before demanding some alone time.

And wasn’t it Erma Bombeck who literally wrote the book on the trials and tribulations of motherhood—and the pursuit of peace and quiet—in the 1960s and ‘70s?

So I’ve decided, actually, that this pathetic habit of finding peace in peaceless places is no fault of modern culture but is instead an unavoidable byproduct of motherhood. And since I’m in no way a fan of getting rid of my kids, or seeing them exit the nest any sooner than they absolutely have to, I have willed myself to view life’s inconveniences as opportunities for unexpected rewards: A blown disc means time at the MRI spa, a double-booked dentist means quality time with Brangelina.

Perhaps it sounds a little Pollyanna, this insistence on focusing on the positives in the midst of everyday annoyances. But I’m a mother, so I’ll just call it survival.


This article was originally published March 30, 2011 on

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