He’s tall and handsome, with a bicep tattoo that peeks out from beneath the sleeve of his t-shirt. There was a time in my life that I would have paused to wonder if he thought I was cute, and maybe thrown him a flirty smile and a hair flip for a little confidence boost. But today, with my 18 month old daughter on my hip and the stench of cold sweat rising from beneath my down jacket, I don’t have to wonder. I can assure you that he is thinking of me as a customer, and only a customer, and that he would like me to make my purchase and get my chocolate covered, shoeless daughter and my post-workout self out of the feed store as soon as possible.
“Two bags of cracked corn, please.” I say, when he asks politely what I need today.
He rings me up, tells me my total, and calls out my order to the warehouse. I shift Maggie to my other hip and grab the plastic pen-that’s-not-a-pen off the side of the card reader. As I sign an awkward signature on the screen, he asks: “Are you glad it’s almost the weekend?”
I smile a tired, half-hearted smile at him. “Yeah.” I say. “Sure am.”
He hands me my receipt and the slip for the guys out back, and sends me on my way with a “have a great day, ma’am.”
Later that night, I flop down in my favorite chair in the living room. The kids are in bed and the dishes are done. Laundry has been folded (and even put away), toys were picked up, and the coffee pot is ready for tomorrow. I’m exhausted.
My husband lays, half-asleep, on the couch next to me, where he’s been since before I put the kids to bed.
We sit in silence for a few minutes before his phone rings. From his side of the conversation, I can tell he’s discussing tomorrow’s incoming cattle shipment. Eventually, he hangs up. Then, he turns to me and says “The trucks will be at work by 6, so I need to be out the door by 5:45 tomorrow morning,” he says.
Tomorrow is Saturday. Tomorrow is “the weekend.” But tomorrow, for me, will be the same as every other day of the week. I’ll be home, with two kids who need to be fed, entertained, picked up after, and parented, while he spends his day at work … not doing any of those things.
Years ago, we spent a hot Saturday afternoon in the hills getting firewood. He cut each log into pieces, and I carried them to the truck. Then, together, we loaded our old flatbed pickup to the gills with wood to keep us warm through the winter. We were a team, each with an equal share of the workload.
He stood on the back of the truck, and as I handed him up an armload of wood, he asked “Are we ever going to have kids?”
The afternoon sun warmed my back, and I looked up at him. “Yeah, someday,” I said with a saucy grin. “When I’m ready to give up my freedom.”
I knew enough to know that our kids would be, for the most part, my responsibility. I knew that his long hours at the ranch would continue, kids or not. And I knew that, for the most part, his life would remain the same, kids or not.
And so we waited until I thought I was ready.
My alarm goes off every day at 4:30 a.m. At that hour, our house is dark and quiet, and most mornings I slip quietly out of bed; washing my face and brushing my teeth by the dim light of a lamp in our bathroom-adjoining closet, eager for alone time. But this morning, I reset the alarm for 4:45, then 5:00, before finally rolling over to rouse my husband.
“If you’re leaving by 5:45, you better get up.” I say, shaking his shoulder.
He heads for the shower, and I head to the kitchen for coffee. Forty-five minutes later, he kisses me goodbye and heads out the door. I sit in my chair, hunched over my steaming mug, and glare at the door closing behind him, my resentment rising in the back of my throat, like the beginning stages of heartburn. My whole body yearns to walk out that door, too. I close my eyes and tip my head back against the soft leather of the chair, trying to shake the feeling.
There’s a lot I miss about my life before kids: the way my body looked, the state of our finances, and the relative ease of pre-baby marriage. But it’s freedom I miss most of all.
I miss the ability to walk out the door at a moment’s notice or go for a run whenever I feel like it. I miss being able to make plans without consulting my husband (which often feels a whole lot like asking permission), and I miss pulling my weight on the ranch. I miss deciding to take an hour-long bath, choosing to stay in bed all day curled up with a book, and being able to partake in impromptu get-togethers with friends.
On bad days, I resent my husband’s freedom so much it scares me. I hate the freedom he has every day when he walks out the door, alone, to go to work. I despise his long, solitary showers, and his ability to use the bathroom by himself, overlooking the fact that his freedom also looks like 10-12 hour work days, 6-7 days a week, working outside whether it’s -10 degrees or 105 degrees and coming and going in the gray haze of dawn and dusk.
During the work week, I don’t mind so much. I like to work, and parenting is just that. But on Saturdays? I mind.
Because deeply ingrained in me is the belief that weekends should feel different. They should be free from the constraints of the week—lazier, slower, filled with pancakes and long runs (and post-run bubble baths) and movies on the couch. But those things do not interest my two young kids, and parenting them on those days feels like a big, restraining inconvenience.
The thing is, I can’t be legitimately mad at my husband over the imbalance of freedom in our house, because I knew it would be this way. I knew it when I married him, and I definitely knew it when I decided I was ready to have those babies I’d been putting off. Plus, he really is a great dad. He takes the kids as often as his schedule allows, and bends over backwards to give me a break when I bother to ask for one—I just hate the confines of having to ask. So instead of expressing my anger and resentment, I bury it deep inside, where it festers until it eventually explodes … all over my kids. But they deserve better. And while I can’t change my circumstances today, I can change my attitude.
Opening my eyes, I spy a forgotten toy tractor sticking out from under the edge of the entertainment center. Often, its presence would annoy me. But looking at it, I can hear Royce and Maggie’s giggles as they drove tractors up and down the side of our pine TV stand yesterday. I remember the way Royce helped his sister fix the bucket on her tractor, and how they switched toys a few times without prompting from me. They played that way for over an hour, without fighting or whining, and when I called them for lunch they raced to the kitchen without a word of protest. After a long, stir-crazy winter, filled with toy-stealing, hitting, and too many time outs, it was the perfect morning, and its memory quenches my thirst for freedom a bit.
Later, after pancakes, I realize the sun is shining. We bundle up, and walk the quarter-mile to our mailbox. Royce tells me an elaborate story about a deer and a wolf, and Maggie sings in the pack on my back. As Royce takes my hand, I think about a friend’s recent comment that her five-year-old won’t hold her hand anymore. Someday soon Royce will walk down this same driveway to get on the school bus and the days of the week will, once again, have meaning. I squeeze his still-chubby fingers, suddenly hyper-aware of how quickly time is passing. In this moment, there’s nowhere else I’d rather be. And for the first time in a while, I am glad it’s the weekend, because somehow the realization that this season is temporary makes it bearable and, even momentarily, enjoyable.
Someday, before I’m ready, I’ll have my freedom back, and my husband and I will again be a two-man team. The days of asking “permission” for a break will be long gone, along with the tractor under my entertainment center, and “the weekend” will mean something again. But you know what? I bet when that day comes, I’ll dream of today, and miss it.
Guest post and photo by Cara Stolen. Cara is a ranch wife and work-at-home mama of two living in rural Washington state. She loves exceptionally early mornings, strong black coffee, and listening to her children giggle. You can find her hiding in her pantry sneaking chocolate chips by the handful, or on Instagram. She also blogs occasionally.