We pull up to the garage and I try to catch my breath as I hop off the bike. Pulling 80 plus pounds is like jogging through sand, I am always surprised by the effort. I unload the crew in the bike trailer, wrestling with sticky straps and little bodies that don’t make the struggle any easier. One fell asleep on the bouncy ride home from church. The other pretends he is asleep, a give away trying-to-hide-it grin sneaking across his face. Their dad unhooks the trailer from my bike while I settle the baby at a surface the furthest from the stairs he recently discovered. I make the backpack switch, from diaper bag to computer bag.
"All set?" I ask.
I smile hesitantly, take a deep breath and say "Thanks." This is getting easier for me, as it becomes more routine. Me leaving, him staying, switching from co-pilots to solo flying. But he knows I still struggle with the guilt.
"Don’t rush home." He doesn’t have to say this but he always does. "We’ll be fine." What I should notice is him opening a cage and setting me free. Instead I feel brushed away, insignificant, like a nagging fly. I know while I am gone he will clean the kitchen, even the hand wash (gasp.) He’ll turn over the laundry and make the kids clean up their toys. In other words, I will return to a clean home, happy children, and a relaxed spouse. He will make it look easy. He always does.
It never feels easy to me. An afternoon alone with three children typically leaves me drained, weak, unhinged. It’s the ordinary that gets me down. I have many strengths in motherhood, but dealing with the daily to-dos on top of parenting is not one of them. He, however, will make it seem like pedaling down hill. I resent this. This is my problem, not his.
But I go to write anyway. Partly because he is shooing me away. But also because the thrill of not slogging through the quotidian with my children for one afternoon outweighs the guilty feelings of inadequacy when I return.
I double check that I have my lock, snap on my helmet, and push off on my pedals down the driveway. My exit is always quick, as if I must outrun their clinginess, and my guilt. I speed forward faster than I expected, realizing my gears are still low from the ride with the kids. The ease in which my pedals move me when I am riding solo catches me by surprise as much as the effort to pull the trailer does. I’m flying down the street now, pedals gliding under my feet. I can barely keep up and have to quickly shift up to maintain control.
I am lighter when they are not with me.
The weight of my children is more what I know. In my arms, in my mind, of course in my heart. They are heavy. I don’t notice this until I put them down, unhook them. But when I do, the contrast is freeing. I can do more, go faster, think more clearly.
It took time and practice, and some missteps, to discover we needed to build in this time, this space for me. A moment to feel lighter, to let him carry the load for awhile. A chance to give my tired arms, and heart, a break. Creativity and self care can find their way into the crevices of life when it is all I have. But the effort is always easier when alone. So we make it a priority. We schedule time to let him take the lead on the circus of three kids while I leave, my desk a different coffee shop each week, to write, to create, to think, or to just be. Alone.
I always thought it was the uncoupling that made the ride easier, of the bike from the trailer, of me from them. But today, as I bike back down the same streets that I came from only minutes ago, then struggling to keep up, this time by myself, it’s not the lightness that I notice. It is the strength.
My legs feel stronger with each rotation of the pedals. The wind is rushing by me now, a sign of speed, making me crave more. I feel powered by my muscles, pushing harder, faster. While pulling my children feels like a constant struggle to move, I now sense a strength and ability I didn’t know I had. I am a stronger biker than I knew.
But I am not better because I am alone. I am better because they made me stronger.
With every push and pull of the pedals on the bike, my muscles fought against the resistance and got stronger. With every stage that feels never ending, with every doubt of my ability, with every time that left me weak and angry and helpless, I push through anyway. Because I must. There is no other way to get from here to there. But through this effort, I am getting stronger. My muscles were stretching. I am stretching. Motherhood hasn’t weighed me down like I once thought. Instead, it adds resistance in my training, making a stronger, better, more capable version of myself.
In half the time I expected, I pull up to the coffee shop and lock up my bike, quickly, not wanting to waste any of my valuable minutes. It was a hard week for me in this creative department. I itch to make sense of the fragments of thoughts jotted down in between sibling fight mediating and bottomless milk pouring and tiny bite cutting.
But today, different from other days, I sense gratitude instead of relief. To be alone, of course, always. But also a gratitude for the interruptions that weighed me down all week. Interruptions that give me a reason to write, to create, to process, to grow, to learn. And to think, I might have missed this if I hadn’t unhooked my bike.
I settle into a seat, iced coffee by my side, keyboard under my fingertips. I begin to type, words flowing a little bit easier than they did last week. Motherhood isn’t the only area where I am getting stronger. My writing is too. Every incomplete thought collected on phone notes while waiting for the bus, in notebooks next to my grocery list, and in untitled tabs cluttering my computer memory during quiet seconds at nap, that was me stretching my writing muscles. The time is hard to find, the words too, but I write anyway. For today I am alone, ready to write, powered by confidence I recognize as strength.