I flop onto my waterbed, the tiny waves rippling beneath me. Their motion slows as I click on the TV, press play on the VCR, and the doctors from ER fill the screen. On the back of my bedroom door, a poster of JTT stares back at me with his sultry blue eyes and wavy brown hair.
Next to the poster is a poorly crafted birthday cake made from construction paper with candles to tear off until my 16th birthday. I sigh; there are still 10 “candles” left.
Bored with TV, I sit and awkwardly wiggle myself off the bed. Walking to the mirror in my closet, I twist my hair into rows and stick in a few butterfly clips. On the floor in the back of my closet, I find my ridiculously heavy Doc Marten sandals and put them on. It’s only 7 p.m. on a Friday.
I walk down the hall. “Mom, can you give me a ride to town? I want to go drag Main with my friends.” I picture my friends in their cars, driving up and down Main Street in my small hometown.
“Sure, as soon as I finish washing the dishes, okay?” she says.
Ten more days.
My driver’s license means freedom. It feels so close — I can almost taste it.
I can’t get the help I need if I don’t ask for it
“I have a dentist appointment this morning,” I tell my husband, twisting a strand of hair in my fingers.
A pit grows in my stomach, waiting for his reply.
I made this appointment six months ago, at my last cleaning. When I made the appointment, I didn’t realize the day was a school holiday. I thought I would only need to make a plan for one kid, and now I need to figure out what to do with all three.
I assumed it would work itself out. Except, I didn’t ask anyone for help before the morning of the appointment.
“I’ll call my mom and see if she can watch the kids,” my husband says. His day is full of tractors and seeding this year’s crop. He calls her, but my mother-in-law has an appointment of her own.
“It’s fine,” I say, shrugging my shoulders. “I’ll just reschedule.” I wasn’t upset about missing a teeth cleaning and x-ray, but I had been looking forward to the one-hour drive to town alone, listening to an audiobook, and a solo lunch date.
During the busy seasons on our farm, I am home alone with our three kids from sunup until sundown, and appointments in town are often my only break. I’m not sure why I didn’t ask for help, but I hate relying on others. Especially to do the basics of adult life, like going to the dentist.
Resentment turns into anger, and I’m not speaking to my husband right now
Months later, I roll over in bed, away from my husband. He clears his throat but doesn’t say anything. We aren’t speaking to each other. Or at least, I’m not talking to him. His breathing stays the same; I can tell he’s not asleep. He knows I’m angry but doesn’t fully understand why.
Earlier in the morning, he told me, “I have a meeting in town about that new land.” I nodded, exhaling. “Will you be home late?”
“Yeah, but it’s not a big deal. I’m not too tired,” he said, referring to the past three weeks of harvest, where he had been running on little sleep.
I walked away from him, rolling my eyes. He dropped his shoulders, recognition flashing across his face, as he followed me to the kitchen, placing his hand on my lower back. “I’m sorry I won’t be home to help with bedtime. It’s just that we have a lot to discuss.” I shrugged my shoulders, refusing to engage further in conversation with him.
I know I will need to ask my husband’s “permission” if I want a night out with friends
My mind went to the previous week when I had to ask my mother-in-law to help me with the kids so I could go to the grocery store. Next week, I want to meet up with my girlfriends for dinner, but I need to ask my husband if he thinks harvest will be over so I can go.
And today, he knew he wouldn’t need to make sure it was okay if he was home late. He knew I would be home with the kids.
When I have to ask for help with the kids, it’s not admitting I can’t do it all alone — I know I can’t. But it takes me back to that 15-year-old me who relied on my parents for rides.
Now, I have to ask my husband for permission instead of my parents.
As a teenager, if my curfew was midnight, I was home at 11:55. But now, as a nearly 40-year-old mom, I sulk and give my husband the silent treatment instead of explaining how some parts of motherhood make me feel trapped.
I find myself acting out against the boundaries of my life — the life I’ve made and chosen.
The day I got my license, it felt like I had been set free
My mom still has the picture of me standing in front of my first car, a 1980 Chevette Scooter — a two-door gold-colored hatchback. I wore flare jeans and a shirt from dELiA*s — my grin ear to ear — with my driver’s license displayed in my hands. Everything screamed, “It’s Y2K, baby!”
If I were a fan of Braveheart, I would have painted my face, raised my fist, and yelled, “Freedom!” With my license in hand, nothing could stand between me and the open road. Other than that, my car vibrated and rattled violently when I went over 65 mph.
I didn’t just gain the freedom that day, though. There were new responsibilities, too: paying for my car insurance and gas and being a driver on the road with other people.
But that day? All I saw was freedom and independence.
Parenting is so much responsibility, but such joy also
“This is just a nice time with you and me, Mama,” my daughter says. “Can I see the picture?”
I turn the phone toward her, showing her the selfie — a photo of the two of us at lunch.
“Do you like the clothes we got for school?” I ask. “I can’t believe you’re going to kindergarten!” I fight the urge to cry. Generally, I’m not emotional, but I’m two weeks from sending my second child to school and find my nose burning, holding back tears.
I think back to the last few years and everything we’ve done together — from grocery shopping to cooking to being at home. This summer, she learned to play “Sorry” and “Monopoly. We discovered our matching competitiveness during her little sister’s nap times.
I’ve taken her to all her doctor’s appointments, except for the one trip to the ER that her dad took her to, saving me from witnessing stitches and blood on a second child. I’ve made countless meals and bought her clothes each time she’s outgrown the last size. I’ve paid bills, done the laundry, and kept our house running.
My responsibilities as a mom are endless — way more than paying for a tank of gas in my first car. Remembering to have my oil changed was minor compared to mothering three children.
But today, spending this rare one-on-one time with my daughter reminds me how wonderful responsibility is too.
I have to ask for help if I want to have time away
I back out of the garage and check my mirrors. My toddler stands at the dining room window, waving her chubby hand at me. I crank up Backstreet Boys (BSB > NSYNC) in my SUV, a far cry from my first car. I rush as I pull away from my house, three kids, and husband. Empty car seats fill the back rows, and only my purse sits on the seat next to me; there’s no diaper bag in sight.
It’s the same feeling of butterflies in my stomach and heart racing as when I was 16, backing out of my parent’s driveway. The possibilities seem endless, choosing the songs I want, dinner where I’m not getting up to refill glasses of milk, and cleaning up spills.
Today, freedom looks like going to happy hour and dinner with my fellow geriatric millennials. I’m slowly learning to ask and plan for this important time. But it’s not because I’m a teenager who needs permission. It’s because I’m an adult with responsibilities who require more time and attention than the “sea monkeys” I accidentally dropped on the stairs in my parents’ basement.
My kids are a daily reminder that I’m not the center of the universe (like teenage me believed), and that’s a good thing for me. I exaggerate my wave and smile big enough for my husband to see from the house. He stands at the window with the kids and shakes his head as I hit the gas, throwing gravel and dirt for effect.
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Stacy Bronec is a farm wife, a mom to three, and a writer in Montana. Her work has been featured on Coffee + Crumbs, Motherly, and Her View From Home, among others. She is also a regular contributor to The Mom Hour. You can find her on Instagram and her website, stacybronec.com.