Editor's note: This week, Jeff Benedict, author of the column "A Reporter's Notebook," shares a column written by his wife.
Dusk is falling as I jump on my bicycle and head for our mailbox. It is a half-mile ride from our front door. I pedal casually at first, looking at our horses grazing in the pasture alongside our driveway. As I ride between the rows of pine trees, a warm breeze stirs their branches. All I hear are birds twittering in the trees and the crunch of the gravel beneath my bicycle tires.
Then I hit the dirt road. Much of it is one gradual, low hill. I stand up on the pedals to pump harder. Cresting the hill I sit back, slowing my peddling and breathing. The fireflies send out their mating call: flash on, flash off.
Upon reaching the mailbox, I retrieve the mail and put it in a bag that hangs from my handlebars. Then I turn and start for home. This time, the half-mile ride is almost all downhill. As I pick up speed, the warm summer air rushes through my long hair. I grip the handlebars tightly and coast for home.
I feel as carefree as a young girl.
I can't remember the last time I took such a ride. But this is an unusual week. I haven't left our property in several days other than to jog or bike to the mailbox. My husband took the kids to the beach in Connecticut for a week. I stayed home to take care of the animals and gardens. It may sound like I got the short end of the stick, but not so.
In fact, I volunteered for the job. Yes, the chores take a few hours a day, but unlike children the animals don't talk back.
When my husband took the kids away this week, he gave me the gift of time. Quiet moments to stop and gaze at the mountains or listen to the bullfrogs in the pond don't seem to happen unless I put it on my calendar. And the detachment from my usual child-rearing role opens up time for me to pursue some of my own interests.
But even with the kids gone this week, there are a multitude of projects that cry out for my attention.
I resist the urge to organize the kids' closets or clean out their dressers. Instead I sunbathe and read classic literature and write.
I let the mail pile up and I stay out of the home office. I go watch a "chick-flick" — complete with popcorn and lots of butter.
I even stop myself before I clean the kitchen cupboards and instead take a bath by candlelight.
Of course I love my children. But one of the biggest challenges of motherhood is not losing oneself and the simple pleasures that bring us satisfactions and peace. Every mother knows that caring for children is more than a full-time job.
It often starts before you get out of bed each morning and continues long after the children are in bed at night. With all the cooking, cleaning, homework, shuttling kids from one activity to the next, teaching, disciplining (never mind building relationships), it is nearly impossible to avoid being swallowed up in the never-ending work of motherhood.
Whether reading a book, watching a movie or some other rare pleasure, a mother is hard-pressed to find the time and energy for herself.
Stay-at-home moms tend not to have time or make time for personal endeavors or pleasures. Something as simple as reading a book for pleasure, watching a movie of your choice or taking a joyride on a bicycle become nearly impossible.
Under these conditions, a woman can lose her self-identity in the call of action. (Of course, stay-at-home dads could face similar challenges.) Most fathers go to the office and immerse themselves in their profession. For a woman who stays home to raise her children, motherhood is her career. But the difference is that when the 5 o'clock hour arrives, she can't check out.
Motherhood is unlike any other position. It's a blue-collar job like a hotel maid or a bus driver, except there's no paycheck. It's like being a student again with homework and papers to edit, except there's no diploma. It's like being a judge with your decisions constantly questioned, except there's no prestige.
While motherhood is a lifetime appointment, it ought to come with a few perks. Some solitude to rediscover the woman inside is just one example.
Thank you, Jeff, for a gift that money can't buy.
Lydia Hansen Benedict blogs about food, health, education and family. She runs an organic farm in Virginia. Her website is www.lydiabenedict.com.