When Mom sneaks away
"The children were having breakfast. This was not a pleasant sight."
So begins Jill Murphy's delightful 1986 picture book Five Minutes' Peace by Scholastic, which I recently discovered at our library's annual book sale.
Immediately, she had me hooked.
You can see the mess unfolding.
You can see the fatigue in Mom's eyes.
What she does next is brilliant. She doesn't wallow in self-pity. She retrieves a tray from the cupboard.
"She set it with a teapot, a milk jug, her favorite cup and saucer, a plate of marmalade toast and a leftover cake from yesterday. She stuffed the morning paper into her pocket and sneaked off toward the door."
When a child asks where she's going with that tray, she answers honestly: "To the bathroom. Because I want five minutes' peace from all of you."
"Can we come?" one asks.
"No," she answers.
"What shall we do then?" comes the bewildered response.
"You can play. Downstairs. By yourselves. And keep an eye on the baby."
That's when our forthright heroine really charms. She knows the kids can make do without her, and she wants them to know that too.
Her escape is delicious:
"[She] ran a deep, hot bath. She emptied half a bottle of bubble bath into the water, plunked on her shower cap and got in. She poured herself a cup of tea and lay back with her eyes closed. It was heaven."
Notice how she treats herself. Her favorite cup and saucer. Half the bottle of bubble bath. Toast and cake.
If she's going to sneak off, she might as well do it right. None of this low-calorie stuff.
But the reprieve is short lived. Soon a child parades in with a recorder, asking to play "just for one minute."
Mom sighs and relents and is subjected to "Twinkle, Twinkle" played three and a half times.
And again, the look in her eyes is every mom.
A second child appears, insisting it's not fair that she can't come read from her book since her brother was allowed in. "You like him better than me," she says.
She is granted "just one page," which turns into four and a half pages.
Finally, the youngest child arrives with a handful of toys -- one of those sweet but unwanted gifts routinely offered up to parents.
"For you!" he beamed, flinging them all into the bath water."
"Thank you, dear," said [Mom] weakly.
Soon the kids are calling dibs on Mom's getaway goods: one wants the cartoons, one wants the cake, one wants to get into the bath.
"In the end, they all got in. The little one was in such a hurry that he forgot to take off his pajamas."
Again, Mom takes swift action. The possibility of getting alone time is far too fleeting. So she gets out of the bath, slips on her bathrobe and begins to leave the bathroom.
"Why?" a child inquires.
"Because I want five minutes' peace from all of you," she explains.
And off she went downstairs, where she had three minutes and 45 seconds of peace before they all came to join her.
Here the look in her eyes tells another story, of a mom who is contented, filling up on even the shortest measure of quiet to read and rest.
It may not be five minutes, but, we sense, it is enough.
Enough for now. Enough to sustain her for the afternoon, or the next hour, or whenever she can sneak away next.
This is one of those children's books that was written for the parent, and oh, how I love it.
Mama Elephant is the spirit animal of the Pantry Mom, the Utah mom of quadruplets whose viral video shows her hiding in the pantry chewing a Twizzler.
"They don't ever go away! They want everything you have!" she complains, before panning to a toddler peeking under the door.
It can be frustrating to encounter a young interloper when you're seeking five minutes of peace in the bathroom.
When I feel irritated by my kids' nearness in moments I crave privacy, I try to see it as a compliment: They love to be by me. I am their home, and they are mine.
I remind myself that this stage is short-lived. One day they'll be teenagers who want lots of space.
It feels fitting to share Five Minutes' Peace with you as we approach Mother's Day -- a celebration that can be sweetened by the presence of children but also enhanced by their absence. A day that holds enough hours for both options.
May you feel no remorse about sneaking away like Mama Elephant. May you be equally unapolgetic about your yearning for time away. It is not contrary to your love for your children; it fosters that love, reflecting the intensity with which you give yourself and the intensity with which they need you.
You need them too. But you also need a break.
A Mother's Day tip
This book costs the same as many Mother's Day cards. Why not buy the paperback on Amazon Prime, write a little inscription inside and turn it into the best Mother's Day card she'll receive this year?
Bonus points for preparing a tray with getaway goods.
Christina Ries is a freelance writer who lives with her husband and three young children in Inver Grove Heights. Write her at firstname.lastname@example.org.