As a parent, and especially a mother,* I resist the notion that time taken for myself is “selfish”. The way I see it, our family is a symbiotic unit, and as the primary caretaker, the demands on me are endless. On a typical day I am held close, pushed away, kissed, zerberted, punched, jumped on from behind, and literally sucked on. I pour juice and make toast, and then clean it up once it has fallen on the floor. I pack lunches, and then unpack the chewed-on scraps at the end of the day. I change diapers, wipe butts, wash tiny pairs of briefs, and instruct on proper aiming technique. All of this may or may not be extra challenging for me because I am an introvert—it might just be plain hard for everyone. And so, as a general rule, I resolve to fill my own cup at any opportunity. I don’t believe that time away from my kids is time stolen from my kids. The more time I have for myself, I reason, the kinder I will be to my children, more able to tolerate the zerberts and the poop.
But sometimes I feel like I’m in the minority. I hear about the parents who haven’t gone out for a drink in six years, or the moms who would never dream of dropping their child off at daycare on a day they didn’t have to work. And though in principal I refuse to feel guilty for taking me-time, when I drop Stump off at daycare just to experience the sensation of having two free arms for a few hours, I often imagine their disapproving glares.
This week was my last week of summer break, a week where Smoke had kindergarten every day, and, because it is September, Stump is enrolled in full-time daycare. In other words, the stars aligned and granted me twenty-five child-free hours.
To justify this time to the imaginary judgers, I made big plans. I would write a book and organize the house. I would run every day and stockpile healthful meals for my family. The week came and went and I made the smallest bit of headway on these goals. I wrote the rough draft of one chapter. I got rid of clothes that no longer fit Stump. I roasted a chicken. But I also filled my own cup in ways that might be just as important. I share them with you now in case any of you, dear readers, need an antidote to the imaginary judging eyes.
1. I spent time getting places. Since my week was still full of drop-offs and pick-ups and since the weather was crisp and dry, I took lots of little walks and rode my bike around town. I noticed the weather. I breathed.
2. I saw this badass raccoon. Because I left the car behind as much as possible, I slowed down enough to glimpse this tail-less old raccoon, who was roaming my neighbor’s yard in broad daylight. As you can see, he was unimpressed with me. After I took this picture, he started chewing the fleas off of his butt.
3. I rekindled my love for Dan Savage. Instead of re-organizing the house top-to-bottom, I just tried to stay on top of the daily maintenance with a little more precision. The dishes and the laundry were enough to keep me busy. Because there was no five-yearold around to ask me what that guy was talking about when he said BDSM, I listened to about a dozen episodes of the Savage Lovecast while doing chores. I’ve loved Dan Savage since the nineties, when I was eighteen and stumbled across his sex-positive advice column. I was so comforted to find this voice that was a) openly gay, b) smart and enggaed, and c) hilarious. It’s nearly twenty years later and I still love Dan Savage. In particular, I love Savage Lovecast Episode 411, where Dan responds to the recent celebrity nude photo hacks and offers some tough love to a woman with a transgendered friend. Sometimes Dan Savage is so right on, he brings me to tears.
4. I ate a salted caramel cupcake in the sun. The last two days of my week were beautiful from morning to evening, and on Thursday, I road my bike downtown to drink coffee and write. I almost talked myself out of buying a cupcake at the shop next door before riding home. You know, I didn’t really need that. I bought it anyways and sat on the bench. I didn’t have to share. Inside the cake itself, there was a surprise extra glob of caramel.
*Normally, I try to write about “parenting” rather than “mothering”, because I don’t want to gender-ize the parenting experience. However, in this case, I’ve noticed that our culture has trained mothers more than fathers to feel guilty for prioritizing their own needs.
Yes, yes. I am suddenly faced with so much “free” time (read: 10 child-free hours a week) and when my spouse comes home and asks, “So, what did you do today?” I feel crazed. Because if I’m not providing something for someone, and if I haven’t accomplished something big, I do tend to feel guilty. But you are so right. It’s good to make the big plans (writing that book, making that art, running every day) but sometimes it’s even better to do the thing that energizes us… like eating that cupcake. God, I love cupcakes. That thing sounds a-maz-ing.
“So what did you do today?” I hate that question. I hate how guilty I feel, and how 99% of that guilt is over imaginary expectations.
As I think I’ve previously written, I did the same thing with my days
off when Collin was young. I have no doubt I was better with him as a result of having time to myself. In any case, that badass raccoon justifies a year of “work-free” daycare. Sonofabitch!
Yeah, that guy made my day.
I’m desperate for that “me” time. You gotta leave em for them to miss us and vice versa… I’m hoping to get a few hours on the calendar here. Glad our presence didn’t totally ruin your 25 hours of child “free” time. And thanks again! Xo
I hope you get some soon Erin! And we loved getting to see you last week.
Good on you. Again, speaking as someone w/ out kids, but I can imagine that you feeding yourself not just nourishes you but leaves you with more energy to give your children. I feel like our society isn’t set up to support women in filling themselves up especially when there are others to care for- and does that need to change.
True–my younger son might *want* to be around me 24/7, but he feels safe with other folks too, and I like to think it’s good for him to learn that trust.