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.