relax

Selfish Moms Unite

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.

blurrymamaBut 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.

Raccoon 2Raccoon1

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.

The Underachiever’s To-Do List

My summer break officially starts in 21 days. I’m trying not to think about all of the work that needs to get done between now and then, the papers that need grading, the early morning meetings. Instead, I’m just trying to trust that these days will pass, that the work will get done somehow, and by the end of June I will breathe again.

But I’m worried about my to-do lists, which are scattered on my computer, my iPhone, on scraps of paper. They’re full of crazy goals, of random ideas, of books I need to read, of essays I need to write, and 1001 ways to become a better person. I’ve learned from summers past that two months is more of a blip than a lifetime, and yet still I overplan.

So I’ve decided I need a new kind of to-do list, one that helps me actively work on underachieving, or to put it more kindly (and more accurately) one that helps me attend to my day-to-day needs rather than always scrambling towards some distant future.

1. Sleep as much as possible. My goal here is to stop counting hours, to stop treating sleep as a bargaining arrangement, e.g. If I sleep five hours tonight and six hours tomorrow, I can make it up by sleeping eight hours on Friday. No. I won’t do this anymore. I will go to bed when I’m tired and wake when the morning wakes me. And I will have long conversations with Stump about this plan, because he will need to get on board.

bed

2. Sit on the couch with Smoke and watch a movie from beginning to end. I’m not sure I’ve ever done this. I’ve tried, but always I find myself getting up and folding laundry, or grabbing my laptop and answering emails. But I’m capable of this, I know it. Maybe if I make a giant bowl of popcorn, I’ll be able to sit still for ninety minutes.

3. Binge-watch TV on Netflix. I am so overdue for this. I think I’ve watched a total of three hours of TV over the last nine months.

4. Have car-free, plan-free, errand-free days. Plan-free days scare me, but they always turn out to be the best days, the days where we actually find time to draw and make cookies, or ride bikes to the park and then stay there for two hours.

puddle

5. Cultivate friendships. Sometimes I forget to appreciate all of the people I love outside of my immediate family. Partly it’s because they are scattered across the state and the country. Partly it’s because, as a rule these days, everyone is always busy. I try to make time to maintain the friendships I have, but this means giving them just enough. It means an hour in passing here and there, but never long enough to follow a hundred tangents and then land on a comfortable silence. This summer I want to be the kind of friend who actually answers the phone, who says “yes” to the spontaneous invitation, who goes on an adventure, who has an afternoon to spare.

Some of the Ways I Didn’t get Pregnant

Image(image from http://www.webmd.com/baby/ss/slideshow-conception)

1. I didn’t get pregnant by intrauterine insemination, the procedure that requires a doctor to insert a catheter into a woman’s cervical os—a tiny and tender hole—and slowly release sperm. The sperm has been washed and frozen, thawed and spun. Meanwhile the recipient lies in a hospital gown, her feet in stirrups. Ten times that recipient was me, lying there trying to will those expensive sperm towards my patient egg. But each time my egg failed me, or the sperm failed me, or my body failed me—it’s hard to say which. I didn’t get pregnant, just a little hurt and broke.

2. I didn’t get pregnant “just by looking at a penis,” even though a number of women informed me that they themselves were so fertile this was all it took. “All I have to do…” they’d say. It became a surprisingly regular conversation. At the time, I thought they were inadvertently rubbing it in my face that they could achieve so easily the very thing that was costing me so much time and expense. But maybe they were trying to be helpful, hinting that maybe there just weren’t enough penises in my life. In fact, it may be true that in the two years it took me to conceive my first son, I did not look at a single penis.

3. I didn’t get pregnant by relaxing, though that was by far the most popular suggestion. With every month that passed, more and more people said it: “Maybe you just need to relax.” I tried, but perhaps my problem was that I thought relaxation was an attitude. I told myself to breathe when I felt nervous or hopeless, or when I worried about my worrying because apparently my fears were like corrosive acid to my reproductive organs. Maybe by “relax” they meant an action, like a month in Hawaii or a weekly massage. Maybe what they meant was: have a drink.

4. I didn’t get pregnant from a turkey baster, although my son did develop a fondness for our turkey baster (used, I swear, for basting turkeys) when he was two. He played with it in the bath, he slept with it for a couple of nights, and then he wanted to bring it to preschool one day. I told him no, offering no good reason, because—you know—the kid with two moms wants to bring a turkey baster to preschool, and I worry what people will think. And so I was relieved that he moved on to other interests before doing something really concerning like naming it “Dad”.