I get one day a week where my partner, Elroi, manages the kids so I can write. I should rephrase that. I don’t get a day; I take a day. I have a part-time editing job that I do remotely Monday-Friday mornings, and I mind the children during the week while my partner brings home most of the Fakin’ Bacon with a full-time college professorship.
When our second child was born, Elroi completed a doctorate degree and was hired to teach at a college in another state while I closed my business and planned our move all in the span of a month. Oh, and I became a stay home parent. After we settled into our new city, I struggled in my new role. I knew full-time parenthood to a baby and a toddler wouldn’t be easy but I didn’t expect it to be grueling, which it was, a lot. All I wanted was a little time off to write or read, or you know, breathe without someone needing something from me. Eventually I realized that alone time wasn’t just going to happen to me. I had to make it happen. So I did. Last spring, I compared calendars with Elroi and we figured out one day each week when El can handle the kids while I do whatever I want.
I use my “mommy days” as we call them (which is weird. We should really call them non-mommy days, or something else entirely.) to write for this blog and to work on other writerly projects. This fall, our boys, three and 19 months, also started going to preschool three half-days a week. These shorter chunks of me-time usually go toward smaller tasks like paying bills, showering, returning emails, or obsessive editing of things I’ve already written. Of course, sometimes I lose all self-control and spend those few hours mincing around the Interwebs, or puttering through the house, blasting NPR.
Whatever I do, it’s incredible how revived I feel afterwards, how much more patient I am with my kids, and how much more fulfilled I feel about what I’m doing in life in general. Before I had this time to myself, not only was I not getting anywhere career-wise, but I really struggled with the stress, isolation and monotony of full-time, stay-at-home mothering.
Let me be clear: I adore my children. The love I feel for them is beyond anything I could have imagined, pre-babies. They’re funny and smart and full of personality. I get happy chills every single time one of them grabs my hand without me prompting or tackles me with a hug.
But they’re also mercurial beings who squabble and bite and throw tantrums and need me to manage their bodily functions. My oldest figured out how to let himself out of the house recently, and my youngest is a serial faceplanter. When my kids are awake and I’m in sole charge of their care, I’m in an unblinking, disaster-avoidance mode.
There are relatively calm moments when no one is near a water source or wielding a hitherto benign object–perhaps a rubber snake, a book, or a bouncy ball–that tiny hands can turn into a weapon. I relax a little when one forgets to take off his bike helmet after a neighborhood ride and plays in its head-injury-averting goodness for a while instead.
Sometimes I’ll stumble on a scene so sublime–like my older son reading to the cat–that the weight of the previous wearisome hours lifts away, as if carried off by cartoon bluebirds. But mostly, about 75 percent of the time (down from 80 percent a year ago), when I’m alone with my children, I’m on Red (exhausting) Alert.
I know every full-time, stay-home parent does not experience this vocation the same way I do, that some have to use all of their spare time to work another job, and that many don’t have the luxury of a partner who could or would give them a whole day off. We’re very lucky that our jobs are both flexible and our income (barely) supports this set up. Elroi wasn’t exactly thrilled about my idea at first, though E recognized why I needed the time away and why it was the right thing to do in our quest for an egalitarian relationship.
I also felt tentative about taking time for myself for the same reason that many women hesitate to ask for what they need. But when I realized what I was doing, I became more determined to make my me-time dreams come true. And when they did, well, it turned out that my scheduled days off benefit all of us. Elroi gets more dedicated, quality time with the kids and better understands how much I do, and I’m an all around healthier person because of my non-parental pursuits and my mental alertness break. Plus, I use a lot of my time alone to work on building an income stream from my writing–which our family needs, and I very much want to provide.
All of that said, some of my favorite moments of the week come as my me-time shifts end. When I pick up my boys from preschool, I walk down a long carpeted hall, through pools of fluorescent light, to get to them. The chatter and squeals of children echo down the cement block walls to me. It always feels surreal, even nearly four years into parenthood, that I’m a mom there to pick up my two sweet-cheeked boys.
I see my oldest son sitting against the wall, giggling with the classmate beside him. It’s so strange but wonderful to witness him having a social life separate from me. He sees me, jumps up, and runs to me, usually dropping a small trail of clothing items and art projects behind him. He hugs my leg and I stoop a bit to squeeze him with one arm as I turn to look into my younger son’s classroom. The scene replays, only clumsier. My youngest spots me, grins, comes stumbling, arms outstretched. I scoop him up over the half-door between us for a blissful baby hug before turning again to follow my oldest who is already on his way down the long hall and out the door to one of his favorite parts of preschool–the old, low-limbed magnolia tree.
There, with my youngest on my hip, I watch as my oldest climbs up, up , up, taking my heart and my anxiety level with him.