Picture this: It's lunchtime and someone (your husband, your mother, a babysitter) has tagged you out and will be taking care of your kids for the afternoon. You have until dinner time to do whatever you want. What do you do?
If you're like me you waffle around for a while trying to decide how best to make use of the break until you've wasted some of that precious free time. I call it "Maternal Paralysis Syndrome" and I think it's pretty common — something like 68% of moms suffer from it. (Okay, no. I totally made that up.)
You know what I'm talking about, right? At first you're all excited. You can read! You can go shopping! You can sit in Starbucks and drink your favourite drink without having to keep a small person from dropping cake pop crumbs on the guy sitting next to you!
Or you could go to the gym...
No wait, that would be silly. You want to really enjoy the time.
You could have a nap! Or watch a Downton Abbey marathon!
The possibilities are endless, and that's part of the problem.
I'm lucky to get some regular time to myself. Two afternoons a week, in fact, and my husband gets the same. I spend my time writing and he does illustration work, and this is how we balance our work time and our family time.
Of course, it's easier now that Ethan is a few months older and isn't nursing as often (and can have some solid food as well). Knowing I have to pump in payment for that free time put somewhat of a damper on it, though I still figured it was worth it.
I know that for two afternoons a week I'm going to focus on writing, either here at my Yummy Mummy Club blog, on my own blog, or for something else I'd like to submit to. Other moms I know use their free time in different ways — while their child is in preschool they run errands in peace, or they put the baby in childcare at the gym and sweat for an hour. Making it a regular routine tends to remove some of the paralysis over how to spend kid-free time.
But every once in a while I get some unexpected free time—just a bit, mind you—and I end up paralyzed. I surf Facebook for a while and before I know it some of that valuable "me" time has drained away.
Maternal Paralysis Syndrome. It's a sneaky one, to be sure. There's no cure that I know of, other than to take a deep breath and embrace the opportunity.
How do you make use of time to yourself?
After dinner last night Connor and I camped out in my bed and watched an episode of The Muppet Show on DVD. I have fond memories of watching The Muppet Show with my dad when I was little. He used to make a “nest” for my siblings and me—essentially we’d sit in the space made when he bent his knees while lying on the couch.
The episode Connor and I watched was the one with Paul Simon as the guest star, which aired in 1980 so there’s a good chance I watched it on TV with my dad.
“It's been a long, long day
I sure could use a friend
Don't know what else to say
I hate to abuse an old cliché
But it's been a long, long day
It’s been a long, long day”
The last stanza of Paul Simon’s song “Long, Long Day” is exactly why I share when days are tough. As moms we all have long days, and sometimes we just need a friend. (So thank you to those of you who let me know I’m not alone in feeling that way sometimes.)
As well as being lyrically on the mark, the song is beautiful. So I share it with you here. The Muppet version, of course.
I had a rough day yesterday. Well, the day was fine, but the evening was not. It was a silly thing, a small misstep with big consequences, and it made everything way harder than it needed to be.
I got mad and retreated upstairs to eat my dinner where there’s easy access to Kleenex to mop up tears with no rational source. I came down to collect the baby and put him to bed, except he didn’t want to go to sleep and I got mad again. He’d had his milk and his story but something–his teeth?–was making sleep difficult. He wanted to nurse again but I’d had enough for the day and I didn’t want him attached to me anymore. He was mad and I was mad and it was all around a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad evening.
My husband took over and eventually the baby’s wails ceased but still I sat on my bed and cried. When I finally got up I saw Connor’s door open so I peeked in, expecting him to be asleep. He wasn’t.
“What are you doing, Mama?”
“Just looking in on you, honey. Why aren’t you sleeping?”
Oh, my heart.
“Why are you sad?”
He didn’t know, but he certainly looked sad. When he asked me to sit with him a bit the answer was easy.
Sometimes he does this to stall, but last night that wasn’t it. He lay quietly for a while, his hand on mine, eyes closed. But then he opened them again and started asking questions.
“How do schools buy toys? How do they get the bigger toys? How do my preschool and kindergarten get toys?”
I tried to explain about money and government funding and all those too-big-for-a-four-year-old concepts.
“How are the toys made? What kind of machines make them? How are the factories built?”
His questions started to go beyond what I felt I could answer when it was late and I was weepy. But then, with his last question, I figured out where it was all coming from.
“But where does the LEGO actually come out?”
Oh, this boy. Such a LEGO lover. Such a curious soul.
I smiled and held his hand and suggested that we find a video that shows how LEGO is made. It was time to sleep.
He closed his eyes and I closed mine as the tears came free again, falling onto the big stuffed penguin that helps him sleep in his own bed.
“I’m not a good enough mom to him,” I thought. “He’s smart and funny and I am short with him and have no patience. He deserves a better mom.”
The penguin didn’t say anything. The boy slept. And eventually my own tears stopped falling, leaving only a trail of gratitude for a small boy who, at times, is wiser than his mother.