It’s dark outside. The lights are all off in the house, except one lone beacon guiding you through the treacherous stretch of matchbox car- and Lego-lined carpet that used to be your clean living room. You make a mug of steamy hot chocolate, cinch the belt a little tighter on your robe, and prepare to start navigating through your to-do list. It sounds like a quiet, pleasant start to the day, which it is, except that it’s 9:00 P.M., and you’ve already worked your way through an entire “real” day before this second shift starts.
One of the things I’ve found hardest about being a mom is that practically every single available minute of my day is booked. In the morning, my daughter can apparently hear the faint rustling sound of my eyelids opening and is a tiny projectile missile aimed straight at me for early morning cuddles, story time, and an inevitable diaper change. From there, it’s a mad dash to find matching, at-least-semi-non-grubby work attire, prep a quick breakfast, and try to handle a couple of small chores, like managing the vast and ever mounting piles of dishes, trash, and laundry.
Often before I even feel like I’ve met the day head-on, it’s off to work. Meeting, meeting, meeting, catch up on email, more meetings, write some stuff, be nice to some people, and—you guessed it—go to more meetings. I feel like a Tasmanian devil most days as I wend my way through my work schedule and process my always-at-my-side work to-do list.
On a typical day, then it’s back home, where my daughter is waiting on the porch for my return. This, friends, is one of the highlight reel moments of the day: being the person who causes the delighted smile, the impromptu dance moves, the shrieks of “Mommy!” From the minute I open the car door and cross the mental threshold of being at home, I truly try to kick into high-gear mom mode, getting on the floor and playing, making a healthy dinner, potentially overseeing a bath…although, let’s be honest, that’s not happening every day. Don’t worry—I reassure myself with the episode of Christy where they explain it’s actually dangerous to bathe more than on Easter Sunday and New Year’s Day. Using Appalachian cleanliness standards to rationalizing = mom achievement unlocked.
Finally, bedtime arrives. I know I’m too permissive when it comes to sleep, but I let my daughter fall asleep by snuggling with me. It’s just too cute when she says things like, “You can cuddle in my arms and talk about your day.” Who can say no to that? The treasured part, and the reason I’m loath to give up this ritual, is the quality time, the snuggles, and the oh-so-quotables from her bedtime prayers and chats. The downside is that it puts the start of the me-part of my day even further back.
So, then…finally then…once her eyes close for the night, I start my day. This is the time of day when I want nothing more than to cuddle down in a comfy, pillow-strewn bed with the latest episode of Call the Midwife. However, more often than not, it’s actually the time of day when I do things like order household stuff on Amazon, make grocery lists, fold laundry, check account balances, pay bills, purge stuff—you know, all those super-fun tasks that are necessities of modern life. It’s also the time when I (maybe) attend to personal grooming things, especially after bedtime quotes like this one from my girl:
Most importantly, it’s the time of day when I actually have time to myself and feel a little autonomy over how things go. It’s like the Choose your Own Adventure part of the day, when you can turn over a new leaf and figure out exactly what you want to do with your guilt-free hours.
Maybe one day I’ll spend that late night time cleaning out the fridge. Maybe another will be dedicated to baking some slutty brownies for a completely unslutty office potluck. Maybe I’ll research preschools and investigate potential new neighborhoods. Maybe I’ll write those thank you notes I’ve been meaning to get around to sending. And maybe, just maybe, one of those evenings will be devoted to the timelessly enjoyable activity of applying wax to my body and ripping away skin and hair in the name of social conventions. Who knows what delights this evening me-time might contain?
The thing is, however I decide to spend it, it’s my time. It’s the one time of the day when nobody is pushing me to create a project plan or read a storybook, when nobody is judging my parenting commitment for responding to a text message, and nobody is asking for a second glass of bedtime water and getting cute and sassy about it when the water is not forthcoming.
That evening time is when I get stuff done. It may be important stuff; it may be trivial. It may contribute to the well-being of the house, or it may just contribute to my own personal sanity. Regardless, it’s necessary to my mental well-being, and I’d venture to say it makes our home run more smoothly too, because it gives me the chance to take care of things I don’t usually get to handle when I’m busy reading the same Fancy Nancy book five times in a row or handling work emails or helping my husband set up some technological thing around the house.
So, for me, the part of the day that’s really my own starts late, and I’m OK with that. If I have to wait until 9:00 P.M. to get that me time, and if I have to stay up until midnight to truly enjoy it—and by truly enjoy, I obviously mean finishing my evening’s to do list by spending just five more minutes reading just one more online article about what Duchess Kate wore—then I’m going to do it. It’s my own selfish, self-care, do-what-I-wanna-do part of my day. I’m going to savor every last minute of it. If that means I’m a little more tired and more in need of a caffeinated beverage, all the Daveed Diggs songs from the Hamilton soundtrack and an iPad charger when that 5:45 A.M. wake up call rolls around, it’s still time well spent and totally worth an extra hit of the faithful old snooze button.