The Moms love their Downton Abbey, especially the Dowager Countess of Grantham (mostly because of quotes like this). But when you don’t have a Mrs. Hughes, a Mrs. Patmore, or an Anna Bates, downtime can be difficult to come by. When the Moms do find a few free moments, how do they decide what to do with them?
I miss naps. It’s been more than three years since Doodlebug dropped hers, but I still think of them fondly. They were a guaranteed hit of free time for me during the day, and they were guilt-free. Little kids need lots of sleep to grow up happy and healthy. I’m not sure the same can be said of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, my current go-to.
Still, naps were not a perfect system. I never knew if I was going to get three hours or forty-five minutes, which made it hard to plan my time. And Baby Doodlebug seemed to have some kind of reading radar that signaled her to wake up the second I tried to sit down with a book. There were many days when I’d putter around, being productive, for two hours and when I finally took a minute to relax, boom, she’d wake up.
So I developed a simple rule for my free time: Do the most important thing first. “Most important” can mean whatever you need it to mean – maybe everyone is out of underwear and you have got to throw in a load of laundry. Great, do it. If you are covered in spit-up and various other bodily fluids, grab that shower. If you’re hungry, always eat first. If you don’t, you will end up with a baby in one hand and a sandwich in the other. I dripped a lot of condiments on Doodlebug before I figured that one out.
But it’s always been easy, too easy, to get wrapped up in all the stuff I have to do and run out of time for what I really need to do with my downtime, which is recharge. Last week iDad was out of town, which meant I was on for that long, long stretch from school pick-up to bedtime. But still, on the occasions when Doodlebug was happily playing on her own, I had to remind myself over and over to choose to stop, to slow down, to just sit with a magazine instead of rushing on to the next chore.
As we go into summer and my blocks of downtime again become shorter and unpredictable, I need to remember that sometimes the most important thing to attend to is myself. I can always start a load of laundry after Doodlebug goes to bed. Nothing bad will happen if I ignore those papers on my desk for one more day.
Even if I only have twenty minutes, sometimes the best thing really is just watching our crazy backyard chipmunks race around, or, yes, sitting down and reading an entire chapter of a book. I will be a happier mom if I take that time. Do the most important thing first.
Downtime is in short supply at our house. While I cannot speak 100% for Dreamy I wager that he does not, in fact, get enough time to himself. I am certain I don’t due largely to the superhuman (or “stupid human” on grouchy days) demands of commuting, mommying, and working. Downtime is such a scarcity I’ve had to come up with a few tactics and strategies to help cope.
The first is something I like to call Compressed Introversion (“CI” for future reference). CI is essentially small pockets of time carved out during the day in which I am consciously doing something — walking to the car to pick up Señor Lunchbox or washing my face before bed — but in reality I am checked out and in my own world. It’s weird, I know, but it works.
Now, I’m not so oblivious that I would walk in front of a bus or use toothpaste as facial cleanser; rather I am thinking quiet thoughts and being mindful of my surroundings: listening to the birds chatter in the trees or enjoying the warm water as it splashes my face. Other folks have different names for this tactic, I’m sure, but by calling it CI I am able to play a mini-Jedi mind trick on myself and satisfy my need for a few minutes of interior quiet.
The second strategy is based on a question: “What can’t I do when everyone is around?” I can’t, for example, sit down and read. I also cannot organize stuff, watch a show, take a bath, or exercise (ha — cue Alicia Silverstone’s Cher in “Clueless:” “AS IF!”) with three other people in the house. So I do these things when Dreamy thankfully takes Slim and Lunchbox to the park or the pool or on errands.
Anaïs Nin said, “When I cannot bear outer pressures anymore, I begin to put order in my belongings…As if unable to organize and control my life, I seek to exert this on the world of objects.” True to Ms. Nin’s wise words, if given a bit of time to step back and maybe impose some order (or maybe just lie on the couch and catch up with the Dowager Countess) I usually feel refreshed and revived.
This was a difficult lesson to learn. Ignoring full laundry baskets or a sinkful of dirty dishes is not easy. But you know what? I can deal with those tasks while everyone in the house. Sometimes, however, I feel selfish and guilty and that I should be listening to the nagging, needling inner voice that says YOU ARE A MOTHER AND YOU ARE ON, SISTER!
Fortunately I’ve gotten a lot better at telling that voice to STFU.