One evening last week, I sat alone in a pizza restaurant. I had my notebook in my bag to do some writing, but instead I read a book on my phone. I’d long since finished my pizza (a “personal size,” not even listed on the menu) and the bill lay on the table, “just when you’re ready.” It was getting late and I wanted to be home. But going home right now wasn’t an option.
I’m a stay-at-home-mum to a rambunctious preschooler and a crazy toddler. It’s a role I mostly feel good about but it means that more often than not my entire day, from before my eyes are yanked open until after I collapse into bed, is spent running after small people. Tatasaurus, my husband, often works long hours and we have no family in the country/timezone/continent. The boys go to bed late and get up early, it’s just the way their bodies work and nothing we can do will change it. Many days I literally don’t get a moment to myself.
It’s tiring. Sometimes it’s downright exhausting. It’s frustrating and draining. It’s all-encompassing.
So my husband and I have an agreement. One evening and one morning a week, he takes over the kids while I have me-time. In theory, my evening should be simple: he walks in, I walk out then return later to sleeping boys.
5:30 p.m. I get a message: “Sorry, I’m running late. ETA 6:00″
6:00 ”Ok, I’m really leaving now. ETA 6:40″. I start making dinner for the kids, while Mookasaurus literally screams for attention.
6:30 I dish up dinner, kids eat for approximately two minutes then wander off or scream.
6:43 Tatasaurus walks in the door. Boys run to him, he hugs them then shakes them off for a few minutes rest and dinner.
7:00 I leave the house, cutting down my to-do list with every step.
8:30 I return home, help get overtired boys into bed, help clean up the kitchen (or despair of it and resign myself to doing it in the morning) and collapse on to the couch, resentful and exhausted. I space out by reading Facebook on my phone.
9:15 Tatasaurus says, “Want to watch something? Are you grumpy? But you’ve just been out!”
9:16 I bring a box of tissues to stop blood from his nose getting everywhere. Well, alright, I’ve never actually punched him.
I’m probably being unreasonable — I know he works hard and long hours and his job is stressful. I’m not angry. I am envious, of his ability to do pull out of childcare. I am resentful, that almost every waking moment (including those when I’m really still asleep) someone needs my attention while he gets a 40 minute each way solo commute. I am frustrated that me-time feels like two steps forward and 1.5 steps back. I am annoyed that a child-free hour folding washing will “cost” me at least double that of hermit time — time my husband gets to spend alone to recharge.
I’m fed up of being told, “You need to take time for yourself!” but regretting it every time I try to.
I am resigned, that this is how it will be in this season of our lives.
As I walked home that evening, I thought about how much I’d looked forward to the time alone and how much I dreaded walking in the door. I thought about how much of my “me-time” is actually spent on me. I thought about how hard it is to turn your back and walk out when a baby is screaming for you and only you. I thought about the demands on my husband’s time, from me and his work. I thought about how hard he tries, and how much he wants me to be happy, how much he wants to be able to tuck the boys into bed alone.
I realised this is me-time with strings, me-time if it works out, me-time that’s paid for, me-time with guilt. If this is the me-time on offer, I’d rather have no-time.