It's a Friday morning and I am taking 15 minutes to write. I don't write that much anymore, unless you count the essays I compose by talking to myself out loud in the car on the way to pick up my kids from daycare. I do count these, kind of. I miss writing, but I also miss a lot of other things. I miss cooking, the real kind, where I can stand in the kitchen for a couple hours with a glass of wine and not have anyone interrupt me. I miss running, not the process of getting good at running, which is terrible, but the part where I'm already good and can jog along in the crisp fall air and just enjoy the time to myself, the satisfying heaviness of my limbs when I'm done. I miss sitting in a very clean, very quiet house with a candle burning and reading a book, quietly.
I miss being alone.
We are starting to find our footing as a family of four, and it feels a little more manageable every day, but a 1.5 year old and a 3.5 year old are a lot, even on the most manageable days. This is not my stage, I think, and then I worry that I'll never find my stage, that I'll spend the rest of my life feeling like I'm drowning under everyone else's needs. I don't believe that, really, but the worry is there all the same.
I knew that having two kids would be more work, but I pictured it as the work of one child, doubled. Two bodies to feed, bathe, clothe, rock. Two sets of knees to bandage, two pairs of hands reaching for me. I didn't realize that when you have a second child there is a third being brought into the world - the relationship between your children occupies a nearly physical space and there are days (many of them) where managing this relationship is more work than taking care of either child. I am exhausted almost all the time. I can't figure out how to stop being exhausted, but I think it has less to do with sleep and more to do with tapping into the parts of myself that have been buried.
We are 19 months into this pandemic and I am immensely privileged. I'm working from home for a few more months, my kids are in daycare (barring the sick days that seem to pop up every couple weeks lately), we own a home, which I never thought would happen.
So why do I still feel like I'm under water most of the time? Every day I tell myself that I'll write up a schedule, block out windows for chores and work and myself, I'll maximize my time. And every day the minutes slip away and then I'm not sure what I have to show for it. A pile of work emails sent, too much time scrolling on my phone, the frantic feeling of another day wasted.
Maybe the problem is the maximizing. The sense that I need to use all these precious minutes in the best way possible. I have spent my whole life trying to maximize my time and all I want to do right now is curl up on the couch without a clock running, reminding me that my hours are limited.
But honestly my hours are limited so instead I'm making a list of the things that make me feel human, remind me of myself. What matters to me, what do I want to do, what will energize me? How can I fit those things into my life? And should I block out time for lying on the couch, even though that seems like a very bizarre activity to schedule?
This morning I told myself that I would light a candle and sit down for 15 minutes and write something, anything. And here I am (45 minutes later but who's counting?) and I have this shapeless, meandering essay to show for it but I also feel a little lighter and a little more resolved.
Fall is blowing in, which always feels like a fresh start to me. I hate the phrase self care but I'm not sure what else to call it. The hardest part about caring for yourself is knowing how to do it, especially because it changes all the time. I don't think that forcing yourself to muscle through a list of activities is how you care for yourself, but neither is letting go of everything (I have tried both, with mixed success). I think about how I care for my toddlers, how I set a schedule so that they know what to expect, knowing they find comfort in the predictability but also delight when we break the routine, how I have already learned so well how to listen to them, not their words but their expressions, their tears, the motion of their bodies, so that I know when they are hungry or tired or need to be held. Can I learn to listen to myself this way, after all these years of trying to rationally decide what I should need at any given time? Maybe I can. Maybe this is a start.