Before I had children, I worked full-time for an upscale hotel. I showed up most days by 8:30am sporting fancy clothes and perfectly undone curled hair. Sometimes on my way in, I’d pop into the coffee shop next door for a fancy mocha to kickstart the day. My heels click-clacked through the lobby and up the elevator to the third floor where I worked with a department of beautiful sales girls.
Almost every afternoon, a few of those girls and I would head to the market on the corner of K street in search of treats du jour to overcome our 3pm slump. We’d treat ourselves to candy bars or bags of chips, iced tea and energy drinks. The storeowner knew all of us by name, but I think he liked Kari the best (probably because she occasionally bought lotto tickets). Our heels click-clacked down the street, past the coffee shop and the florist, as we welcomed the much-needed break from our computers, the sunshine on our faces and the excuse to stretch our legs. That walk to the market was a time-out from the daily grind, a little luxury if you will.
Can I confess something to you? Some days I glance at the clock at 3pm, and I look around my messy house littered with toys, and I think about how nice it would be to walk to that corner market for a candy bar and energy drink. That little luxury was one of a hundred freedoms I had back then: midweek cocktails with friends, date nights any night, more than enough sleep, movies in theaters (!), pedicures, grocery shopping alone, running errands on my lunch break. I shopped in real dressing rooms; I could try on jeans for an hour if I wanted to. Time was on my side, always, and I had plenty to spare. I used to attend yoga regularly, always working my way out of shavasana at a snail’s pace because why wouldn’t I? Nobody needed me urgently.
Fast forward nearly four years and today I am needed urgently almost every hour of the day—who else is going to make snacks, change diapers, wash clothes, wipe pee off the floor, clean up that spilled yogurt, design castles out of blocks, and keep tiny fingers out of oscillating fans?
To be perfectly blunt, my life is quite un-luxurious these days.
While I've certainly lost a lot of my freedom to the demands of mothering young children, I still cling tightly to my little luxuries. Because on the days when I am merely holding on by a string, those tiny moments for me, those flashes of delight, can often be the difference between losing my mind and recharging my batteries.
Mommas, you know what I'm talking about?
Every day after I put my baby down for a nap and complete the 27 steps to setting my toddler up for successful “quiet time” in his room, I retreat to the kitchen, open the refrigerator and exhale. I make a giant lunch with multiple courses and parts, before popping four frozen lactation cookie dough balls in the oven. I happily eat lunch alone, either in complete silence or to the tune of something unintelligent on TV. Just as I finish the last bite, the oven timer beeps. My whole house smells like cookies, and I devour them in seconds. Little luxury.
Every Sunday night I scrub my face harder than I’ve scrubbed it all week and apply a clay facemask. If I’m feeling really wild, I’ll even bust out my Crest Whitestrips. Sometimes I trim my bangs, clip my fingernails, pluck a few stray eyebrow hairs (and by eyebrow, I obviously mean chin). For the first time that week, perhaps, I study my reflection in the mirror and do a few things that make me feel better about myself. I’ve appropriately named the process "Sunday Night Face" so when my husband finds me looking like a swamp creature at the end of the weekend, there is no confusion. He knows it's Sunday and that's my Sunday Night Face. Little luxury.
Once or twice a month I go to Target, alone. Usually on a weeknight when I realize we’ve run out of diapers or hand soap or laundry detergent or—most frequently—toilet paper. I kiss the tops of everyone’s heads and flee the house like an escaped convict. I sit in the parking lot and check Instagram, text three friends, breathe. And then I wander the aisles of Target alone. I touch the towels, examine lipstick shades, try on two pairs of shoes that I do not buy. I get the toilet paper and the laundry detergent and splurge on fancy coffee. Little luxury.
Once a week I go to power yoga, and it’s called power yoga because it’s damn hard. For one hour I bend myself into shapes and positions that my postpartum body often resists, and it feels so good I could cry. The room is warm and everyone is sweating; Trevor Hall’s voice is streaming through the speakers, and in that moment I am breathing with great intention. I work myself out of shavasana a little more quickly because unlike my pre-baby life, there are three people at home who need me urgently. Little luxury.
These days, the emphasis is more on little and less on luxury. I steal these moments, fight for these moments, negotiate that hour of yoga and work that fancy facemask into our budget because those minutes of subtle indulgence can and do make me a better mom.
We often receive mixed messages about this. On the one hand we’re told that being a mother is the most sacrificial role in the world. We are affirmed and applauded in our sacrifice, our selflessness, our willingness to give all of ourselves to these babies and children who need us so much. At the same time, we are strongly encouraged to find “me time”, to not lose ourselves completely, to practice self-care on a regular basis.
How do we do it all? How do we love our children selflessly and sacrificially while remaining a tiny bit selfish at the same time? Do we give and give and give until we have nothing left, and then run away to the spa for a weekend? Do we unabashedly pursue our own desires until we feel so guilty that we run back to our kids? Is this simply another area to seek “balance” in our lives? How do we maintain it?
I don’t have the answers, but here is where I’ve landed. I believe there is a time for sacrifice and a time for self-love, a time to chase your dreams and a time to put those dreams on hold. I believe in surrendering to the needs of your children, and I also believe in reserving time for yourself. I believe in wearing yoga pants, and I believe in wearing red lipstick (probably not at the same time, but if you can pull that off, more power to you). I believe in allowing yourself to succumb to the messy nature of motherhood, to sit in the sandbox, to not wash your hair, to fully embrace the chaos of parenting little kids. I also believe in allowing yourself to fight against that stereotype, to throw on the cute jeans and feel confident and pursue whatever dreams and goals you’re working towards.
I believe we can transition between the two from hour to hour, from day to day, from month to month, or year to year.
Motherhood is fluid and always changing; some seasons we have lots of freedom and some seasons we have practically none. There was a time when I could leave my family for two whole weeks, and I did, and there was a time when I could not leave my baby for two whole hours, and I didn’t. When you’re in the trenches, a five-minute facemask on a Sunday night might be the best luxury you can manage.
Right now I have a three year-old and an eleven month-old who doesn't sleep, and my luxuries are much smaller in this season—they’re found in warm cookies on the couch and facemasks on Sunday nights. I’m not getting dressed every day or planning kid-free vacations or attending writing conferences or going to yoga 3x a week. Some mothers are in a season with more freedom than me right now, and it’s hard not to be a tiny bit envious.
But, as the saying goes: The grass isn't greener on the other side. The grass is greener where you water it.
Maybe the best part about being in a season with little luxuries is that you learn to be content with less, to be thankful for the smallest things, like five minutes alone in a Target parking lot texting your best friends. This season won’t last forever; I’m sure I'll be out of the trenches soon. Until then, I’ll be sitting in the sandbox with my two boys covered in dirt, enjoying the sun on our faces and this ice-cold diet coke.
And you know what? Today, it feels pretty luxurious.