I’ve only had one pedicure in my entire life, and it was a present from my mum-in-law when I was nearing the end of my pregnancy. They say a pedicure when you’re close to your due date can put you right into labor, and they say it like it’s a good thing. At that point, however, I was still terrified of childbirth, so induction of any kind didn’t seem like a bonus so much as a terrible side effect. I hoped they were wrong, like they always seemed to be. I knew I couldn’t stay pregnant forever, but I wanted to stay pregnant for at least three more weeks (in that time, I thought, some natural hormonal process would happen in my brain, and I would become brave. It was a comforting lie I told myself right up until my son’s birthday).
The thing that worked me up even more than the prospect of actually having my baby, though, was the prospect of having to make small talk with a complete stranger while she touched my feet for half an hour. What would we talk about? The very normal weather we were having? Politics? My ugly feet?
I’d clearly forgotten about my most valuable conversational asset—my pregnancy. The woman who did my toes up was already a mother, so she had lots to tell me and ask me. I soon realized that I could just sit back and let her steer the ship. She kicked things off by repeating the horrible theory about pedicures inducing labor and even stopped clipping my toenails to check her watch. “Within 48 hours!” she said, eyebrows up. “I give it no more than 48 hours.”
I hated her a little.
“You’re such an adorable pregnant lady,” she said.
I liked her more than I hated her, though.
“Enjoy this,” she continued as she dipped into some blue polish. “This is your last hoorah. Moms don’t get Me Time.”
I stared at her in horror. I’d heard this before, but somehow it felt more real when spoken to me from the other side of my oversized beach ball belly right after being told I was going to have a baby in 48 hours. An older woman walking past just then overheard the comment and snorted, nodding fervently. I may have imagined the pitying glance she cast at my stomach.
This, it turns out, is one of those things that moms like to talk about and generally agree on. If there’s something that can make an entire room full of mom heads jerk up and down in emphatic unison, it’s the acknowledgement that motherhood is the enemy of Me Time.
It might sound selfish, and maybe a little absurd too—most women are not actually, completely, on call 24/7. There are, you know, husbands and grandparents and babysitters and things like that—but still, a large number of moms seem to feel like they’re not getting enough time to themselves. I’ve had this conversation with so many of my mom friends and—I admit it—I’ve struggled with it myself.
At first, it was a matter of literally not having any Me Time at all. My baby wouldn’t nap unless I was holding him for the first year of his life. He didn’t sleep very well at night either, which meant that in the rare event that he took a nap or someone else took him, I had no choice but to try catch up on my sleep. Or clean the kitchen. Or make supper. I was just constantly playing catch up; I don’t feel like I relaxed once that whole year.
Then, my son started napping, and I was blessed with middle-of-the-day Me Time, which I guarded fiercely. But still, I found myself in these conversations, venting about what little Me Time there was to be had.
“My son only naps for 60 minutes a day,” one person would say, rolling her eyes. “By the time I’ve cleaned the bathroom, thrown supper in the slow cooker, and had a shower, there’s barely any time to sit and read or watch something.”
Inevitably, someone else will interject. “You’re lucky. My kid doesn’t nap anymore at all. We have to do quiet time, but that lasts for, like 60 seconds.”
If a third person is there, they’ll chime in too. “Quiet time? Lucky!”
And then we’ll talk about Me Time like it’s a person who died. Like we’re at Me Time’s funeral. We’ll speak of it with fond remembrance and selective memory. We won’t remember ever feeling lonely or wishing we had something to do. Someone will tear up as they talk about when they had enough Me Time to hop on a plane and backpack across Europe, and then we’ll stand there, nodding and looking at the ground. We understand. We all miss Me Time.
The fateful day came that my son skipped his nap. I am going to admit something to you, the Internet, that you can’t tell anyone. I trust you with this: I cried that day—like a toddler throwing a fit. It had been a long morning, he hadn’t slept well the night before, I had so much work I needed to do during naptime. Of all the days I needed him to sleep, this was the one.
My temper tantrum was much quieter than the kind my son throws; it was almost completely internal, but it was equally as ugly. I had a moment of realization: When my kid throws a temper tantrum, it’s because he thinks he’s entitled to something that he is not. It’s maybe something that I give him sometimes, but that doesn’t mean he can have it all the time, whenever he wants, just because he wants it. I try to teach him that he can’t always get what he wants, that everything, everything, everything is a gift, even the air he breathes. I work hard to teach him this. And the day that he skipped his nap, I had to sit down and teach it to myself. Me Time is a gift. It’s not something to which I’m entitled.
The next day I was on Facebook, and saw that a friend, a fellow mom, had posted this quote from C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters: “Men are not angered by mere misfortune but by misfortune conceived as injury . . . Now you will have noticed that nothing throws him into a passion so easily as to find a tract of time which he reckoned on having at his own disposal unexpectedly taken from him . . . because he regards his time as his own and feels that it is being stolen. . . The man can neither make, nor retain, one moment of time; it all comes to him by pure gift; he might as well regard the sun and moon as his chattels . . .”
I’m writing this from the sweet, quiet patch of sunshine that is my son’s naptime. There is coffee and chocolate and soft music. There are pajama pants and my husband’s sweatshirt. The house is perfectly still, the tree outside my window is perfectly still, and, best of all, my child is perfectly still.
What a gift. Something to be incredibly thankful for, not something to pine after and scream for and kick my feet over.
Let’s be real: I still miss the kind of carefree, boundary-less Me Time I had before I was a mom. The ability to sit down whenever I felt like it and paint my nails while watching TV, or read more than a paragraph out of a book at a time, or take an impromptu weekend trip with the girls. But some of these things will come around again in another stage of life, and for right now, I’m focusing on relishing this time that I’ve been given. The time with my son, watching him grow up and discover things and figure the world out, but also the stolen moments I get to sit in a quiet room, or leave my son with his grandparents, so his father and I can sneak out to a restaurant. Both are gifts; both are really, really good gifts.
I’ve found that when my focus is on gratitude instead of entitlement, I'm able to appreciate everything a little bit more. Especially Me Time.