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Back Off...It's ME-time!

Lakshmi Palecanda Email Lakshmi Palecanda
October 2009
Back Off...It's ME-time!

That day, it had been one thing after the other, and I hardly got any time to sit down and answer my emails. Finally, I had got online when my children began an argument, and yelled for me to arbitrate.

“Quiet down there! I’m trying to think here!” I yelled down the stairs. My two daughters, aged ten and six, stopped shouting and began arguing in stage whispers.

“Just you wait until Mommy finishes thinking,” I distinctly heard my younger daughter say. I couldn’t help it—I began to laugh.

It was not always thus in our household. I remember times in the past when I actually watched a whole TV show without interruption, and read a book while stretched out on the living room couch. This was way back when I was newly married. My husband and I had no family nearby, and our friends were all colleagues. We weren’t party types either. To top it all, my husband was a postdoctoral fellow in immunology research. He worked fourteen hours every week-day and at least six hours on weekends, so I had a lot of time on my hands. Those were the days when I could recite the schedules of at least five TV channels by heart. I read voraciously, sometimes completing a paperback a day. I went everywhere and did everything.

However, at the end of that time, I was sick of myself. I craved companionship; I yearned for someone to be with all the time. How wonderful it would be to have someone to have fun with every day, I thought. Then I had a baby.

Smart folks say to beware what you ask for lest you get it, and were they ever right! Once my baby came, we were inseparable. Not that it wasn’t great—it was, but after a year of being slave-in-chief, I had had it. My attention span shrank to the size of a flea, I conversed in baby talk, and all I could talk of was the baby. I needed a life. Going back to work helped, but it also shrank the amount of time I had to myself. Clearly something had to give.

By staying with my baby all the time, I’d made the cardinal mistake of not letting her get fully acquainted with her dad. So the first thing to do was to make both of them comfortable with each other. This I did in a very simple manner: I started spending more time in the bathroom, since that is one of the few privileges that cannot be taken away from you even if you are the mother of a toddler. Slowly, the bathroom started resembling a library, since it was the only place where I could read in peace. After I had my second daughter, it became more of a refuge. I even had my waist-length hair snipped to a shoulder-length style, so that I needed to spend less time in the shower, which freed up more time for reading.

Since then, I’ve found several ways to make time for myself. One day, driven to despair at the lack of personal space, I sat in the living room and told my children that I could not see them or hear them because I was in a coffee shop. The girls loved this game, and I milked it for all it was worth. The rules of this game were simple: I would retire to one end of the couch with a cup of coffee and declare that I was ‘not home.’ This meant that I was unavailable to settle disputes, provide snacks or clean up messes. It was the equivalent of a time-out for me, and boy, was it ever sweet!

Friends are an essential part of childhood, and even more essential to mothers’ mental health. A well-managed playdate is invaluable to a stressed-out mother. I noticed that when children come over to play, I’ve had to deal with hurt feelings, territorial fights and, most importantly for me, cleaning up before and after the playdate. Therefore, I made it my policy to arrange playdates at neutral sites like the park or children’s museums. Going over to a neutral site where playthings are common to all reduces tensions, and I get to indulge in a good cup of coffee, a book or some adult conversation with other mothers.

Well, now my daughters are a little older, so they need less attention. They are into extracurricular activities too. There are piano, flute and tae kwon do classes that take up their time after school. All I have to do is drop them off at their classes and then I have an hour to myself. Granted, this is Swiss cheese time, and involves a lot of driving but hey, I’m not complaining. I love to listen to my music while I drive, so it counts as my time, too. Nighttime, after they’ve gone to bed, is a favorite Me-time, when I get to read, listen to music, work, watch TV or even do dishes or laundry without interruptions. I’m also lucky to have a husband who loves to spend time with the girls, taking them biking or for soccer practice on weekends, leaving me with time to do my own stuff. And so it goes, this constant quest for time in which to indulge myself.

Then again, even as I scurry around like a bright-eyed squirrel, dashing from task to task, snatching up any and every available spare minute, I am becoming aware of something. These moments that I share with my children are precious and limited. Already they do not need me as much as they used to. In a few years’ time, I will not only become unnecessary, I’ll also become uncool. Then, I’ll have all the time I want, to indulge myself. And like every mother who loves her children, but also likes her own independence, I look forward to that time with both anticipation and trepidation!

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