Tuesday, 18 March 2014

The elusive "Me time"

Photo by Swire, available by Public License

I have heard recently of two Dads I know taking a bath before work in the morning. I mean, correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't the morning in a house with kids a time of frenzied hair brushing, shoe searching, porridge hurling and debates over which coloured vest to wear? A morning BATH strikes me as something of Mr Darcy-esque luxury...I imagine these blokes luxuriating in warm bubbles, gazing dreamily into the distance. Their valet lays out their attire for the day and waits to give them a proper shave, perfecting their sideburns perhaps...

The last time I was in the habit of morning baths is when I was reclining amidst the delicate scent of Dettol as I attempted to heal my stitched up postnatal body. Nowadays it is a 2 minute shower a la Wash'n'go, usually with an audience who are busy standing on the toilet eating Vaseline. I hardly ever take a bath because it would seem like a waste of time.

Now forgive me, but I am about to indulge in some major gender stereotyping here. Here is the image; Family in cafe. Dad is reading the paper. Mum is trying to persuade one child to stay in the high chair, mopping up milk spilt by the other and looking longingly at the paper. Second image: Holiday time. Dad is at front door, showered, his bag packed and loaded into the car. He is huffing and gesturing about how long it takes everyone else to get ready. Mum is packing her bag, the kids' bags and the extra bags of nappies, bibs, beakers, swim kits, favourite stories and vital cuddly toys.

Now I am not suggesting here that Dads do not pull their weight. The modern Dad is a pretty hands-on figure; cooking, changing nappies, taking the kids swimming or to the swings. What I can't help but notice is that men do seem to be able to get a bit more of that magic and elusive "Me time". It might be by disappearing into the bathroom. It might be because there is a match on telly of historic importance that cannot be missed. It might be by spending some essential time organising their music collection or going to the gym.

This is not something to be criticised. This is an excellent thing. It is only by indulging in a bit of relaxation now and again that most busy, stressed out humans remain sane. It is more, I would argue, the problem of Mums who are both reluctant to prioritise time for themselves and reluctant to share many of the tasks of parenthood.

To be very clear, my other half would never ever kick up a fuss if I said, "You're doing bedtime, I'm going to the gym tonight" or "I'm going out for a drink on Thursday". He would probably be delighted. The problem has been for the last couple of years that I have not felt able to do that. I have martyred myself, chained myself to the rough rock of motherhood. I can't possibly go out, the kids need me. They might cry. Or I'm too tired/exhausted/overwhelmed by life to possibly do anything else but get through the day. Or I want to spend half an hour with my other half, uninterrupted.

It is only in the last few months that I have felt the fog starting to lift. I have remembered that it is actually really important to work out who you are and what you like again. It is also really important that my other half gets his fair share of time on his own with the kids. Without me looking over his shoulder.

When the kids were tiny, "Me Time" meant a cup of tea and some toast in front of some trashy telly. Now it is about re-discovering lost interests, things that need time. These might be writing, running, sewing, cooking, reading, movies or hey, face masks. Isn't it cool when you find out a new friend's secret passion? Fossils, upcycling, roller derby, mixing cocktails!

In the hope of getting fit again, exercise has been my focus. While trying to get to exercise classes, be it Zumba or yoga, on time has defeated me, I have embraced running, as lots of mums do (see Great North Mum and Learner Mother). Running is great because you can put on trainers and stumble, jog or sprint out the door, whenever the opportunity presents itself. And now, I do grab that opportunity. Having a goal has helped. I am useless at setting goals because I always assume it will be too hard. I only did the marathon (many years ago) because I was outraged that my boyfriend/future spouse had the self-belief and determination to do it with or without me! Again my husband has selected a goal for us - the hopefully less challenging 10km obstacle course. Training for an event is great because there are no excuses. It doesn't matter if the baby is teething, you're still gonna have to do it!

Me Time is also about creating. This blog has been my Me Time - when I rush down to the computer after the kids are asleep and madly tap away before someone whimpers for water. I have had the sewing machine serviced and attended a sewing class at the children's centre, complete with creche! I made two aprons and a cushion cover. Go me! Once upon a time I was an avid reader. Joining a book club MAKES me read books again instead of crashing out in bed at 9pm again.

As Virginia Woolf put it, a woman needs a Room of One's Own (1929). While Woolf was thinking of women pursuing a writing career, I would suggest that the phrase is relevant to all women in both the mental and physical sense. You need space. You need a moment to take stock. You need to engage and learn otherwise you will stagnate.

So I'm not sure what my big conclusion is. I guess there is no point becoming resentful about your disappearing life when you have kids. You have as much right to free time as anyone else so make it happen!  Share childcare with your partner, your friend or relative to get a bit of breathing space. Hmm... maybe I should run myself a bath, complete with lavender scented bubbles, and take a little time to ponder the meaning of life...

Woolf, Virginia. A Room of One's Own. New York: Harcourt Brace & Co., 1989.

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