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Of course, I didn’t understand her until I had my first child. I barely left our apartment for the first six weeks except to go to pediatrician appointments. But then it was time to go back to work. Luckily, I only worked half time then, but still leaving the baby was traumatic. Until I got to the office. Sitting alone at my desk, unencumbered by diaper bag, bottles, extra baby clothes, not to mention the baby, I realized what my sister had meant.
I relished going for a coffee break with my co-workers, just to walk to the building next door. I chatted with grown-ups about grown-up things (and babies), bought myself a cup of coffee and a snack, and returned to my desk and back to work. I had to work more efficiently than before because I wanted to leave on time to get home to my beautiful baby, and my husband, naturally. But the time away from home felt like my own. (It included lots of window shopping on the walk home, too.)
Three years later I was pushing my two children on the swings at Barry Park in Syracuse. I was chatting with another mom. She mentioned that if she finds a free hour, she goes out for a run. As in exercise. Wow, I thought. I would never do that. When I find extra time, my first thoughts are for a good cup of coffee, a piece of cake and a newspaper to read. But the point is, we each had found moments in which to refresh ourselves.
Tonya Shenandoah of Nedrow is a professor at Le Moyne College, a wife, and a mother of three children. She says finding time for herself was hardest after the birth of her first child. “You think it should be easier because you only have one. But yet it’s overwhelming because it’s such a big change.”
She believes it’s important to “find something that nourishes you and making time to do that and accepting that it might not be the three-hour thing but one hour or 20 minutes.” She remembers: “Mine was taking a long shower. . . because sometimes you can’t even get away from the house.”
Shenandoah recalls taking a few minutes to browse a magazine when grocery shopping by herself. And, she adds, “I think you learn to live with less sleep and let go of some of the housekeeping stuff. I guess that letting go is part of it.”
Bethany VanBuren of North Syracuse gets downtime when her 4-year-old twins, Sarah and Elizabeth, are at preschool and her daughter, Emma, 2, naps. “I find that’s my time to either read, or a lot of times I will catch up on their baby books. I have been keeping a journal of their milestones that they have gone through or the funny things they’ve said.”
“I take a lot of comfort in doing that for them,” adds VanBuren, who works part time as a labor and delivery nurse at Crouse Hospital. “To let them know that they are important to me, that even in my spare time, I could do things for them.”
Just as each child needs some personal attention each day, we parents need some “timeouts” for ourselves. My friend Chris in Oswego says a counselor once advised her to take a break from her teenage girls. “I would tell them: ‘At 9 o’clock (p.m.), the mommy light goes off.’” Of course, if they really needed her, they knew she was right in her bedroom. But she needed some time and space, and the girls needed to work out some things for themselves.
Now, Chris says, her youngest daughter is having the opposite problem. After having her first baby, she returned to her teaching job after six weeks of maternity leave. At nights and on weekends, the new mother is very happy to be with her baby and husband at home. But her friends, who do not have children, keep trying to take her out—like the old days.
Years ago, I remember a friend telling me how her sister got up an hour before her children and husband each morning. That’s crazy, I thought. Now, the day just doesn’t get off to as good a start if I don’t get up an hour before my kids and husband. I like the quiet time: to make coffee, check e-mail, glance at the paper and start organizing clothes, lunches and activities for our day. But I’m not totally alone during that early morning hour. The cat thinks I need some company—and that she needs some treats then, too.
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