I took a morning off one of the days leading up to Christmas and, partly influenced by Omicron, resolved to do nothing at all. Normally, my “mornings off” wrap around self-care visits like manicures, salon days, lunches with friends, errands that feel vaguely therapeutic because I am alone and any alone time when not writing is rare. This time, I decided I wanted to sit down on the couch and binge “Emily in Paris” at 10 A.M. Our nanny was home, as were my children, and it felt —
Whenever my children came running through the living room, I’d feel the need to pause the show and shuffle around tidying up, fluffing the pillows, putting toys away. This was in part owing to adult content but mainly owing to the sensation of awkwardness that I was sitting in my own house but decidedly not looking after my own children, and so I felt compelled to mask my loafing. When they descended for lunch, I jumped up and immediately got to work making sandwiches and pouring milk. I waited until after they’d gone their separate ways to resume my position of leisure. I can’t quite tell whether this was because I felt badly I was doing something so lazy in plain view of our hardworking nanny, or because it felt wrong not to be caring for my children when I was not working or out of the house running an errand. After all, we employ her so we can work. It felt like I was in some way breaking a rule by employing her while not working. And yet — ! Of course she is here many times when I am getting my nails done or having coffee with a girlfriend or grabbing a drink with my husband. Still, it felt delinquent on some base level.
At the same time, during the stretches I was alone, I felt the most relaxed I’ve felt in months. Maybe years? I was entirely by myself, doing something purely for my own pleasure, with no productivity upside. I was consciously and deliberately wasting a morning in frivolity, and I cannot recall the last time I indulged in such idle pleasure. I did not even let myself write Christmas cards or arrange for groceries or respond to emails. I just reclined on the couch under a thick blanket and watched and thought and lost myself in the confection that is that show. It felt deliciously illicit.
Later that night, I shared my mixed emotions with Mr. Magpie. We mused over why I felt so badly about it — after all, I am “allowed” to take mornings off. Why must they all be spent out of the house or cloistered in my bedroom? Why can’t I avail myself of the living room TV and just sit in leisure for a spell?
I think the discomfort stems in some part from the nature of my business. I work for myself, and my work is free-form, and my hours are flexible. Therefore, I have the strange and delightful option to, for example, run to the dry cleaner or stop by my mother’s for lunch or get my eyebrows done whenever I want to. I do not need to take PTO to arrange these outings. And so I never do actually “schedule time off,” unless we are traveling or have family visiting or it is a holiday when the children will be home and our nanny will not–but then those days are not free time to watch a TV show or read a book by myself.
I am not complaining. I feel fulfilled and energized and enjoy my downtime in the evenings, usually alongside Mr. Magpie. I would not trade the free-form nature of my work for anything. I don’t think it could function any other way–the impulse to write (for me at least) comes in fits and starts and cannot be time-boxed. And so it is productive — healthful! — for me to be able to zip off and complete a chore or errand when I need processing time. Sometimes my best writing happens while running to the cobbler or picking up groceries. Beyond that, on principle, I am loathe to call this blog “work” in any capacity because I enjoy it so much. It feels like creative output, not “labor” in the sense I have traditionally known it.
In short: it all works. But I think it does explain why taking a morning “off” at home felt so alien. It did not sync with the setup of my work/life balance, which is much more syncopated and less scheduled than I would suspect of many others. (…I could be, and probably am, wrong? I’m thinking now that I am certain COVID has put pressure on many more traditional job arrangements such that lines are thoroughly blurred in similarly complicated ways. I am thinking specifically of my girlfriend who is a high-powered attorney but who, since COVID has her working remotely, now picks up her son from school every day at noon during her “lunch break.” I know she loves the way her WFH arrangement accommodates this brief interlude with her son, but I also know it must make things complicated — i.e., meetings running late, deadlines, and the age-old challenge of clipping in and out of work/mom modes. (It is not automatic!))
But the other half of my discomfort equation, the half that I think most of you will relate to, is —
Why do I feel guilty doing nothing for a rare stretch of time at my own home when I am paying a caregiver to look after my children? One of my friends messaged me to say: “I’m glad you’re taking time to take care of yourself.” It was such a welcome grant of permission that I didn’t know I needed. I thought to myself: “I should not feel guilty about this! I am allowed to be lazy every now and then, and to carve out a way to accommodate that laziness.” And is it even fair to call it “laziness”? Why do I itch to categorize a morning of relaxation as lethargy? I know myself to be a busy, hard-working person. I can take breaks, and they needn’t always be breaks that tick something off a list somewhere. Thinking more deeply about it, I do on occasion take “breaks” of different kinds that feel more medicinal and do not trigger my mom guilt as heavily. For example, I would not feel the same guilt over going for a walk outside, reading on the porch, or even baking cookies — all pleasurable pastimes that involve a similar detachment from goals and to-dos but feel more wholesome in some sense. (Though, to be sure, I rarely do any of these things while our nanny is here.) Was it just the modality of TV that I was hung up on?
Now my thoughts are circling around my SAHM friends, who — like, when do they get to take a walk just sit on the couch and watch TV? Never? Imagining myself in their shoes, I think it would be difficult to hire a sitter so I could sit at home watching “Emily in Paris,” for reasons similar to those I mentioned above. At least with my current arrangement (i.e., a full-time nanny), I have the option at my disposal, setting aside my discomfort for a moment.
I guess what I’m getting at is —
Is this a mom guilt issue I need to just barrel through? Is it something about my underlying value judgment of TV as a frivolous pastime? Why was I so cagey about the entire thing?
What do you think? Have you experienced anything similar?
+On mom guilt.
+On the lopsided, beautiful dance of motherhood.
+On remaining interesting to your partner after giving birth.
+A woman contains multitudes.
+On shifting gears after a long day.
+Some good winter reading picks.
+We had six inches of snow yesterday! It reminded me of Chicago snow. I know I’ve written about this before, but Polarn O Pyret makes the best snow bibs for children. They are pricey, but they last an eternity, are unisex, and are very warm and insulated. They run huge, which has actually worked out nicely. Mini has worn the same pair for THREE YEARS (a size 2-3T, and she is now almost always a size 5 or even 6). The straps are adjustable so they really do grow with the child but the legs are cut really long (I guess for all those tall Scandi children), and because they are snow pants, you can just kind of bunch them up using the elastic at the ankle until they fit properly. Anyway, micro has worn the size 1.5-2 years last year and this one, and he is currently a size 3T in everything else, and they still fit fine. Next year, I’ll put him in mini’s current pair and buy mini a pair 4-6. These are simply the best.
+I have to say, though, these cheerfully printed snow overalls from Hannah Andersson also turned my head, and are less expensive. Love the punchy floral for a little lady!
+We have some snow gear at home but this latest dump led me to order this highly-rated snow saucer for future white mornings.
+This popular top was just re-stocked! A great birthday top IMO.
+Speaking of mittens and handmade, I have long lusted after one of the spectacular knit pieces from Mr. Mittens, like this gorgeous pink cardigan. I noticed that Net-A-Porter just moved a bunch of the pieces from this label to clearance, and how amazing is this green number and this knit dress (I immediately imagined it for an expecting mama)?
+Just love this winter dress from SEA.
+Just bought mini these silver Hunter boots as she outgrew her last pair seemingly overnight and we actually have had a ton of rainy days since moving here. Micro also absolutely lives in his pair, come rain or shine, and was also at the outer limits of wearing his pair in comfort, so bought him these in the military red.
+Similarly, mini outgrew her Uggs also overnight (we have had this issue since she was born — she seems to change sizes mid-season, which drives me mad!!! two sets of everything per season?!), and we get a lot of use out of those. They’re so easy to put on and nice and warm, too. I have bought her the Bailey style with the bows in the past but this time I got her these simple ones in the mauve/lavender color because they are under $80, go with her wardrobe, and will tide us over until she needs a new pair next fall.
+Still in love with this epic statement top.
+Love the silhouette of this fitness jacket.
+This sheep storage basket for a nursery…!
+CUTE collared sweatshirt.
+Obsessed with the fit of these jeans.
+Love the inexpensive socks from this brand for my children. They have a nice weight to them — not too thick, not too thin; are really stretchy (easy to pull on), and have those grippies on the bottom, which are essential!