The other morning, I had inveigled micro into playing with his toys in his crib — an increasingly challenging feat as he only ever wants to be sprinting, unfettered, from one end of the apartment to the other — while I quickly changed into my exercise clothes, hurrying through the selection of spandex and jamming my feet into my socks with haste. As I dashed back out the bedroom door, I paused at the monitor and realized that my son was still happily engaged with his toys. I hovered for a minute in indecision and then, with a feeling of strange disorientation, sat down on the couch. “Maybe I can just sit here for a sec and check my emails? Scroll through Instagram?” At the same time: “This is your one-on-one time with your son! Go to him! Play with him! His nanny will be here in nine minutes and then you will only occasionally cross paths with him until five, when all hell breaks loose and you are wrangling a tired, hungry three year old and a tired, hungry one year old and the likelihood of a quiet moment to work on a puzzle with your baby is nil.”
And so what might have been a quiet moment to myself disappeared into the familiar frenzy of mom guilt, and I heaved myself off the sofa to sit with my boy on the floor of his bedroom.
Why do we do this?
I feel as though I am permanently lodged between the mantras “babies don’t keep” and “moms deserve self-care, too.” And the conditions under which we have been living during this pandemic have deepened, or reified, my sensitivities to both.
I remember one time telling my mother, in a week of chaos (I believe this was around when I was moving apartments, very sick, adjusting mini to her first year of school, and nursing my newborn son), that I’d had to “clear my schedule and remind myself that my number one job is caring for my children.” My mom had said: “No, honey. Your number one job is caring for yourself.” The earnestness in her voice and the fact that I have always borne the impression that she has put herself last (meaning that, even if she has always been caring fully for herself, there has also always been room to keep us nurtured and tended to) were revelations. But I still hurry through my showers and wallow in self-reproach if I am on my phone while my children are playing around me or too tired to want to play with mini’s Calico Critters alongside her. I always feel as though I should be giving them more of myself.
Two weeks ago, Mr. Magpie and I went out on our first proper date night since early March. It was the first night in seven months that I had not sat at the dining room table, force-feeding my children dinners they do not want, reminding them to keep their bottoms in their seats or their broccoli on their high chair trays, cajoling them into pajamas, returning them to bed after unauthorized excursions, fetching urgently-needed water cups, saying prayers, singing with varying degrees of enthusiasm “O Little Town of Bethlehem” (“the one from when I was little,” as mini calls this song–as if she is not little anymore) not once but twice in the exhausted hush of the seven p.m. hour. The minute Mr. Magpie and I closed the apartment door behind us on our way out to dinner, we danced, recklessly and joyously, in the elevator bank. “We’re freeeeeeeeeeee, baby!” Mr. Magpie said. We laughed at ourselves, giddy and ecstatic and footloose.
Of course, I checked my phone no less than four times at the dinner table, wondering whether our nanny would have questions about their bedtime routine or run into trouble with our occasionally stubborn three-year-old. Of course, we talked at length about our children over glasses of wine and outrageously delicious cacio e pepe and fennel-flecked sausage lasagnette at Il Buco Alimentaire.
But I was surprised by my relief. I was surprised that I did not for a single moment feel guilty about the excursion and in fact felt a pang of disappointment as we headed back uptown. I was surprised that the next morning, I felt like a better mom: eager to see the children, more willing than usual to get down on the floor of the nursery and play with dinosaur figurines.
My mom guilt kept edging in on my true-born feelings of restoration: “Shouldn’t you feel bad you feel so good right now?”
UGH! Leave me alone!
But there it was: the truth: that I need a real break every now and then. That work is not a break. That errands are not a break. That sitting in our living room after the children are asleep is not even a full break, because there is always the chance that once of them will wake or that I will sidetrack into picking up toys or worrying that I did not turn on the night light. But getting outside, going to dinner, turning my parenting knob all the way off (or, at least, on super-low) is, and I need that space every now and then.
Now just how to get that mom guilt off my back…
Who can relate?
+Love this knit sweater jacket — can’t decide whether to go with black or camel. I am dismayed by how much I’m drawn to black this year! I feel like I’m becoming a true New Yorker without meaning to.
+These wide leg cropped pants came (they are currently marked down to like $15 in the color I got — “ivory frost”) and are SO cute! I’ll be pairing with finer knit sweaters like this and this for a flattering silhouette.
+Speaking of chic sweaters: I absolutely love this. The buttons, the sleeve, the color, the fabric. So good.
+I was reluctant at first about the polo sweater styles I’ve been seeing everywhere — I thought they might be a little slouchy and masculine for me — but this cashmere style may have changed my mind.
+Melamine bowls in a cheery blue and white print – these are great options for children’s snacks/cereal/ice cream.
+Trust me when I say you need this during sweater weather. I’m obsessed.
+Love this fun silver tray even just for decorating the top of a sideboard or serving cocktails and snacks.
+This is a condiment caddy but my favorite elegant way to serve up an arrangement of snacks while enjoying cocktail hour — fill each with a different treat, like marcona almonds, truffle potato chips, and sesame sticks.
+These wood-topped glass storage bins are CRAZY chic.
+These Gucci logo sweaters are so loud and fun.
+Getting a lot of mileage out of this chic headband this fall.