During a typical work week my calendar is scheduled to the hour. I’m talking so jam-packed that I have to carve out time to use the bathroom. But once in awhile a day is suspiciously light. There aren’t meetings back-to-back (or better yet competing with each other) and perhaps the projects I’m working on don’t need immediate attention. Before any of those “free” hours can be snatched up, I’ll block my calendar and take the day off. Maybe I’ll even write my out of office message in all caps just to drive home the point that I WILL NOT BE AVAILABLE (just kidding, that would be rude).
The elusive spontaneous day off is a glorious thing. Usually my time off is purposefully scheduled—we might be preparing to head out of town for the weekend or maybe we’re expecting visitors. Other days off might be designated for family time, whether it’s vacation or staycation. Very rarely is a there a day off with nothing scheduled allowing me time to plow through a to-do list. What do I do on this rare occasion?
I still send my kids to daycare. The morning routine, while still taking no less than two hours, remains steady as rock. The only giveaway, as my three-year-old observes, is my attire. “Mommy, you not going to the office? You going to exercise?” she’ll ask noting my yoga pants, make-up free face and headband. The guilt used to hit me hard when asked this question— but I try to remember these three things:
#1 Routine is good for everyone
Our theme of the last year was “transition”. In May we welcomed Baby Sister. In August I went back to work and we moved from an in-home daycare to a preschool. In October my daughter turned three and graduated to a new class. It. Was. Rough. We are finally in such a groove that I have to make absolutely sure she knows school is an expectation. I always give a reason why going to school is positive, “You’ll miss your friends and teachers if you stay home with me” or “I’ll bet you’re going to have so much fun on the playground!” It’s usually enough motivation to keep her upbeat and accepting of the day ahead. I’m also a slave to sleep schedules and with a baby we’re still in the multiple-naps-a-day phase that allows approximately NOTHING to be accomplished outside of the house. Disrupting a nap to attempt an errand usually backfires, leaving me wondering if the errand was even worth it in the first place.
I love my little ones and I’ve long accepted that outings with them are infinitely more complicated than going alone. But when given the opportunity for eight uninterrupted hours, I will take it. No potty pit stops, no wardrobe changes due to diaper blowouts, no stopping for 27 snacks, no car naps that disrupt aforementioned sleep schedules, no strapping and unstrapping out of car seats. None of it. With the kids at daycare I can effectively navigate all my errands at a much faster rate. And a productive mom might even have energy leftover at the end of the day to whip up some banana bread with her little helpers.
Here’s where I make myself a deal. If I can get three errands or house tasks done that benefit the entire family (i.e. grocery shopping, Target run, laundry) then I also deserve some “me time.” I’ll block out an hour for a fitness class or schedule a facial at the spa. In order to be a better mom I have to take some time for myself. I’ve taken days off before and only made sure reasons #1 and #2 were covered and ended up feeling resentful. Sure, I knocked out some things, but did I sit down? Did I exercise or read a book or catch up on my DVR? If the answer is a resounding no, then I missed the boat. Self-care is essential to a productive day. Even an hour of peace can dramatically refuel my mom tank.
It might not work for everyone, but I’ve realized I feel more in control on days when I’m able to check things off my to-do list without children impeding my progress. It results in less multitasking once I’m home and I’m able to be present and enjoy the precious hours we have together. Is this all without guilt? Of course not. Do I feel the preschool teacher’s eyes boring into me when I show up in my athleisure wear, likely wondering what I’ve been doing all day? Absolutely. But during pickup there’s always at least one other mom who has a trace of exercise class still on her brow or who is carrying the telltale bulls-eye bag from a shopping run. As we pass in the hallway at school, trying to keep up with our bounding kids and their overflowing backpacks, I give her a knowing smile.