Two of my children were in the bathtub after wetting their beds in the night, and I was on my hands and knees mopping up an impossibly sticky bowl of spilled oatmeal when the phone rang.
“The phone’s ringing!” the children shouted.
“Yes, I know!” I said from under the table. “I can hear it!”
“Aren’t you going to answer it?” Faith asked, thrusting the phone under my nose.
“Now is not really a good time…” I said. Oatmeal oozed down through the leaves of the table and splattered onto the floor.
“Oh,” she said. “I already hit ‘talk.’ Sorry.” I could hear my mother-in-law’s voice saying, “Hello! Hellllllo?”
“It’s Nana!” Jonathan shouted. Kya clapped. A call from Nana is always cause for celebration at our house.
I struggled to peel off my rubber gloves before she hung up. “Hello?” I yelled into the receiver that Faith held up for me.
“Can I have the kids today?” my mother-in-law asked before I could explain why this was not a good time to talk. “I was thinking you could probably use a day off.”
A day off? I didn’t even know moms were allowed to have those. It was dangerously close to a vacation, or a Saturday, and I hadn’t seen a real Saturday in years. “Um, okay…” I said, hardly daring to speak in case it was all just a dream.
“Great! And maybe we can make this a regular thing, you know, like once a week. That way, you can count on having a day all to yourself. Hello? Hello?”
I had fainted right there in the middle of my sticky Pergo.
True to her word, Nana was ready and waiting when the kids and I arrived. All five of them tumbled out of the minivan and kicked their shoes off all over her immaculate entry before running off to see if Papa’s breakfast had been better than theirs.
“Can we eat that? Can we eat that? Can we eat that?” They chanted, swarming him and his plate of half-eaten pancakes. Just back away and let them have it, I thought for his own protection.
“You sure you’re up for this?” I said to Nana, desperately hoping she wouldn’t change her mind. It suddenly seemed kind of inhumane to leave her alone with all of them.
“Oh, no, we’ll be fine! We’re going to bake cookies, go to the park, and maybe stop for ice cream on the way home.” She said it like she had never taken five children out for ice cream before. I mean, she wasn’t even a little afraid. “Just go and have fun!”
I walked back to the minivan. The silence was eerie. No one asked me for anything. No one touched anyone else or sat in anyone else’s seat. No one pestered me to turn on the radio before I’d even started the car. It was all so surreal. For a minute, I just sat and stared. But then I saw the children heading toward the front gate so I gunned it out of the driveway before they could stop me.
This is a day that should not be wasted, I reasoned. I headed to the grocery store, then to the library to pay a small fortune for a lost copy of Frog and Toad’s Adventures, lugged the groceries into the house, did a few loads of laundry, and mopped the floor. I mean, really. The whole floor.
I planned to make a cup of tea and read a book that wasn’t about talking tow trucks, but the day was over. It was time to get the kids, and I hadn’t done a single thing for myself. In fact, I was feeling more exhausted than ever and more than a little bitter. What had just happened?
“Why did you go to the grocery store?” a friend scolded me when I told her how I’d spent my first day off. “That’s not taking the day off! That’s work.”
It certainly felt like work. I hated the grocery store. It reminded me that I had to make dinner. And breakfast. And lunch.
“You need to take care of yourself first. What are the things you never have time to do, or can’t do because you have the kids with you? What recharges you?”
Writing, I thought. I never had enough time to write. Or maybe shopping for jeans. Six people can fit into the changing rooms at Old Navy, but it’s not pretty.
“Okay, the next time your mother-in-law takes the kids, you need to make it a priority to recharge. Then you’ll have the energy to do all the other things that need to get done all the other days of the week.”
It sounded deliciously self-indulgent, especially for a person who thrives on quiet time. Still, I felt a little guilty about it, especially since there was so much to do, and all of it would be easier without the kids. I practically had to force myself to go to a coffee shop instead of the grocery store. I ordered a latte and sat down by the window, alone. I did not have to buy five little hot chocolates or pick up an extra-thick stack of napkins for the inevitable spills. I just sat and worked on my computer, and no one was bored and no one was using the table for a fort. It was nice–really, really nice.
I felt almost…adult. A less cranky, more fulfilled adult.
The next week, I got a little braver. I did not stop by the grocery store and wander up and down the aisles like some kind of lost soul in search of a menu plan. I went straight home where I ignored the fact that the dishwasher needed to be loaded and the dirty laundry was threatening to avalanche down from the upstairs bathroom.
Instead, I lit candles, brought in flowers from the yard, and put on the music I used to play in college. I let myself be quiet and played with words until one of us won.
At the end of the day, when I drove up to Nana’s bicycle-littered driveway, I had not accomplished anything that would endear me to Martha Stewart. The dishes were still in the sink. The fridge was mostly empty. If my husband was a less wise man, he might have walked in the door and said, “What on earth did you do all day?”
Because what I’d done was spend all day with someone I hadn’t seen in a very long time: Me.
It turns out, it’s not one bit selfish or irresponsible, even when I spend most of the day holed up with my laptop. In fact, when I take that time to refuel, I’m doing the very best thing I can for those I love. And I’m finding that a refueled me is a pretty great person to have around.
Just don’t look in my sink.
How about you? Do you take the opportunities you have to recharge, or does your to-do list consume your time off?