In one hour and 13 minutes, I need to go pick Penrose up from daycare. So far today I have attended a one-hour Kripalu yoga session, tidied up a bit, taken care of some loose ends with my now-shuttered seasonal bakery, edited and submitted a column, left messages for sources for an article, eaten an unseemly number of banana chips, and started writing this piece.
I’m not at work. I’m a teacher on summer vacation. So why isn’t the baby home with me?
Last summer, with an infant and a bakery to run, “me time” was a pipe dream. My husband’s work ramps up exponentially during the summer season, so after a few hours in the restaurant each morning, where I baked bread, supervised my staff, and got them started on their breakfast service, I got Penrose from the babysitter and commenced one very long day after another. She napped prolifically at first, and walks were pleasant, but there were times when my day was a monotonous litany of spit up and tears, with little relief.
This summer, I’m taking advantage of the new toddler daycare program offered through the community center, and enjoying three quiet mornings each week. I write, I garden, I teach music lessons. I’m taking a tai chi class, and every Tuesday I go to yoga. It is the least busy I have been in the last 10 years, as I’m not tending bar, teaching summer camp sessions, hostessing, working as a prep cook or breakfast chef, and I have this built-in respite from parenting.
It feels luxurious. It also feels a little wrong.
In addition to the 12 hours a week when Penrose is at daycare, she spent considerably more time with a babysitter than usual last month. I had the opportunity to be in a local production of “Annie Get Your Gun” as Annie Oakley and jumped at it. I typically direct plays out here on the island where we live, but my first love is performing. At times my husband was able to be home with the baby when I was in rehearsal, but often one of several wonderful women spent the evening with her, even doing bedtime. During production week, when my husband was in the sound booth and I was on stage, I didn’t put Penrose to bed at all. My joy at being onstage contrasted sharply with the uncertainty I felt about choosing to be away from my daughter.
The fact is, when I’m taking care of myself, I take better care of Penrose. Indulging my penchant for performing, cleaning the house, breathing, stretching, writing, even watching “Poldark” and giving myself a manicure, all clear my head and let me give her all of my attention when we’re together, rather than trying to wedge those things into my time with her. When she’s at daycare, or when she’s fallen asleep without me, I can’t wait to see her again. Even if it’s in the middle of the night. It even softens my reaction to her early toddler tantrums.
Penrose benefits from the arrangement, too. She’s happy and confident when I drop her off to spend the morning with other kids. They go to the playground, eat watermelon outside, finger paint, and play creatively. She’s the youngest in the group and learns as she tries to keep up with the older, more verbal kids. As her social skills—or lack thereof—emerge, she gets feedback from her peers, rather than just her mother. And her babysitters often have fun ideas I haven’t thought of, like the one who saved bedtime by letting her feel a book with her feet.
Quarter to noon—time to get ready to pick her up. It’s been a lovely morning, my to-do list is a lot shorter, and I’m eager to become an “us” again, now that I feel more like me.