With my daughter’s 6th birthday party, Hanukkah, and Christmas all falling in a brief seven-day window, the holidays felt extra-stressful this year for my little interfaith family.
Of course, some of the stress is self-imposed. Like most moms, I tend to put way more pressure than necessary on myself in an effort to make the holidays memorable, when in reality, my kids are thrilled to be home in their jammies with their mommy and daddy for a few days with nothing to do but play with their toys and games, read, and color.
Six years into this parenting gig, I’ve gotten slightly better at surrendering some of the stressors, like being cool with ordering a Sam’s Club cake vs. making a Pinterest creation fail, and baking sugar cookies out of the package for a cookie-decorating party vs. from scratch, guilt-free.
Yet even with those little stress-reducers, I still feel an enormous weight lifted when the presents have been unwrapped, the leftovers are gone, and the menorah candles have burned out. Because like the candles… I am burned out.
It’s not just from the holidays or work or from the house or child-rearing or marriage or any of that, but rather the weighty combination of all of it—leaving me as the least important character in the play of my own life.
While I am extremely lucky to have a spouse with whom I truly divide and conquer—he’s been a hands-on daddy since day one, who more than equally shares household responsibilities with me—let’s be honest: There are certain things that “only Mommy” can do. Like tuck my 3-year-old son’s toes back into his blanket for the 50th night in a row at 3 a.m, Or remember my daughter’s library book on the counter that’s overdue at Hebrew school this week.
As a wise friend once told me, a mother’s mind comes equipped with never-ending bandwidth; it’s like a million apps open on a computer. We toggle constantly from app to app to app, not ever closing one but just adding more. We’re hard-wired this way—to always be “on,” for better or for worse. It’s why I lay awake with insomnia/anxiety most Sunday nights thinking about the challenges of the week ahead, and my husband can sleep through an earthquake.
Which is also why, the older I get, the more it makes sense why flight attendants warn passengers to put their own oxygen masks on first—before assisting others. We mamas can’t help others if we are struggling to “breathe” ourselves.
And that’s why “me time”—our oxygen masks, if you will—is so critical… yet often feels like the elusive, holy grail of motherhood. We are pulled in so many directions that we tend to leave our own needs off the to-do list as we focus on everyone else’s.
In my 20s—when I was still a Washingtonian—“me time” meant walking to a café, reading a book and sipping a latte all afternoon before window-shopping in Georgetown and meeting a friend for dinner. There was no one depending on me for their basic human needs—and it was kind of glorious!
These days, “me time” is quite different—and that’s totally OK. It’s squeezing in a workout or carving out time to write at night—my two passions. Neither happens often enough lately—as my thickening waistline and barely-there blog show. Yet when I make time to write and work out, I’m much happier.
Since setting aside a little time for self-care each day is a necessity but also a challenge, I’m making it my New Year’s resolution for 2017. I’m calling it “30 Minutes for Me” and I welcome all moms to get on board.
Today, the stars aligned with “me time” happening quite spontaneously. The big kid asked to nap while the little was napping (what?!), my three-week-long brutal bout of bronchitis was finally gone, and it was a ridiculously, unseasonably mild 50-degree day in Michigan. I laced up my kicks and went for a run, huffing my way up the hills, cursing myself all the while for slacking off the past couple months. I walked. Ran. Jogged. I bumped into a beautiful friend walking her dog and felt rejuvenated. I found myself smiling about the good in this world (it’s there, promise!) and what this body—formerly much leaner, fitter, and stronger—can still do, even now.
I returned home a little healthier, a lot happier, and a ton inspired. Because I did it. That brief time away from the grind, I truly believe it makes me a better mom. A better wife. A better friend.
That 30 minutes to pound the pavement (or paint, write, sing, dance, act, read, knit, bake) was a gift to myself during this stressful holiday season.
It’s what gives us moms a semblance of who we are pre-kids and gently reminds us that our former self isn’t gone, just changed. Sure, it may mean waking at 4 a.m. or staying up extra-late or dedicating your lunch break to ensure it happens some days… but whatever it takes, I promise it’ll be worth it.
We mamas need our oxygen masks, and we also need to nudge our fellow moms to put theirs on, too. After all, none of us are closing the million apps any time soon!