For six warp-speed hours every week, my youngest son is in preschool. He’s been my constant companion for the last four years, so I’m protective of this time alone. I typically start adding to my “Next Preschool Day” agenda before the current one ends. But I found myself without a plan one random Tuesday not long ago. With two confused hands on the steering wheel, I stared out the windshield in shock. What should I do? Where should I go?
Low level “Don’t waste this precious time” panic set in.
I enjoy time to write, but I bucked against the thought of going to the same old coffee shop, the one I can practically throw a stone to from my driveway. A small roast-their-own-beans place I’d never been to popped into my head. I’ve heard the coffee is excellent. It’s only a few miles away.
Give yourself permission, said a voice in my head.
So I did. With the flick of the wrist, I switched on my blinker and made a right hand turn towards the destination.
We resided in a small third floor condo in a building full of young professionals six hours away from any family. My son was four months old. My daughter, two and a half years. It was freezing, a New Year, and I had to bundle everyone up to take my dog out whenever she had to pee. I was tired, drained by all the physical demands of a baby and a toddler, had zero time alone, and felt as if I was losing myself.
You know how they say drowning is silent? Well, I felt like this was the part right before. I was flailing, as if sensing imminent danger, knowing my body would soon be too physically spent to do anything but slip under the surface in a sea of diapers and tears and let the four walls of my tiny home envelop over me. I was melting into my life.
One night, talking with my husband, I told him how desperately I felt like I needed some help. I wanted to feel solid again, even if only for a few hours a month.
Through inquiry and interviews, I found someone to watch our kids for a few hours every other Friday.
I’d love to tell you that I fed my soul with books, friends, massages, and writing. But writing was only a dream back then and being alone was the extent of my self-care capabilities. All I really wanted was to walk at a normal pace without lugging a bulky car seat or run an errand without breastfeeding in the middle of it.
Looking back, I don’t remember much about what I did on those Fridays, except for getting sushi and eating it with a book next to me on a picnic bench in the park.
I’m sitting across from a woman as we talk about getting time away from our families. She’s an empty-nester and although my kids are growing up quickly, we still fall solidly in the “young family” category. I ask her if she ever spent a weekend away from her kids.
“No. But I always wanted to.”
“You know what?” she says, “I have a friend who used to go away regularly when her kids were young. She always seemed so refreshed afterwards.”
A half mile down the road after I’ve decided to go to the new coffee shop, I slam into a wall of blazing red tail lights. Stuck between crossroads and turn-offs, I watch my precious preschool time tick ever-so-tauntingly away. I’ve gone 400 feet in the last 38 minutes.
Committed, I cautiously drive past the orange cones and men in yellow vests to sit through another four lights to end up at this coffee shop. I open the door and walk on the echoing yellow laminate tiles past the roasters to the counter. The walls are bare. There isn’t any music. There are four industrial-style steel tables for two shimmied up against an empty, acrid orange colored wall. Besides myself and the woman behind the counter, the shop was empty. This wasn’t what I had in mind.
“Um. A small coffee, please … to go.” I drank it on the way to back to pick up my son from preschool.
Today during my preschool alone time, I plopped my purse down in an empty chair and placed my laptop next to my latte in the coffee shop two seconds away from my house. At home I have laundry to fold and bathrooms to clean, but I’m learning to give myself permission to take time for myself.
Getting a break from the routine, to do what I like, is not selfish. It’s necessary.
Sometimes we give ourselves permission and we feel as if we’re saving our souls while we eat spicy tuna on a sunny day, reading a book off the Time’s best seller list. We return to our life feeling rested and refreshed.
But sometimes we give ourselves permission only to end up in a traffic jam and kick ourselves for not sticking with the normal routine. Giving yourself permission doesn’t guarantee a perfect day.
But it’s in the practice of giving ourselves permission that we learn to know right where we belong.
This article was previously posted on Coffee + Crumbs.
Sonya Spillmann is a nurse by training and a writer at heart. She is a motherless mother from the DC area who writes for Coffee+Crumbs. You can follow her on her blog spillingover.com and on Facebook.