I was always a juggler. As a part-time working mom, I could compartmentalize working days and at-home days, which I filled with errands, cooking, children's activities, and precious baby time with my youngest. If I needed some "me time," I could schedule lunch with a friend, a night out with the ladies, or take a break in the middle of the day.
Now, there are no breaks, just an endless 24/7 haze of staying home with a 6- and 4-year-old and 5-month-old. Days have become a blur of homeschooling, trying to keep our home a baseline minimum of clean, working to get something to eat on the table-in short holding down the entire fort so my husband can work as many hours of his demanding job as possible. Logging my part-time hours has been relegated to the evening. I hide in our basement while my husband does bedtime with the boys so I can start working before I fall into bed exhausted.
So, where's the "me time" in all of this? Here's what I've realized about "me time" in the time of pandemic. It's about small victories. I'm not going to be able to take a whole day of vacation off from my family and I don't have time to binge watch a season's worth of TV in the evening, but I do make room for small victories:
A cup of coffee, a homemade muffin, and my social media indulgence on the couch for half an hour while the baby sleeps in the afternoon. Getting my children interested in the Great British Baking Show, so we can all watch together as a family (because right now that counts as "me time.") An early bedtime for my kids, so my husband and I can enjoy dinner and wine in front of the TV. Zoom sessions with friends near and far at night, many of whom I am now catching up with far more than I used to before life slowed down. Stepping outside of my home to walk around the block and hear the birds sing. Putting on a mud mask while I read in bed.
These moments are small, but together they help me connect the dots from day to day and remember the simple pleasures of life. They remind me that I am a person outside of my children, outside of our home, outside of this bubble, and outside of this pandemic.
In looking to instill balance and more me time, when all days could blur together interchangeably, I am reminded anew of the importance and specialness of Shabbat. When I log on to Zoom with my son to watch his daycare's "Tot Kabbalat Shabbat" on Friday afternoons, I find my heart rate slows and my breathing calms. We then log on to Zoom for my synagogue's weekly pre-Shabbat dance party.
When we wake up Saturday morning and have nowhere to be, no plans to keep, no chores to do, and permission to just spend time together as a family, somehow in those moments, I feel the balance that escapes me all week long. Balance requires being more kind to myself. It has never been clearer to me than now, that I can't do it all, but I can do many things successfully enough to keep the ship running. "Me time" is the wind that keeps the ship sailing.
Libby Smoler is a Marketing Specialist at the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business and mother to three wonderful and very energetic boys.