There are few things I consider myself an expert in, but truth be told: if recharging one’s energy with littles underfoot were an Olympic sport (missed opportunity, Greece), I like to think I’d at least take home a bronze.
Whatever you call it: recharging, resting, Introvert breaks, “me” time — it can all feel so, so elusive when you’ve got young kids. More often than not, the moment you’ve found yourself sitting on the sofa with a George Saunders is the moment your children have realized the kitchen faucet sprayer makes for an excellent fireman’s hose.
And so, if you’re in the trenches (or drenches, mothers of said firemen), here are a few ways I’ve found to infuse my day with a few exhales here and there:
When you need quiet
1. Switch on a read-aloud podcast.
I suppose this will require assessment over what type of quiet you need, but for me, “quiet” generally falls under the category of “I don’t want to answer any more questions or witness any arguments for the next twenty minutes.” Thus, the podcast.
The trick here is that you don’t announce it, you simply turn it on and busy yourself elsewhere while you leave those fresh young minds to process someone else’s words for a second or two. My favorites? Circle Round, Tales from the Lily Pad, Sparkle Stories.
2. Host tea time.
When Scout goes down for his (increasingly rare) nap, Bee and I often gather a few blankets and our library books and head out to the back deck for “tea.” She could care less for the tea, but a giant bowl of popcorn keeps her lost in a book until we’re down to the kernels.
When you need space
1. Visit your adopted tree.
If ever there were a sentence, right? This one sounds odd at best, but it’s my secret back pocket trick and I stand behind it 100%. The gist is simple: find a tree nearby, preferably one your little can walk to alone (ours is in the backyard). If you’re a city dweller, an indoor plant will get the job done, or if you don’t mind a tiny trek to the local park, have at it. Next: let your little choose a tree to “adopt.” Encourage them to check on it daily, to count its leaves, survey its bark. Any new dwellers hiding? Any changes to note? If they’re of age and inclination, a “tree report” notebook is a fun little addition, but certainly optional.
I don’t know why it works, nor do I know that it must be a tree. But I do know this: when little ones are feeling frenzied and tantrum-y, assigning them some ownership over something they can control (or perceive to control) is never a bad thing, nor is shooing them out into the midday sun for some fresh air and nature’s medicine. It’s a healthy reminder for all involved that there does, indeed, exist life outside your own four walls, and that there is bigness to be found.
2. Take a drive.
This sounds counter-intuitive, being that needing space and cooping yourself up in a car with small children don’t exactly align. But I’ve found that, often, when I think I need space, what I actually need is to not be touched/climbed over/jumped on/wrestled. I need to know I won’t be changing a diaper for the next few minutes, that I won’t be cutting apple slices or tying a shoe or fixing a train track. I need just a small breath of control amidst the chaos.
So we hop in the car and we head to nowhere – a nearby lake to wave at the ducks, a drive-thru treat from our friends’ coffee shop, a short trip downtown to count windows on tall buildings.
Here’s my general rule: Conveniently “forget” everyone’s shoes. This way, inevitably, when a kid wants to hop out and seek adventure, you’ve got a good enough reason to keep right on driving by. There’s a time and a place for romping around, but right now, this is your 20 minutes to decompress and return home rested(ish).
3. Start a band.
We turned our backyard tire swing into a drum set last week. It was simple enough – a few bundt pans tethered with string, some sticks for banging. Ever since, I’ve been setting them loose to create an original song and lyrics while I finish up the dishes, tackle the laundry, sweep toast crumbs from the dining room.
It’s a 10-minute break at best, but offers me a bit of space to get something done, and offers the littles a bit of space for creativity. And the concert that follows? It’s a show-stopper every time.
When you need time
1. Switch roles.
There have been many times when I just need “time,” you know? Time to switch my brain off for a bit, time to gather my own thoughts or – mostly – release them. In these moments, it sometimes works to switch roles with my kids. I’ll tell them it’s their turn to be parents, and I’m going to take a nap on the couch. This amuses them to no end, plus there’s the added benefit of tiny hands tucking you in with your favorite blanket, bringing you more water, singing you a few off-key lullabies.
I wouldn’t call it pampering, but maybe its second cousin.
2. Add another kid.
You know good old-fashioned parent math, right? That handy little law of addition/subtraction that promises the moment you alter the dynamic, peace arrives for a good hour or longer? Doesn’t matter which kid, doesn’t matter how many. Just swap out a body or two.
Invite over the neighbor girl. Call your girlfriends for a (distracted) lunch date. Switch kids on the regular. My friend’s 15-year-old loves to cook but often leaves the kitchen a mess, so I like to volunteer my kitchen if only for the fact that she almost always busts out an origami trick that leaves my own kids marveling quietly for minutes, rushing off to the craft table for paper and tape.
My point is this: rally the village. We needn’t go it alone.
I will say one last thing here: on the longest of days, I employ some version of all of the above and we manage just fine. We’re all happy and tired and fall into bed having lived the life of humanity: of getting on each other’s nerves, of minding the business of others, of parading around the house airing out our own sets of dirty laundry. Attempting to love excellently, falling short magnanimously.
When the ship wrecks, for me, is when those borrowed moments of peace aren’t spent wisely. If I’m storing them up to stare into a phone, drowning precious few exhales in a sea of voices and expectation. And so, I will say this: When you’re given quiet, stay quiet. When you’re granted space, take up your space. If time is offered, make it count.
Feeding souls > scrolling feeds.
Here’s to restful rest, Mamas.