Finding time to myself was simple in the days before children. Back when I was single, the only creatures who demanded my attention were two cats and a handful of friends. My house was (usually) tidy, as I had plenty of time to pick up and only me to make the mess (apart from the occasional hairball). So my downtimes were usually lengthy. I would go for a run, come home and make some dinner and have a glass (or two) of wine. I'd read a book, dust the furniture or visit with friends.
That life of leisure ended with a thump the minute my daughter was born. Because she was a preemie, our first days (months) with her were filled with anxiety, as we thought each breath would be her last. We were constantly at her side, fetching and carrying and doing all the things anxious new parents do. We didn't realize then that the center of our universe had fundamentally shifted from ourselves to that 4-pound squalling infant.
Fast forward 10 years, add in another kid, and now there's precious little time to ourselves. It's not until after the kids are well and truly asleep that my husband and I get any time alone together (is that a contradiction?). And by then, we're both so exhausted that we do little more than stare bleary-eyed at some travel show on the TV and wish we were in the south of France or sailing down the Nile.
Even though we're exhausted, I find it difficult to forfeit that tiny, precious window of alone time by climbing into bed. At 11 p.m., you'll likely find me silently padding around the house, watering the plants, picking up the errant toys and socks, reading a few pages in the book I've renewed three times but haven't read past Chapter 2. Maybe I'll make a list of all the things I need to accomplish over the weekend. Maybe I'll take the polish off my toes and paint on a fresh coat.
What I don't do, for at least an hour, is climb into bed. I just need some time when there's no one tugging at my shirt or calling out to me. Don't get me wrong, I love my kids and I'm in a much better place now than when I was single. But those quiet, peaceful moments when everyone's in bed make the chaos of the rest of the day bearable. I have a chance to settle down, breath deeply and do a few mental and physical stretches that help the tension of the day slip away.
So even though I could really use an extra hour of sleep, I need that downtime a little bit more. It's a chance for me to be still and unwind. And though I don't include a glass of wine in my unwinding practices any more, I still am able to corral my thoughts and let the stress of the day go.
So don't be surprised to see a light glowing in the window late at night. It's just me, tip-toeing around my sleeping house, just being me.