When you’re the parent of a young child, there are a lot of things you miss: hanging out with your friends, sleeping in, the ability to take a shower without being interrupted twenty times by a small person who stares at your private parts with all the absorption of a mini Dr. Masters.
I miss all of these things and more. I haven’t seen the end of a movie in almost two years. Instead of going to the salon for a waxing, I now simply avoid looking in the magnifying mirror, because if I can’t see my mustache then neither can anyone else. But even more than proper grooming, or having a conversation with my husband that isn’t about poop, the thing I miss most of all is having the time to do nothing.
I used to love doing nothing. I was so good at it. Woolgathering, daydreaming, ruminating, navel gazing — I nailed it in every category. My preferred environment for doing nothing is a small, cozy space, safely tucked away from the world’s demands and distractions. (Seriously, one of my dreams in life is to one day have a charming little window seat just for this purpose. I’ve clearly seen too many commercials – usually either for chocolate or for flavored instant coffee — in which thirtysomething women curl up on just such a charming little window seat to savor their one decadent treat of the day.)
But ever since Jr.’s arrival — and especially since he became ambulatory — there’s just no time to do nothing. I was freshly reminded of this lack in my life the other day, when my co-worker’s Pandora produced a song I’d never heard before. I loved it instantly: drowsy female vocals, melodic yet mournful, flavored with a dash of ’80s synth pop — the sort of thing that was pretty much my soundtrack throughout college and my twenties. I sighed dramatically in order to make my co-worker stop working and pay attention to me.
Me: This makes me want to lie around on my bedroom floor and brood. In a good way. [Wistfully] When am I ever going to be able to do that again?
Co-worker: [Without looking away from computer] Probably in like twenty years.
Me: By then I’ll be too old to be able to get back up. I’ll just have to lie there until someone finds me.
It’s not that I couldn’t do nothing if I really wanted to. It’s just that, these days, it’s really hard to justify making that choice when there are literally a bajillion other urgent and more legitimate things I could be doing in the slender windows of non-baby time that come around each day. We’re talking two hours, tops, of afternoon nap (and heaven forbid we drive somewhere with the baby, causing him to doze for a few minutes, in which case say bye-bye to nap time) and then two more hours between the time he goes to bed and the time my husband and I lose consciousness on the couch. Those four hours must not be squandered.
As I rock the baby before his nap (yes, I still do that; we didn’t sleep-train him and I regret it every minute of my life), my mind is like a stock ticker endlessly unspooling the list of things I might accomplish in the next couple of hours. Take a shower. Unload the dishwasher. Email the friend I’ve been meaning to email for three months. Eat lunch. Read something. Write. Write. Write. And for god’s sake, remove those sad little Rorschach blots of nail polish left over from the manicure I had three weeks ago. The timer starts ticking the moment the baby’s sweet little limp body hits the crib mattress. It’s like playing that horrible game Perfection, where you desperately scramble to fit all these little shapes into their proper slots before the whole thing blows up in your face, leaving you with palpitations and a shitload of tiny plastic pieces to clean up.
Inevitably, there are many things on the list that remain undone. And I’m trying to learn to be OK with that. Perfection is an unattainable goal, after all, and perhaps it’s time to quit playing that stupid game anyway. Perhaps it’s time to start allowing myself time to do nothing while I am still able to get up off the floor without assistance. Because doing nothing isn’t really about being lazy; it’s a way to recharge, regain balance and gather my strength for the next burst of activity. Maybe I won’t be doing nothing on a tastefully decorated window seat with a steaming mug of Bailey’s-flavored coffee in my hands. More likely, I’ll be doing it on a milk-stained couch, surrounded by a shitload of little plastic toys and stuffed animals and empty sippy cups and balled-up socks covered with dog hair. And maybe I’ll start calling it “meditation” so I don’t feel so bad about it.