Around 1pm these days you’ll find me in my 7-year-old’s twin bed. I am under her dream tent, asleep. Am I alone? No. She is in “Zoom school’ a few feet from me, and not even with headphones on. (They broke recently, or, by the look of them, maybe she simply cut the cord in half? Good riddance?) These 20 minutes are my most prized of the day, and sometimes I think hers, too. “Mama, come nap in here!” she’ll yell after lunch. It took me months to figure out that this time — for me, to rest, the end — was absolutely vital to surviving each day.
This pandemic has pushed parents, and especially mothers, to our absolute limit. But admitting that I sleep in the middle of the day feels like defying some sort of cultural taboo: Mothers don’t rest in the middle of the day — especially not during a pandemic when our already full plates are even fuller. We are in our yoga pants (rarely used for yoga), unshowered, trying to find that cold cup of coffee lost somewhere in the apartment. We are juggling kids and work and Zoom calls and dinner and laundry and hand-washing masks and screaming at everyone to shut up, then turning on the computer at 11pm to get our work done in silence. (I am writing this in yoga pants with a cold cup of coffee nearby and am unshowered and just yelled at everyone.)
And yet, perhaps it was exactly this ridiculous and enraging and impossible overload that pushed me to the brink and allowed me to finally say: what a f**king joke! I cannot do one more thing! Just lie down!
I am a freelance writer and teacher, which means that even pre-pandemic, I worked from home juggling various gigs. I wasn’t someone you’d find working at 2am, or even getting up extra early for a run. Still, the idea of resting during the day wasn’t really in my repertoire. Even though I work from home, it felt shameful to, I don’t know, pause? Lie down? Take a bath? Stare out the window? Watch TV in the middle of the day? Give myself permission to just be, even if I was at the end of my rope or hadn’t slept well the night before? This seemed to be exactly how office people imagined WFH people behaving.
But something about the relentlessness of this last year has made me see at least one thing clearly: No one is going to offer me, or any other mother, a chance to rest. Not the government, which failed to prioritize reopening schools; not my husband, who had his own work to tackle and left homeschooling to me; not my kid who needed snacks and lunch and help with wifi, and, after school, afternoons of entertainment and company; not my students and editors who expected me to show up to class and hand in assignments on time.
If I wanted or needed a pause — which I did, which we all do — I needed to claim it and stop apologizing for it.
This was a new concept to me, just dropping everything, carving out time to stop. But when I started doing it, I noticed that our apartment didn’t fall apart, and, even better, when I got up, I didn’t want to kill everyone and was able to face the second half of the day. I stopped being so angry that the load was on me because I had learned to say (even if only briefly): I am actively, purposefully putting the load down! Good night and good luck!
Why did it feel so shameful to do so, though? Easy: I felt guilty doing something that I knew so many other moms — moms with more kids or more demanding jobs — couldn’t do. It felt not like a necessity or a right, but like a luxury that very few of us could actually engage in.
Why, then, couldn’t I just file the need to rest under “self-care?” To read any women’s magazine these days, you’d think self-care is the holiest act a woman can do. After all, we’re being encouraged nonstop— nay, yelled at — to focus on self-care. But “self-care” tasks still amount to just that: tasks. They often feel like more items to add to our to-do lists. And is resting really self-care anyway? Unlike yoga or meditation or a face mask, there’s nothing Instagram-worthy about it. It’s laying down. Nothingness. A disengagement. And yet, isn’t this the ultimate act of self care?
If I’m being honest, my middle-of-the-day breaks aren’t just a chance to recharge but a sort of f*ck you to the very notion of productivity or to martyring myself in the face of…well… everything. Why should I take the fall for all the crap placed in mother’s laps? Why should I be the one to sacrifice myself? Why should I be run ragged to the point of collapse?
It’s horrifying that it’s taken a pandemic for me to stop feeling shame about resting, to listen to this particular need of mine. I want to be able to say, unashamedly, this is my need and I am claiming it.
Perhaps this is the biggest lesson of the pandemic: with no bigger force out there caring for us mothers, we need to care for ourselves. And sometimes caring for ourselves means claiming not money or success or a bigger job or more help around the house, but rest. I am getting under the covers. I am closing my eyes. I am taking care of no one but myself.