From time to time, I tutor girls for their Bat Mitzvahs. The other night, I had a first session with a new student, and, as I always do, rather than jumping right into trope, I talked with her. We discovered that we both love to swim. I swim twice a week, if I’m lucky, and am inordinately proud of my forty minute mile. She swims every day, for an hour and a half – about 2-3 miles each practice. She’s eleven. I changed the topic. “What other things do you like to do when you have free time?” She became serious and said that she doesn’t have free time – school and swimming takes it all up. I guess it’s not just a mommy problem.
And it’s not new, either. My mom often mentions that in order to get into medical school, she had to prove that she had diverse interests and activities. This was not hard for her; she is multi-talented and multi-faceted, and she gladly listed her “extra-curriculars” in her application. She got in – but then realized that she had not one iota of free time to pursue these diverse interests. How cruel, she has always said, to create a process that identifies and selects those with varied interests and talents, and then forces those people to turn their attention away from everything but one pursuit.
This past week, I attended an event called “Jewish Women, Making it Work” – discussing how 21st century Jewish women “redefine the paradigm of what it means to work and ‘make it work.’” The moderator asked the panel a question about self-nourishment – what do you do for yourself? All of the women on the panel shared that this was the most difficult aspect of mommying – finding, and allowing, time for themselves. One panelist shared that she had recently joined a book-group. Why? She felt too guilty reading for pleasure. Plus, if her husband found her reading, he was jealous that she was spending time with a book, rather than with him.
Now – in the spirit of making it work – you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do. And I’m all for book groups. But must we have an underlying structure to everything we pursue? Can’t we allow ourselve to carve out time for ourselves, time to pursue the things we love, and proudly stand and say – I am taking time for me? Have we all spent our lives trying to get into med school, and then, once admitted, wiggling desperately for a way out?
Those tunnels of time are my life-line. Without them, the sand-castle of structure upon which my life is built would collapse. Yesterday, my husband and I took turns. When he returned from his run, he handed me the baton, and I got on my bike and started pedaling into the wind. At one point, I made a turn and realized I was on a path I’d never been on before. It was wet, and I had to stand to pedal. My tires were thick with mud. The path twisted and turned and I felt my brain change; I was suddenly completely unaware of where I was going. On my right there were clouds, huddling; on my left soft grass, green; in front of me, and behind, mud flying off the tires; and above, the dome of the unknown. I moved amidst the shafts of sunlight, breathing. The path eventually ended, and I came to a road I recognized. I rode downhill, arms dangling by my side, and remembered, suddenly, the first time I’d biked with no hands, when I was ten years old.
When I got home, I lay on the floor with my three year old, building a zoo with primary colored blocks. It was intricate. There was a police-man to deal with the misbehaving dinosaurs, and a zoo-keeper who was attempting to quench the relentless thirst of the baby panda.
Often, when I’m with my kids, I’m not quite with my kids; I’m with the supper that’s not yet made, the laundry that’s piling up, my work to-do list, glaring at me from a pink post-it on the computer, and the phone calls I need to return. I’ve learned that I need to be a kid to be a mom. I need to have me time, unstructured, unfettered, directionless and open. Otherwise, I find that my inner self huddles by the door, sneakers on, knees flexed, ready to flee. And I prefer to have her inside of me.