We all need some me-time to get through the day; don’t apologize for it
The hours of two to four in the afternoon were sacrosanct in my childhood home, ever since I can remember. The moment the clock struck two, my mother – having finished the lunch shift in the kitchen – would retire to her bedroom and shut the door on the world. She would emerge from her siesta at 4 pm sharp, to get tea and snacks for the whole household.
But for those two hours, she was not available for anyone or anything. That was her time. And all of us kids – and the adults – understood full well that to knock on her door during this period for any reason whatsoever would bring the wrath of the Gods upon our heads.
As a child, I lived for this interlude in the day. This was the time that I could sneak out with my neighbourhood friends for a bit of rough and tumble. And so long as I got myself back home at five minutes to four, all would be well. No matter what misadventures I got up to, my mom would be none the wiser.
So as far as I was concerned, this two-hour hiatus was the highlight of the day, when I could roam unsupervised, read books that I had expressly been forbidden from touching, and generally get up to no good at all.
It’s only now that I am all grown-up and my mother has departed from this world that I think back on how precious that time must have been for her.
This was a woman who looked after a large joint family with minimal help. She cooked three meals for the household everyday (and separate food for my grandmother, who did not eat onions or garlic). She looked after two ageing in-laws, one husband, and three kids. She ironed our uniforms, got our school lunches ready, and made sure that we had done our homework. She woke early in the morning to get us off to school and then stayed up late making us strong cups of tea so that we could study late into the night.
But in the course of each mad, maddening day, she had the good sense to carve out a moment of time for herself. To this day, I don’t know what she did during those two hours. Did she have a little nap to refresh herself for the rigors of evening kitchen duty? Did she use this time to catch up on her reading? Did she sit cross-legged on the floor and meditate? Or did she do all of this – and more? I simply don’t know.
The only thing that is clear to me, with the benefit of hindsight, that it was those two hours that enabled my mother to get through the rest of the day, where she did not have a minute to call her own. It was that tiny interlude of peace and solitude that allowed her to retain her sanity. It was that breather that gave her a second wind to carry her through to the night. It was that me-time, or as some like to call it, alone-time, that gave a still point to her ever-spinning day.
Even without realizing it, I have incorporated that same habit into my own life. Just like my mother, I crave a few hours of solitude during the day, when I can be alone with my thoughts, maybe catch up on my reading, or just go for walk and empty my mind of all the clutter and white noise of modern life.
Unlike my mother, I don’t have fixed hours in the day to do that. But then, unlike her, I don’t have the demands of in-laws or a brood of children to contend with, and nor do I have an extended family to build my schedule around. Working for myself, as I do, I have the flexibility to steal a few hours out of every day for myself alone. And it is that luxury of me-time that allows me to get through even the most stressful of days without feeling overwhelmed.
No matter how hectic the day has been, if I can steal an hour at bedtime to read a few chapters of a good book, I go to sleep quite content with my lot. Even if I have a writing deadline weighing on me (in fact, especially when I have a writing deadline weighing one me), I still take the time to step away from my desk and go for a walk. And unlike my mother – who cooked so much and so often that it turned into a chore – I often end a long day by cooking a meal for my husband and myself, the gentle rhythm of chopping and stirring serving as my own kind of meditation.
Whenever I do that, I find my thoughts straying back to my mother and her two to four pm ‘siesta’. No matter how mad the whirl of life got, she knew that she needed that time to make herself whole. And she took that time for herself, without apology, without explanation, and without the slightest trace of shame.
How I wish more women followed her lead, practicing self-care with the same patience and affection that they bestow on the care of others. Not only would they be happier for it, but so would their families.