Of all the things I’ve learned about myself during this pandemic, the most astounding is how much space I need. Though it shouldn’t be so surprising that I learned how much breathing room I require when the world of almost everyone I know has shrunk so significantly.
While some people have found more time to devote to leisure and side projects lately, around here time is precious. We now have a very active almost-two-year-old son at home with us full-time (and have since March), and any free moment we had during our work days is completely gone – part of the reason I transitioned to freelance work. Two adults working in high-pressure jobs while trying to alternate on childcare (and now attempting to teach colors and numbers and letters!) was tough. But even with a reduction in work hours (and a three-month complete break, which I was lucky to be able to take), time is scarce, and a two-hour window during naptime usually gives me just enough time to quickly clean up from our tornado of a toddler and write or work for 45 minutes. Of course, we’re not unique in having less time – I think every working parent who does not have childcare or does not feel comfortable using available childcare feels the same way.
And we’re also not unique in feeling trapped in our space. Before the pandemic, our 1000-square-foot home in DC felt like plenty of space – after all, we had the whole city to roam, with different neighborhoods to explore every weekend and what felt like endless options for culture and food. But now, with three of us at home at all times, it can feel like… a lot. Our bedroom is now a makeshift office, and the kitchen table in our one-room main floor is taken over by laptops, pens, and toddler board books (open concept is a little less appealing when everyone is home all the time). When our son is napping, we can each find our own space, either by heading to different rooms or one of us going on a walk, but the rest of the day, it feels a bit like we’re breathing down each others’ necks, especially when we’re not used to working in the same space, let alone with a child, no matter how happy he is. And if we have any visitors (very rare these days and only after they’ve quarantined), our house seems to contract even further, even though I love having people we’re close to around, especially in these times, which makes me feel conflicted and guilty and ungrateful.
I wish I had a solution for this space issue, but I really don’t. I share all of this because I know we’re not alone in feeling too much togetherness, too few moments to ourselves, too little control about… everything. After six-plus months of this, I’ve only come up with a few workarounds that keep me feeling like I’m hanging on by more than a thread. Things like…taking an extra five minutes when I say I have to use the bathroom, which I mostly use to lie in bed and stare at the ceiling. Or making sure that, if nothing else, I at least do a few squats and pushups a day to get my blood pumping. Or not feeling as bad if I just want to lie down for an hour after putting our son to bed, because I want our fluffy comforter all to myself for a bit. Because the things that worked before – getting out of the house to go to the gym or get coffee, taking the occasional day off from work while my son was at daycare, meeting up with friends for a glass of wine – are no longer options, so I have to make do with what’s available to me now.
During this pandemic I have learned so much about what I need to maintain my mental health, my relationships, my productivity. Mostly because I haven’t had as much of it as I require to really thrive.
I need space.
To be my whole self.
For now, I’ll keep finding little ways to make space, but here’s hoping 2021 is a little more wide open. How are you carving out space and time for yourself right now? Is it working?