reconceiving indulgence

So one thing about early parenthood: it’s not indulgent. The things we – or at least I – have thought of my whole life as sources of pleasure are either absent or rare. For me, this list includes:

  • sleeping long, interrupted stretches (like through the night. and in in the morning.)
  • spontaneous trips to the movie theater
  • discovering new foodie restaurants, preferably with a friend or two
  • Netflix marathons on rainy weekends
  • long baths with a good book and a glass of wine
  • casual day trips to big, close-by cities
  • hours and hours and hours of coffee shop reading

There’s little space for these pleasures now. And I find – two and a half years in – that I’ve compensated for their absence in ways I’m not wild about.

Because I miss Netflix marathons, I cram in an episode at night when I’d be better served by reading, or even by sleeping. Almost on principle. Because I “deserve” to relax.

Because I don’t get dinner out with friends, or many movie dates, or almost any day trips, I check Facebook fifteen times a day. Craving intimacy. Stimulation. Relaxation.

I think I’m trying to replicate the sense of adult connection that I lack, but the truth is, these things don’t fulfill the part of me that craves indulgence. They don’t make me feel like I’ve spend a rainy day in bed with my wife. They just make me feel more tired. Less whole. Less me. Less spiritual. They are poor substitutes.

I think I’ve used the fact that we’re pretty good at this stuff when it comes to the kids (at the being mostly-present with them, at the no-screen-time, at simplicity-unconditional-attachy parenting) to justify the passive indulgences I permit myself, and that’s allowed those indulgences to remain the things that feel like indulgences.

But that leaves me feeling deprived a lot of the time. Because if it takes going out for drinks, or sleeping in, or binge watching Orange is the New Black to feel like I’m being indulgent, then what is staying home for bathtime and a full hour of bedtime books? What is getting out of bed fast at 6am so your toddler makes it to the potty on time? Deprivation, right?

But of course: no.

Because singing one more Josh Ritter song with Bram’s small body pressed tightly against mine, hearing him ask me to “get fairies” out of his ears, smelling his clean hair, the skin on the back of his neck, feeling his small fingers seek out my hand or my face.

Because wearing Louis through one more nap, the weight of him against my chest and heart, the new milk smell, the kitten-like movements of new muscles stretching beneath soft, snug fabric.

All of this. This is as good as it gets. The undiluted sensory life of parenthood. There is nothing more of the body. Touch and sight and smell. Stretching limbs. Warm skin. And yet. By the seventh song near-whispered in Bram’s darkening room, I want out. I want the cheap checkout. Though the cheap checkout won’t even matter by tomorrow and his small body in that darkening room will matter for as long as I live.

So I’m trying something new. I’m trying to redefine what I perceive as pleasure. What I notice. What makes me feel indulgent. To take Cheap and Easy off the table so that I don’t count away the hours and the minutes of the Really Sensory and Really Intimate and Really Love.

The biggest thing I’ve given up is the internet (including and especially Facebook and excluding only what I need to teach and this blog, the latter because writing is a real pleasure, and because this record matters to me) except on Sundays. Now the computer stays put away. In addition to being UNcybered, this means that instead of iTunes playlists and Pandora, I’m playing our long-neglected CDs. The same songs by the same artist in the same order I’ve heard them in before, for some sixty-five minutes at a stretch. It also means that if I think of something I want to know, I have to write it down and look it up later: I can’t run away to Google Things. And it means a return to cookbooks over internet recipes. I’m also giving up my smart phone. This means, by the way, that I need a clock on the ground floor. Because with no technology, it could pretty much be any time of the day. :)

My hope is that in abandoning some of the faux-indulgences that really mostly leave me feeling empty (aside from the deep sisterly friendships that I believe will develop with even more authenticity if turned over to phones and voices and visits), I’ll do a better job of reveling in the pleasures that are real and huge and come free with this parenting gig. Some of these already happen everyday and just need to be noticed more. Others aren’t happening, but should be. These include, for me:

  • The bodily pleasures described above, and so many more. The belly laugh of the toddler. The wet sound of new baby smiles. The first “mama,” and the thousandth. The warm skin. The weight of babies in my lap and the feel of baby book pages between my fingers. The rich, deep, fleeting, overwhelmingly sensory pleasures of my children as children.
  • Eye contact. Seeing my wife and not a screen during the twenty-five minutes that I somehow maybe get her all to myself.
  • Games. Because we used to play cards or Backgammon and listen to music once the dishes were done. J would drink tea and I would drink wine. Those were good nights. Now I’m not sure I even remember the rules to Backgammon. So: games.
  • Getting to bed earlier and having the energy to read more than three pages before falling asleep. Because reading. Reading.
  • Just sitting and watching my family. Or the rain outside the window with my family. I’ve rarely been “on the computer around Bram,” but I have kept it on in the kitchen, and when he’s playing quietly, I squirrel away in there and zone out via the internet. Instead, I’d rather just be still. Or make some tea. Or even do something productive.
  • Bram’s books. Because they’re getting so much more complex and therefore pleasurable. We’ve always been big, big readers together, but now I’m really diving into the narratives of his books and it is cool. I want to notice.
  • The rituals of brewing coffee in the morning and tea in the afternoon. Of peeling fruit and watering flowers. The slow, messy pleasure of “mixing an apple pancake batter” (Voyage to the Bunny Planet) with Bram on Sunday mornings. Being in these moments because there’s nothing more indulgent that I could be doing.

So I started this on my birthday last Thursday, and I plan to keep it up until my birthday next year. I’m sure it will evolve. And I have no predictions for what it will yield. I just want to shake the sense that I’m being deprived of something. Because so much of this life I’m living is pleasure, it’s just work too. Which must surely be a sweeter kind of pleasure, right? We’ll see.

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9 thoughts on “reconceiving indulgence

  1. You are so thoughtful and insightful into this life. I’m always inspired by the way you view the world. It’s a great idea to think of indulgence in more wholesome and life-building ways. The Chancellor and I have greatly reduced our TV time to spend more time reading in bed, and we are better, more relaxed people for it. I wish you luck in your quest! <3

  2. Ooo…games. That’s a good idea. Have you read Frog and Toad? E loves them, and they crack me up with their adventures. I am going to hold these ideas for later. So far we are nowhere near indulgences, but one day soon I’d like to be, and I would like them to count.

    • Oh, you five. Oh have I been thinking of you. I can’t say I understand where you are but I CAN say I understand enough to say: wowza. But if this one toddler and one little is any indication, it does does does get better. Already. For us, already so much better. Also: those boys are GORGEOUS. Also: I will check out Frog and Toad!

  3. Interesting to think of the ways some pseudo-indulgences (i.e. checking Facebook 15 times a day) leave us more empty than full. How they’re a stop gap because we miss the time for and/or the availability (darn distance!) of real intimacy with friends. Which is all to say: let’s chat on the phone sometime soon! Meanwhile, bravo to this turn away from the aimless clicking.

    • Yes, please! Yes to a phone date soon! Private message me a possible time on FB and I’ll get it when I check my account on Sunday! It will be a Sunday Treat! (Does the number of exclamation points I’ve used here make clear my desire to hear your voice?!)

  4. I have been thinking about this post a lot this week. My birthday (the same one as yours, I think) is in two weeks and I have been feeling much the same way. This past year has been a challenging one for a variety of reasons and I am looking forward to moving ahead with a sense of freshness and possibility. I have also been considering some changes as my birthday approaches, but haven’t really been able to articulate why or how. You have done so very aptly, and I appreciate how your situation has given me insight into my own.

    • Erica, I think about you all the time, so geographically close in world-terms to me, and living this so-similar life. There’s an e-mail from you in my inbox that sits there because in mind I’ve written back a dozen times. I would love to find a way to catch up. Maybe the way is that I just really truly DO write back soon… Anyway, happy birthday to you. I still check your blog for photos of your kids and they are so beautiful and such real big-little kids. L seems almost as big as O!

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