I was watching Oprah! a couple of weeks ago and Maria Shriver was there promoting her latest book Just Who Will You Be? I’ve never read the book but there were parts of the interview that got me interested. One, in particular — about how important it is to have time for oneself every single day. It’s a ritual I’ve been consciously and conscientiously observing for over a decade. I call it “my alone time.” It keeps me sane, it helps me keep my perspective and it keeps me grounded.
What is “alone time”, how long should it be and where’s the best place to spend it? Alone time means time spent in solitude and it can be for a few minutes to a couple of hours. And solitude means away from distractions. If you want a good illustration… Remember Superman’s Fortress of Solitude? Whenever he needed time to think and rebuild his strength, he went there.
But alone time does not really mean a special place or a specific time of the day. It just means solitude. And solitude means you don’t talk to anybody and nobody talks to you. It means no tv, no radio, no internet, and you don’t take phone calls, check e-mails and text messages. It’s a space for introspection. It’s a time for letting your hair down — totally and completely. It can be spent in your room, your garden, your attic, your basement, inside your car or even inside the bathroom. Me? I love bringing a cup of coffee or a glass of wine with me in the bath tub. Just as I love smoking alone in the dark living room after everyone has gone to bed or standing on the terrace and staring at the empty street in front of our house and the still waters of the pool in the clubhouse.
I value my alone time. But I never really realized how valuable it was until I became a mother. When Sam and Alex were younger (Speedy and I decided on a no-nanny policy), there are no words to explain the stress of having to be there for them every second of the day, every day of the week. When your children are babies, you can’t reason with them and insist that they stay still and quiet so you can have a long luxurious bath to wash away the strains of the day.
I don’t know if you can imagine it. You wait until they’re fed and in bed and you go and have your bath and you’ve barely taken off your clothes when the howling starts. You get flustered and you don’t know whether to run out of the bathroom — naked — because it might be something serious or to wait and see if the crying would pass.
Mothers with strong support systems (parents, in-laws, siblings) within the household and those with live-in nannies have it easier. They just have to ask someone to look after the baby while they go and soak in the tub. When we were living with my in-laws, I did that. But when we were no longer there, it was different.
And it’s not like children become less demanding and more reasonable when they become toddlers. If anything, the demands grow even more and just because they can communicate with words doesn’t necessarily mean you can easily reason with them.
Let me give you an example. When Alex was around two years old, and up until she was about five, she had this habit of knocking on the bathroom door and saying, “Mommy, mommy…” over and oven again. She’d do it relentlessly (and her voice would start breaking and I’d hear the inevitable sniffling after a minute) until I opened the door, even just as crack, and looked at her and said, “Hi, baby. I won’t take long, I promise…” or something to that effect. The way I understood it, she simply needed reassurance that I was there, that I didn’t flee somewhere, and those words and the sight of my face (often framed by wet hair and dripping shampoo lather) were all that she needed. I learned to value what alone time I could snatch when they had their afternoon nap and I was free to just let my mind go — even for just 15 minutes.
Much later, when Alex was about 10, during one of those moments when she and her sister and I would collectively reminisce about their early years (they loved hearing stories about “nung bata pa kami”), I asked her about that. Why did she go on saying, “Mommy, mommy…” even when she didn’t need anything and didn’t really have anything pressing to say? And she said, “Nothing. I just wanted to say ‘Mommy’.” Oh, my. She’ll never know the stress and panic she caused me through all those years.
By that time, I’ve learned to make good use of the bathroom to get my alone time. When this blog was very new and people asked where I got ideas for writing, I always told them the truth — the bathroom. My best ideas were born in the bathroom. The tag line A sassy lawyer in Philippine suburbia was born in the bathroom; so was Culinary Adventures with the Radical Chef (what the food blog was before it was Pinoy Cook). Before it became A sassy lawyer in Philippine suburbia, the political blog had a very corny title — Die Hard — but you wouldn’t know that.
My alone time is my sanctuary. It is my physical, mental and emotional space. It is also my most creative space. Most importantly, it an assertion of me as a person, as an individual person. And I need that because while I am a mother and wife 24/7, I am also me 24/7 and I have been me for much longer than I have been a mother and wife.
I deserve my alone time. So do you. If you still haven’t discovered it, well, there’s no better time than the present time.