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Back to You: How to claim your own quiet space in a crazy house

TubI was broke. I lived in a cramped and cluttered apartment with a living room covered in gross carpeting. I didn't have access to a car during the week. OH! And I was a new mom.

Sounds like a parenting fairy tale, right? Now before you get all judgy about "no wonder your marriage ended" and whatnot, know that I was exahausted and overwhelmed and desperately in need of a professional organizer, but I was also happy. My newborn months were a blurry haze just like yours, except I felt relieved to be so tired I couldn't see the piles of unpaid bills and dirty laundry. 

The ahhh-moment in my life was a Mommy & Me Yoga class. Another was a new motherhood support group at the same studio. I met mothers who I connected with -- from an Ayruvedic practitioner to user research specialist -- and we met on mats, rubbed our babies' bellies until they were happy, stretched our weary arms and legs, and talked about how to bring that same peace home.

I opted for meditation. Or at least to try meditation. For five minutes at a time, I took apart the layers of baby schedule, grocery lists and other stresses from my brain. I closed out the crying, the television, the blaring TV, the sound of something sizzling into a thick burnt spot on a pan in the kitchen. I waved off my irresistable and demanding baby. I stepped away from the husband I saw far too little. I didn't answer the phone. 

I'd like to tell you that it worked and was heavenly. But it didn't. At first. I couldn't last thirty seconds in my first few meditation attempts because I felt like the walls (and baby monitor buzzing and cardboard boxes from when we moved three years earlier) were closing in on me rather than feeling like my mind was expanding. There was no open, solitary space in my brain because my whole home and life was jam-packed with stuff.

I got frustrated. But I didn't give up. Instead, I centered on where I felt most centered. And that place was the bathroom.

It was tiny in there. Part of the tile was peach, the other part pale blue. The paint on the walls was scratching off to reveal 1970s wallpaper with large ugly-yellow mums. The sink cabinet was deteriorating. The fan clanked. The light was too dim. It could have been the most depressing spot in the place, but to me it was an escape. I'd made it cheery with a fancy shower curtain, organized and reorganized shelves of baskets of make-up and toiletries. I'd already decided it would be a sunny spot no matter how much renovation it needed.

So I took my meditation to the bathroom, and specifically, sat myself right down in the tub. No water, no bubbles, no lavendar salt scrub or candles. Just me in the cold, hard porcelain, meditating.

It worked. Five minutes became ten. Then fifteen. I think I got to twenty once and that was plenty. The regular practice of meditating didn't last more than a few months, but the retreat into my tub did. Sometimes, I added water. Other times, I just took a time out to read People magazine or breathe through my son's wailing while I was sleep training him. 

A few years later, when I was telling one of my best friends the excrutiating story of why I was suddenly leaving my husband, I took the call into the tub. It became more than a place I could crawl when I needed time to think. Or stop thinking. It became a safe spot in a house whose clutter became chaos. When I moved into a new place with my son, I felt a lovely kismet when I saw the phenomenal whirlpool tub, just waiting patiently for me to crawl in wearing jeans, boots and a giant sweater.

I don't think a mother has to teeter on the line of hoarder or be a horrible housekeeper or even leave her husband in order to find a woobie in her own home. In fact, I think having a retreat can keep a mother from being or doing all those things. 

Most of us don't have the privilege of getting a weekly massage or adding on a mom-cave or cleaning out a guest bedroom to turn it into a Zen retreat. But that's the glory of the unfilled bathtub -- it proves our quiet hideaways can be unexpected and kind of uncomfortable.

My Back to You challenge this week is to claim your own quiet space in your home.


The rules:

Don't go knocking down walls. Don't buy anything. Remember anything worthy of a DIY reality show won't count. And running to the bar around the corner is considered cheating.

The task:

Find a space that soothes you, where you can lock away, close out or ignore the rest of the world, or at least bodies with whom you share genetic makeup. Find a place to sit. Stay there for at least five minutes. Then set your cell phone alarm or a calendar reminder and go back tomorrow.

Go ahead and steal the bathtub idea. Or sit on your washer in the laundry room, hide behind the bikes in the garage, snuggle up in the glider, crawl into a corner of the pantry. If you have a comfy bed where you won't be bothered or a sun porch where there is silence, for the love of all of us in small apartments, go there!

The reminder:

I won't be monitoring you. I won't judge you. If the space doesn't work twice, switch it up! If you need a cushion, get one! If you have to yell and slam a door to get that five minutes, so be it! You just have to commit to five minutes. No excuses.


The reward:

Five minutes (at least) to yourself. To read. To attempt to paint your nails in some impossible Pinterest motif. To read a trashy magazine. Tuck a book of affirmations or love letters near the space so you can read a few pages each visit. Listen to music that soothes your soul.

Although I recommend leaving your phone on the other side of the chaos, I know it would make me twitchy and un-do all the meditative good of the escape. So if you do bring it with you, use it for good, not evil. Visit a quote site, download some kind of nature sounds app, blast the white noise, play with the Zippo lighter until you've forgotten that someone's science project is due in twelve hours. 


OH! And one more reward: A giveaway.

Because I believe in stealing away to small, unepected spaces and how it can seed peace, sanity and centeredness for moms in just a few minutes a day, I want to give one of you a little gift of encouragement.

As a token of "keep crawling in your tub/closet/under the desk, girlfriend" encouragement, I will send you a box of favorite drugstore bath stuffs chosen by Meagan and me just for you. It won't be too fancy, just to show that good moments can come from simple and inexpensive inspiration, but it will feel good. I promise. 

I have purchased these lovely items myself as a way to connect -- lady to lady, mama to mama, waterless bather to waterless bather. 


To enter:

Memorize this post and recite it to a friend. I kid. Leave a comment telling us which space you've claimed in your home and why. I'll randomly choose a winner on Friday and send a box of bath goodies to you. Sound good?


Back to You is a month-long project designed by Meagan Francis of The Happiest Mom and me to help moms remember to take care of ourselves during the busy back-to-school season. We will have great tips, giveaways, challenges and accessible activities to help you feel healthier, happier, gorgeous and even more fabulous.

More Back to You goodness:

Clear 1,000 emails (or more) in ten minutes

How to do the humble push-up

Get rid of something you think you need (but really don't)

« The cost of a long-distance relationship | Main | It should be hard: Why I support the Chicago Teachers Strike »

Reader Comments (16)

I need to do this. I love a good long soak in the bath but so often I spend that time reading websites about babies (I have a 5 month old) and Facebooking, twittering etc. instead of enjoying the rare time to myself after baby's bedtime.I really need to switch off from it all for at least 5 minutes a day and I think my place will be our bed. Bed is my sanctuary and I can make it all mine while baby girl is napping and husband is at work. The dog might sneak in though.
September 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterChristine
I'm claiming a spot in our guest room - corner of the bed - it's dark and quiet in there. :)
September 13, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterbrittnie
My space is my closet. It is a walkin with shoes everywhere, the upper shelves are packed, and the clothes rods are sagging from too much weight. But it has a door and I love going in there and hiding to read a book, write in my journal, or just to calm down.
September 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBrook
I love my bed. The memory foam mattress pad. The down comforter. The nice pillow cases. A few minutes there is all I need to recharge!
September 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAngie
I sit in my bathroom, too! I usually sit on the floor (by the sink) in the dark with the door locked and the fan on. I have been known to drink a glass of wine in there on occasion...
September 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterChris
i love soaking in a nice long bath... Candles, bubbles, and my kindle... other times i just curl up in bed with my kindle and low lights with the door closed...
September 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSarah
I loved this post, Jessica, and the giveaway idea. My place is my bed, for sure. I read or watch tv or have sex with my husband or nurse my baby or nap or eat :) or meditate.. all the goodies in life :)
September 13, 2012 | Unregistered Commentermaggie may
The only getaway space in my house is the bathroom -- and not because of kids, because of dogs. I always put on the fan (white noise) and even ten minutes in the tub can make me feel human. Which is sometimes quite a feat.
September 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAmy Sue Nathan
Ok, who's in charge of secret codes to comment around here? Mine was . I kid you not.
September 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAmy Sue Nathan
Love this. Sometimes just five min of lying in my bed centers me!
September 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKatie
I have a rocking chair that I used when I breastfed my two children but now it just sits in the corner of the bedroom hosting my husband's clean laundry that he never puts away!! After reading this blog I'm going g to reclaim it and try this 5 minute meditation. I want it to work because I need to gather myself!!
September 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMonica
My bedroom, but not the bed. I'll just want to sleep through it all. I will sit underneath the window until I can get a comfy bench type thing to put there. It's relaxing,dark and cool with just enough light if I wanted to read something.
September 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCourtney
For me, anywhere on the floor. I usually like to sit or even lie completely down and just breathe. Thanks for the reminder that I need to get back into doing this!
September 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNina
Our bedroom, I feel relax when I'm alone. I have more time to think and sleep.
September 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBecca
The only getaway space in my house is the bathroom -- and not because of kids, because of dogs..
November 20, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterari tietolman
After reading this blog I'm going g to reclaim it and try this 5 minute meditation. I
November 22, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterfood storage

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