I’ve always been fond of scheduled indulgences. These are the little things that I plan for myself, as motivation and reward, or just as a way to make it through the day. (It’s not strictly necessary to earn a scheduled indulgence – it’s a need-based rather than a merit-based program.) In order to be effective, an indulgence must meet certain criteria: it must be pleasurable, it must be repeatable, and the attendent guilt-level must not be high enough to outweigh the overall spirit- and self-esteem-boosting effects. These criteria are harder to meet than they seem; I’ve had to experiment continually in order to perfect the formula. Right now, here are the indulgences that work – and don’t work – for me:
Category 1: Food
Food indulgences are very tempting because they do not require any investment of time. When I was studying for my comprehensive exams, my time was so wholly occupied that the only indulgences I could squeeze in were either food- or list-based: I would keep a list of all the fun activities that were scheduled to start the day after my last exam. The list provided a good outlet for all my frustrated social impulses, but it provided little immediate pay-off, so I was forced to fall back upon food. Every night, as I settled down to read a hefty stack of Victorian novels, I would grab some tortilla chips and salsa. By omitting sour cream, I kept guilt levels in check – salsa is, after all, a vegetable serving.
Short-term indulgences allow for a higher calorie-count. When I’m marking exams, I like to spend an entire day holed up in a kitchen with my T.A.s, barbequeing hamburgers and tossing back M&M’s. It’s only one day, so there’s no need to measure guilt or fat grams.
Motherhood, on the other hand, poses a challenge. It has a tendency to go on for years, so a constant supply of M&M’s may not be the best approach (not that I haven’t tried it – I went through several 1-kilogram bags last fall before I realized that even a breastfeeding mother couldn’t consume a half-cup of M&M’s every day without having to dig up those old maternity pants again).
Once I kicked my M&M’s habit, I had a burst of misplaced optimism and purchased a giant bag of Rain-blo gum-balls. The first couple of packets were good – you pop in a gumball, chew for ten seconds, then replace. After a day or two of this tactic I realized a couple of things: (1) I am not actually ten years old; and (2) in place of that rush of post-chocolate endorphins, Rain-blo gum-balls leave me nothing but a sore jaw and a disgusting row of tiny, pastel-coloured, teeth-indented choking hazards.
My scheduled indulgence of choice right now in the food category is this:
Mixed with this:
Category 2: Fun
Like food, fun-related indulgences become more complicated when the condition you’re medicating is motherhood. My opportunities for fun usually occur in the evening, when I’m often too tired to leave the house. Meeting friends for coffee or a chick flick is enjoyable, but rare. Fun of the drinking and dancing variety is a thing of the past. Until such time as my children begin sleeping past 6 am, the fun category will be replaced by:
Category 3: Relaxation
What doesn’t work:
This was my Christmas gift from last year. In theory, it was supposed to create the comforts of the spa right in my living room, with hubby providing the requisite foot massage. The real flaw in that plan was the shoddy equipment: no matter how well you drain the foot-bath unit, there are still little reservoirs of cold water that shoot out, mid-massage, to jolt your relaxed foot back to red alert.
For real relaxation, I prefer this:
The benefits of watching reality TV cannot be over-estimated. It’s so much more than 60 minutes of viewing pleasure: it’s conversation fodder for all those girl’s nights that would otherwise be consumed by baby-talk. For years, my friendships were nurtured by the endless opportunities for analysis afforded by our romantic misadventures. Now that everyone is married and mired in baby-care, the only real alternative to repeatedly sharing our birth stories (a conversation that, admittedly, never grows old) is to debate the relative merits of Yul and Ozzy (my money’s on Yul, the only Survivor who has ever known when to shut up).
Category 4: Brainwashing
I’m sniffling and croaking my way through a miserable day today, but my spirits are high: I’ve got Survivor on deck tonight, and the Baileys is in the cupboard. I’ve even got some Pillsbury cookie dough in the fridge in case I want a fresh-baked cookie to go with my steaming mug of hot chocolate. All these things would be for naught, however, if it were not for the final category of scheduled indulgences: the ability to convince myself that I deserve such rewards. Based on my achievements so far today, I’m feeling pretty reward-worthy:
- I threw out half a garbage-bag full of junk that had accumulated in the six months or so since the last time I went on a decluttering rampage.
- I boiled an egg for my lunch.
- I put together a two-page outline for the parenting course that starts next month (including a week devoted to "Time for Mom," in which I will hold forth on the benefits of a healthy diet-and-exercise regimen, sternly cautioning everyone to avoid sedentary and high-fat indulgences. Or not.).
- I gathered up the plastic bags thrown haphazardly on the top of my fridge and placed them neatly into one large bag.
The key to this brainwashing is to ignore the fact that I didn’t mark any of the 25 essays that I will supposedly be returning on Monday, that I didn’t do any Christmas shopping or housecleaning or even child-care (having put the children into day-care this morning so that I could do the supposed essay-marking). We’ll just set those things aside for now and focus on the obscure and irrelevant housekeeping tasks I managed to identify and accomplish this morning.
Let the rewards begin!
...And while we're on the topic of treating ourselves, don't forget to stop here: