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After my daughters went to bed one Friday night and my teenage son was glued to some episode of The Flash on television, I had some time for myself. I’d never truly given myself time prior to COVID-19 — time to disconnect, time to collect my thoughts, time to treat myself. When COVID-19 hit, and I found myself in my house all day with my kids, I needed a release. I didn’t want to take up having a cocktail each night like some of my friends had. I’d long ago deleted the Nike Run app from my cell phone — so exercise was out. The last book I opened lay collecting dust in my work bag. I was out of ideas.

That night, I stood in my living room, listening to the intro of The Flash, unsure of what to do with myself. I had free time. I decided to take a bath, something I hadn’t done since I was six months pregnant with my daughters. I needed to figure out a consistent self-care routine for myself or at just three weeks into our family’s isolation, I was going to lose it. I needed a plan to hold onto my sanity a bit longer, and doing so made me feel like I was in control over it all.

So I snuck away and lit two candles, turned on the faucet, and ran myself a bath with lavender scented bubbles. I refrained from snapping a photo of my beautiful, dimly lit bathroom to later post on my Instagram page and instead enjoyed the moment. It had been a long week of nonstop work calls, tantrums from my four-year-old twin daughters, and back talk from my 13-year-old son. Like me, they weren’t handling the COVID-19 quarantine well.

I sat in the tub that night, thinking of all of the times I’d brushed myself aside so I could be there for my kids. But this, the warm water, the smell of lavender and the quiet, was something I could do for myself — and the best part? It was easy. As I settled into my bath that night, I found myself enjoying it. I started planning what I’d bring with me during my next bath: maybe a glass of my favorite summer cocktail (a Moscow Mule as of late) or a People magazine or one of the books on my bookshelf that I needed to finish.

All week, I was mostly the only parent on duty, juggling my work schedule, the kids’ homeschooling schedule, Zoom meetings, and keeping them from getting restless. I was exhausted by 5:00 PM every day. I felt like I was drowning in calls for “more snacks” or “more food” or “can I have seconds?” — the demands on me seemed neverending. Then came the texts from my wife: “What’s for dinner?” or “How were the kids today?” or “Did you get everything done for work that you needed to?” and I felt the pressure.

On top of that, I’d been on another kind of roller coaster for almost five years — losing weight. COVID-19 was the perfect opportunity to revert to my old ways, emotionally eating and finishing the food my kids didn’t eat, and it was truly all a recipe for me to fall off of the wagon. Somehow, I held on and went back on a modified Whole30 meal plan. I also, ironically, took being at home as an opportunity to learn how to bake.

I’d always told myself a story: I can’t bake. I can make a mean dinner but I can’t precisely measure anything. COVID-19 gave me the chance to change this story. First, I learned how to bake bread. I joined the chorus of folks saying “I can’t find flour” and “I can’t find yeast,” and when I did find those things, I bought as many as the store would allow, usually two packs. My first loaf didn’t turn out great, but the five loaves I made after were Instagram-worthy. My three harshest critics even asked me when I would make another loaf. Baking became another form of self care for me. It took me away from breaking up fights and gave me the opportunity to literally dig my hands into something I could (mostly) control. Even if my loafs looked a little lopsided, they tasted fantastic.

I’d finally found what worked for me, a way to release from the pressures of COVID-19, which included taking baths, baking, and small home improvements. During the first few weeks of our five-person family quarantine, I perused Wayfair.com, planning out how we’d put to use our yet-to-be-received stimulus check. I bought paint and painted our laundry room. I checked out Pinterest for inspiration on how to build a beautiful garden. I roped my wife and son into finally cleaning out our basement. I added home improvement post-it to our fridge.

Personally, I found comfort seeing these projects through from start to finish. It not only gave me confidence in my abilities to complete projects, but it gave our home a face lift. Because we were in the house all day, the to-do list of home improvements quickly grew as I looked at each corner of our home all day.  

Now, I look forward to planning out the weekly baths I am able to give myself. I’ve upgraded from bubbles to bath bombs infused with essential oils like lavender, mint, and eucalyptus. I am reading more and have added the forthcoming novel by author Leigh Stein, called Self Care, to my summer bath time reading list. I am collecting new cookie recipes since my son ate all of the 36 chocolate chip cookies from my first homemade cookies baking session. And next up on my small home improvements list, to spend some extra time in our garden in hopes of growing lush green grass. I daydream about having soft grass so my kids can lay out their wet towels after their slip and slide sessions, and relax.

They often remind me after their dip in their kiddie pool that they are “living their best life.” And now I’m following their lead, living the best life I can under the most unpredictable of circumstances.