We wait and wait and wait for baby to nap, and then what do we do? If we're lucky or smart or both, we also take a nap. But because it can be so hard to drop off to sleep on a dime, we often spend baby's naptime either cleaning, which is work, or zoning out in front of the TV, which is mindless. Break out of the rut and do something interesting instead. Here are 20 little ideas.
1. Revisit a hobby you've been missing. Pick something you had to set aside when your baby was born, like knitting, scrapbooking, crafts, playing a musical instrument, or gardening -- anything the "old you" used to enjoy.
2. Escape to your bathroom "spa." We like the idea of doing a few quickie treatments at once. For instance, apply a facial mask, then slather your hands and feet with a rich moisturizer. Cover your hands and feet in plastic wrap and cotton gloves or socks, then lie on the couch and relax for 15 minutes. Step in the shower and rinse it all off.
3. Stretch out those mommy muscles. We know your upper back feels tight: Take time to stretch away the stress. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and arms at your side. Inhale deeply, raising your arms slowly over your head and stretching toward the ceiling. Exhale slowly as you lower your arms to your sides. Repeat four times.
4. Feed your brain. Keep a book of short stories on hand, borrowed from a library or purchased from a bookstore. Read a story whenever you have some alone time, or get in the habit of reading while you're nursing.
5. Treat yourself (and your husband!) to a movie night, which you can plan now. Rent a film you missed, or just set the VCR to tape a movie. Call him and tell him the plan, and ask him to bring home microwave popcorn. It will give you both something to look forward to -- and something to discuss other than the baby.
6. Start keeping a journal of motherhood moments. You'll need a notebook, of course, but in a pinch you can just start writing on notepaper and keep the scraps in a box. You'll enjoy looking back on this time and sharing it with your children as they grow older. Don't pressure yourself to do it every day -- just whenever you have time.
7. Get some talk therapy. Call a good friend -- one who always lifts your spirits and makes you laugh -- and have a 20-minute, guilt-free gabfest.
8. Write an old-fashioned letter on real stationery. Or just pen a quick handwritten note (no e-mail allowed) to an older relative like your grandmother or favorite aunt, a childhood friend, or even your husband. Putting words down on paper is so personal and often therapeutic.
9. Who doesn't fantasize about taking a vacation? Stop pining and research affordable options online. Planning a getaway gives you something to look forward to on difficult days. Visit Web sites that offer bargain airfares and inexpensive hotels, and print out some choices to share with your husband over dinner. Or, slip them into a folder and take them out if you find some extra cash (hello, tax refund). Sites to try: sidestep.com, site59.com, and familytravelforum.com. You can also have fun posting reviews of your past vacations at tripconnect.com and zoomandgo.com.
10. Go to school from home. You can take courses via the Web in subjects such as interior decorating or foreign languages. Since there's usually no pressure to complete the course in a set period of time, you can work at your own pace. A place to start: degrees.education.yahoo.com
More Fun Free Time Tips
11. Pull out your special-occasion vase or just a pretty glass, and create a flower arrangement. If you haven't picked up flowers at the supermarket or a local florist, head into your own yard. Even in the dead of winter you can collect evergreen branches and arrange them; bushes with berries also make for pretty displays.
12. Love to organize? Clean out your purse, diaper bag, or jewelry box. Fingering old jewelry is our personal favorite; it's heartwarming to remember where each piece came from.
13. Speaking of organizing, what about those photos? Drive down memory lane by taking scattered pictures and putting them into albums. This is usually a big project, so don't try to tackle it all at once. First, use a box to hold the loose photos, then just place a few at a time.
14. Goof around in the kitchen. If cooking relaxes you, whip up something that you enjoy making -- and don't stress about whether your toddler or husband will eat it. Cooking or baking for the sake of the process is relaxing for many of us.
15. Garden indoors. Go online and order a miniature herb garden for your kitchen window. We like the kit at Greenfeet.com ($22.50), which comes with four different plants -- lettuce, clover, cress, and mustard -- that grow easily indoors.
16. Give yourself a confidence boost. Stop running around in your sweats and a ponytail and take 20 minutes to really get dressed (nothing fancy, just a pulled-together outfit), style your hair, and put on a little lip gloss. Looking good is like magic; it can change your whole outlook on the day.
17. Customize your television. Instead of being a slave to the boob tube, make a plan to tape only your must-see TV. You can use the old-fashioned VCR timer, but the latest digital video recorders like TiVo are easy once you learn how to use them. Because you can skip the commercials, you can squeeze a half-hour program into just 20 minutes. You'll wonder how you ever lived without it!
18. Remember birthdays. Sit down with a calendar and make a list of family birthdays. Fill out cards now, even if you'll mail them later. Need a gift? Shop online. We like amazon.com and redenvelope.com.
19. Take a walk. It's wonderful to walk unencumbered -- no baby, no purse -- but if there's no sitter, take baby along in her stroller. You don't need any particular destination in mind -- for once just enjoy the journey.
20. Make a cup of hot chocolate or a healthy fruit smoothie. The best part -- you don't have to share with the kids.
Originally published in American Baby magazine, January 2006.
The information on this Web site is designed for educational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for informed medical advice or care. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat any health problems or illnesses without consulting your pediatrician or family doctor. Please consult a doctor with any questions or concerns you might have regarding your or your child's condition.