The hardest thing about parenting has been managing the economy of needs in my household. My children have a non-stop queue of them, and they always seem pressing (probably because they’re louder). The needs start out primal, and as the day goes on, they shape shift into straight-up obnoxious: Hold me, make me pancakes, turn on a show, push me on the red swing at just the right speed while singing that song that makes me laugh, but stop singing it when I laugh too hard because otherwise I’ll fall off the swing and pee my pants. Oh, now we must wrestle in the sand.

I hate playing for the same reason I hate working out: It’s boring. I don’t find talking in imaginary voices while building a Duplo city all that difficult or exhausting; I just find it emotionally uninvolved. Most days, getting on my hands and knees is a very minor sacrifice if it means my kids experience joy. That kind of selflessness is just part of parenting. But beyond my kids’ very fair and understandable nagging — they’re kids! — there are more demands pulling at the fabric of my mind. They’re mine, and more often than not, they remain unmet. Getting away, if even for an hour with the neighbor girl as my pinch hitter, helps me listen.

I used to feel guilty, like escaping to the basement while a 13-year-old played with my kids was not only petty, but selfish. Then I realized, when I sent my boys off with an eager, energetic, toddler-loving teenager that I was thrilled to see them again after I got a little work done.