There's a lot I miss right now about my pre-pandemic life as a mom. I miss the obvious things, of course, like having a school-day routine that felt comfortable and achievable for both me and my daughter—as opposed to crisis-schooling, the only honest name for what we're currently muddling our way through.

I miss walking to and from school together holding hands. I miss being able to snatch some time to myself after school drop off, and after bedtime, too. Now any child-free minutes I have are claimed by work, household logistics or catching up on the news. I miss free time.

But a dear friend recently expressed something that feels unexpectedly tough about parenting through this pandemic—something I didn't realize I was missing until she said it.

"I miss saying yes," she said. "I feel like all I do these days is say no. No, I can't do that right now. No, I can't play with you or read to you right now. No, we can't do that. No, we can't see friends yet. No, I don't have time. I just miss being able to say yes to stuff with my kids."

This friend, she's a lot like me—like a lot of us, really— working from home while trying to manage our kids' school obligations and our own fears and anxieties. We all have eleventy-million jobs right now and we have no choice but to do them simultaneously, in the same place: parent, employee, tutor, therapist, home logistics expert—not to mention grocery shopping tactician and personal chef. (Instead of living through this dystopian-future novel about online shopping carts, can I please upgrade to a cooler one with some lasers and aliens?)

I have it comparatively easy—I'm employed, we're healthy, we're safe. But even so, I can't believe I used to think being a working mom was hard. It was hard, don't get me wrong. But this? This has totally reset what I used to think was hard.

Because as hard as it used to be to balance and juggle everything—and it was a challenge that demanded a lot from all of us, every day—at least I felt like I'd managed our family life to a point where I could say yes to things that felt important, doable or just fun. Yes, let's do a family vacation. Yes, let's stay up late and watch a movie together. Yes, I'll sit on the couch and read to you even though I know you can read it yourself (any excuse to snuggle up with you, kiddo).

The demands on our time, these days—these packed-to-the-brim and yet weirdly empty days—just make it feel impossible to do what all the experts are saying to do, for our own sanity: Slow down. Say yes.

Yes to creativity, to comfort, to affection and kindness. Yes to fun, to exercise, to deep breaths. Yes to "good enough." Yes to "five more minutes, Mama."

As much as I want that—and I do know it'd be good for me—still, so often I have to say no. So. Much. No. No, Dad's in a meeting. No, we can't go to the store for that. No, there's no soccer this year. No, we can't really do a birthday party this year. No, I'm so sorry ladybug, I have to do this other thing right now.

But even as I write this, and even as I wholeheartedly agreed with my friend that night on the phone, I know there's really not much preventing me from slowing down long enough to say yes—not as much as I think, anyway.

My partner and I need to keep our family working, healthy and safe. But beyond that, there's got to be room for more yes. For my own sake as much as my child's.

So here's my new mantra: Slow down. Say yes.