Autumn is…when, again?

Weird thing about living in PHX is that it remains so hot here well after summer that my brain gets real confused. I keep finding myself thinking things like “I’ll do that after Labor Day.” Like: I’ll start cleaning out the garage after Labor Day. Or I’ll start working on working on my yard again after Labor Day. Or I’ll look into a fall trip with the kids after Labor Day. Or I’ll start planning my son’s September birthday after Labor Day.

Obviously, dear reader, you know it’s well after Labor Day already. It’s just that it still feels, acts, and seems so much like summer here that I lose track of time and find myself still thinking I have loads of time in front of me to tackle the things I have slotted on to my fall to-do list when in actuality, I should have already started them. At least I haven’t already missed my son’s birthday?

souvenirs

I have a habit that I’ve only just discovered. Okay, I know you’re confused by that but what I’m saying is that I only just realized that I have been doing something for YEARS that I had no idea I did.

I looked in my jewelry box this morning to put on my earrings and, as I scanned through my options, realized that most pairs have a very specific memory associated with them. That’s because I apparently have a habit of getting most of my earrings during trips. This isn’t a conscious thing that I’ve done, but it makes sense: they’re easily packable, and for whatever reason, it seems easier to find cute, stylish, and unique jewelry when I’m somewhere else. (Probably because I never go to cutesy or slightly pricey stores or jewelry stores where I live).

Several of them I bought at an adorable local artsy boutique in my brother’s home town, and those are my favorites. I always have to stop there and get another pair when I’m visiting. There’s a pair that I got visiting my BFF in Salt Lake City at the farmer’s market. There’s a pair that I got last time I was in Nashville. And so on. And then there’s the many earrings others have given me from their travels. The pair that my BFF brought me back from Vietnam, a pair that I was gifted by a high school friend from India, another pair from the Virgin Islands. Every time I put on any of those pairs of earrings, I get warm & fuzzies that others have thoughtfully made me a part of their journeys and adventures. I don’t travel a ton – not nearly as much as I wish I could – so all of these earring souvenirs are extra special to me.

So now I’m realizing that since it’s a thing that I do, for trips where I either didn’t have time to explore, browse, and shop, or don’t stumble upon any jewelry in my style or budget when I do make it out for a stroll, I’ll head to Etsy and shop by location for a local artist. So that at least I can still get something small and simple to remind me of that place.

Trapped free time

Now that it’s summer, meaning the kids are done with school this year, that brings a whole new level of schlepping kids here and there for the next couple of months. Day camp on weekdays, swimming on weeknights, and soccer one weekend morning, repeat. What that means for me, in addition to making my brain melt in terms of logistics, is that I have a bunch of trapped free time.

I remember a book I read a few years ago – ETA okay, fine, I googled it and this is it – that talked about how little free time American moms have. Part of the book went into time studies, where women were asked to track their every moment and it turned out they actually had way more “free” time than they thought. I can’t fairly recall the exact details, so do not take this as an attack on the specifics of that argument, but there’s different kinds of free time.

There’s true free time, where you get to decide what out of everything in the world you want to do with that time: read, watch tv, go swimming, get a pedicure, go hiking, whatever. Then there’s paired free time, which is only slightly less awesome, where you and your partner determine together what to do with that time, a subset of the first category. You probably would go out to eat, go for a bike ride, go get a beer, or watch a movie, go to a concert, etc. In other words, if given all options, you might prefer to stay home and sew a bag, but because you’d dedicated this block of free time to your partner, you have a slightly smaller subset of options (because you’re excluding individual pursuits, since it’s not very team-building-y to go off in your own corner and write while your partner works on their yoga or whatever).

Then there’s what I have in spades right now: trapped free time. All of these moments of otherwise free time. This happens when I’m

 

  • usually by myself,
  • but at a specific location (i.e., soccer), *not at home*,
  • where I cannot leave, or even when I’m allowed to, there’s literally no point because there’s nowhere I could get to and back from in time, so errands are out,
  • and have a limited amount of time.

 

I have tons off these blocks of trapped free time. 25 minutes a weeknight at swim lessons, 50 minutes every weekend, and then, of course, the periodic 2-hour drop off birthday party or playdate. With the 2 hour blocks, that can be a lot easier, although to be honest, it depends on the location of that. I’ve been to birthday parties where there’s nothing within a 10-15 minute drive, and so by the time I got to Target or wherever, I would have so little time to browse that I just don’t find it worth it. I personally don’t find it relaxing to look around or shop with 30 minutes or less. But at least with those, I can at least get my groceries or something where I have a very routine and rote thing I need to get done. Still I wouldn’t call that free time, as if it’s some kind of leisure.

The weeknight and shorter blocks are what I think of when I think of trapped free time. Sure, I could bring a book, but given my budget and self-imposed library-only policy, means that I have to also have time to plan in advance. To get to the library, browse for something, and get back out without my kids losing their minds or, (GASP!) if I’m on my own, before I’m late for kid pick-up. In other words: oh so rare! That leaves magazines, which, again, I don’t subscribe to because money but am wondering if they would be worth it for this very reason. It comes to my door, it comes with a variety of topics to read about, and I just stuff it in the car and have it at all times. But for the moment, I don’t have any subscriptions.

There’s always podcasts. That’s oh-kay, because I do love podcasts, but I already isten to them at specific times and most of them, I can’t keep up with. Plus it would also require me to have the time and forethought to plan in advance, because budget precludes me from walking around streaming cellular data at all times, so I download for offline or at-home-wifi listening only. So, a possibility, but meh.

So what’s left? Cute little mobile games that I download and require no cell / wifi data. Those are always good when I find a great new one, but I don’t know where / how to find new ones. I keep asking my tech-savvy friends where do you find new games and they just blink at me. Maybe they don’t play them? Or maybe they just scroll endlessly through the app store and pick ones at random? I can’t deal with the choice overload there. Having to specify which category of game I like gives me hives. I have no idea what those categories mean.

I can use trapped free time purely as down time, meaning time to just *be*. To sit, relax, listen to the kids play and eavesdrop on the parents over there and hear myself think. That’s totally an option for at least a night or two, but I can’t help but be irritated at me having “free” time that I could be putting towards my own sanity, self-care, and/or personal goals, but that I’m not using for myself because it’s usally the only time I get to myself. To me, there’s a major distinction between down time, in which you are intending to do nothing at all, and free time, which you choose to fill with something.

By the way, I totally recognize that this is a privilege in the first place: to have free time OF ANY SORT, EVER. Parents who work a very demanding schedule, multiple jobs, or have so many responsibilities they can’t even breathe, I get that my problem is really a non-issue. But still: trapped free time. Driving me. CRAY CRAY.

did I meet a murderer?

I went to a friend’s house for dinner tonight, and one woman was explaining why she decided to reconnect the cord and sign back up for cable (namely because it was a bundled deal that would make internet + cable TV cheaper than internet + streaming services).

A man then went on to explain he would refuse to ever do that because of a long-standing beef against the cable company, in which he was slapped with an $800 debt that belonged not to him, but to a different man with the same name in the same apartment complex. His name is uncommon enough that it would be seem that would be incredibly unlucky for him – his last name isn’t as common as Smith or Jones – but not so unique that you’d be completely able to dismiss that as completely impossible. So he moved in only to find the cable company had mailed him a notice that the $800 debt had been handed over to a collections agency, it ended up on his credit report, and was a huge pain in the ass.

But here’s the thing. After all of that, it turns out that’s not even close to the worst case of mistaken identity he’s been through.

A few years later, it turns out that the police called upon him to come in for questioning. He had no idea what that could be about, but it turns out that there is another man with the exact same name wanted for murder. He explained how insane it was that there were these (very unfortunate) coincidences. His name, year of birth, and even where he lived in California before Arizona, all the same. He was able to explain it all away and obviously the police have given up on him being a murderer, but how many (ahem, white) people does this happen to??

I turned to My Better Half and whispered: “Alternate theory: the guy sitting next to us, he is the murderer guy they’re looking for.”

Balancing my current work with my future work goals

A few days ago, I told my child’s teacher after I completely spaced the parent-teacher conference we had scheduled, “I used to have my shit together, and then I became a parent. But I guess 6 years in to this parenting run, I suppose I can no longer claim my new normal is temporary.” She didn’t know me in my pre-parenting days, when I really was on time to things, and even occasionally organized. A time when I could string thoughts coherently, er, string coherent thoughts togetherly.

While I don’t think I can get back to being on time or organized, I intend to regain my identity as a blogger. No, not some bullshit microblogger or #sponsored content provider or mouthpiece for a giant brand. After all, how is blogging for someone else any different from what I do now: writing web content for my employer?  My blogging goal was always to gain just enough independence that I could at the very least downsize from my full-time gig, carving out a bit more space for my creative work, whether that brought me income or not. (The answer is most definitively not, if you were wondering). When that didn’t happen – and life happened simultaneously – it became necessary for me to reallocate how I used my time.

I’ve had an autoimmune disease for 11 years. Or maybe I’ve had it for a lot longer, but I got diagnosed when I was 30. For awhile – like, say, in my adult years prior to having children, I could manage my depleting energy levels by taking a nap on the weekend or even catching a nap before dinner on weeknights. But over time, I guess as I get older, between working 40* hours a week and parenting, there’s very little time for me to ever feel “caught up” on my energy. And being tired all. of. the. goddamned. time. means that I have so little ability to clear the brain fog, nevermind the energy once the brain fog may have cleared to do anything.

* Now let’s talk about that 40 hours a week thing. I used to work 40 hours a week. Then I kept getting much more interesting work, and I was actually legitimately one of those gross people who claim to like their jobs (because I did). So losing sight of my personal goals didn’t blip much on my radar at that time a couple of years ago because I was engaged and fulfilled at work with intellectual and writery challenges. But during the past two years, my good work means that I’ve been promoted a time or two…and tasked with larger projects…that take up more mental energy…with less actual *time* during the workweek to tackle those projects. So full-time work became more, like, well, let’s just say more than 40 hours a week (and in academia, so without the pay to reflect that).

So working more left even less time to devote to my stuff. Yes, some of the bleed-over of work hours into *my* time is my own fault. But I’ll also point the majority of the blame right back on the higher ed industry, an industry that relies on churn-and-burn, hardly-paid adjuncts like My Better Half. It seems like a dicey endeavor to disengage when you are the sole source of income in your household for a family of 4. And/or have a complicated auto-immune disease that insurers know better as a pre-existing condition in this era in which it is unclear whether insurers will cover your care. To sum it up: I found myself with almost no energy, nor much mental clarity, but tethered to a job that had begun to eat up any of my free time.

I’m working on that last one, though. For the past few weeks, I’ve put strict boundaries on my work hours and will truly only commit to 8 hours a day, walking out the door at 8 hours and 1 minute. Which has begun to give me a little breathing room for places like my new work blog and here. (And, to be honest, the capacity to start looking for other, higher-paying work, as putting job applications together takes energy, mental clarity, and time. With more money could come more freedom…)

reset

Well hello there, old friend.

It’s been awhile, hasn’t it?

Rather than bore you with all the nitty-gritty of what has (and has not) transpired over the past 2 years, let me just summarize with: I’ve been dealing with stuff. And things. Losses, deaths, work, parenting, beaches, music, and whatnot.

There, you’re all caught up. Don’t you feel better? I know I do!

I won’t get all gross on you and go into my goal for this particular year or talk about how life is so much better now that I’ve abandoned all news cycles, diving headfirst into only the most friviolous podcasts. Or how I have been contemplating whether you can go on long-term disability for being out of give-a-sh*ts about work. Or how my parenting has evolved from attentive to “eh, they’re playing quietly in their room with the door closed, who cares what they’re doing as long as they’re leaving us alone.”

But in the past couple of years, a lot has changed, and yet, a lot has stayed exactly the same. My two tinies are now less tiny, 6 and 4, to be exact. My house has changed; we moved to a bigger place, narrowly avoiding the murder-suicide combination that can result from cramming 4 people into 800 square feet. And yet, I still have to go to work every weekday, we still struggle against the bullsh*t that is adjuncting, we are still madly in love with our tiny familial unit, and we curse exactly the same amount about it all.

So it’s hard to neatly wrap up all that has transpired over the past 2 years, but here I am, with my reset. Time to get serious about this whole blogging thing so I can cash in on the wave and monetize my influence share my rants and raves.

A Bad Dream

“Mommy, did you have a bad dream?”

I don’t really know how to answer since she’s only 4, and my crying woke her up. To her, a bad dream is the only explanation. So I tell her yes, and it’s just a dream and to go back to sleep. What’s funny, like funny in the odd sense and not the ha-ha sense, is that in a way, she’s exactly right. I am struggling with my dreams. As in how to make them happen.

I always struggle at New Years. For some reason I find myself standing at the starting line for each new year wondering why even when given another year, all the things I was unable to make happen, rather than looking fondly over the memories that were made. It is just in my genetic makeup that every January 1, I am staring down another year not with hope and optimism but with resignation at thinking that this shiny brand new year is also equally unlikely to end with me having come any closer to fulfilling my lifelong dreams of wanderlust and travel, food and writing, leaving my cubicle life behind for good.

As my oldest gets older, I find it harder and harder to quiet my growing cynicism that maybe it’s really a lie, that maybe we can’t do anything we dream. Ever since I was tiny, I dreamt of how I would go places, see things, experience ways of life in far flung places. And yet, I haven’t. I’ve never had the money. In fact, it remains a complete mystery to me how anyone ever does find the money or the time off, and my current financial situation certainly makes those dreams an ever more distant memory by the day. I want so badly to champion the notion that my children will be able to do anything their hearts desire, and wish I could lead by example. But today I stare at our monthly bills and see nothing that can be cut, nothing that can make room for travel, or even more humbly, for time off for us to just be, to find our footing, to at least plan for a life and future that are lived by choice rather than financial necessity and make space for travel…someday. So to lead by example, to call in a resignation from my job is also to demonstrate an irresponsible choice, to choose myself at the expense of the immediate and long-term needs of my family.

I spent the morning collecting and analyzing our bills and recent purchases in an attempt to see what can be trimmed to make room for saving. I didn’t come up with anything. We are barely scraping by as it is. Examining our families’ choices provides no useful data to help make an informed decision. At one end of the spectrum, dreams for retirement so long gone that I honestly have no idea what they ever could have been. No matter, whatever they once were, they were first derailed by paying for their children’s colleges and since then, obscured to the point of having been overwritten by the enormous but inescapable costs of health problems associated with aging. In other words, the takeaway message there appears to be: once you have children, surrender your own hopes & dreams as the practical needs will always prevail. I’m not convinced you can’t make room for both, but the only other familial model available to us appears to be: don’t help your kids with college to make room for your own goals while you stand by watching your kids struggle for long after college thanks to the enormous burden of student loans. Again I think there has to be some middle ground here. I want to show my kids that we (their parents) matter too but you have to balance your goals against the needs of the family and I have no idea how to do that. Mostly I came away from the family conversations about money realizing that it’s a flawed exercise to try to follow in the footsteps of your elders. Their choices and decisions were made in different eras, surrounded by different economic conditions, and influenced by their own expectations and experiences. You really are on your own with this stuff.

So I have no plans yet. No solutions. Can we afford to consider a bigger house or cutting back on my work this year in the interest of my sanity, and which of those to choose anyway since those two are at odds? Or do we double down on our efforts to live frugally because we’re committed to playing the long game? And are those our only choices anyway? For today I’m going back to sleep and dreaming that tomorrow or the next day, we will figure out how to get to a plan that lets us have it all- our own goals and dreams matter but so do those of our kids.

Still blaming mommy brain

Do I get to still blame mommy brain for the following, even though my youngest is about to turn 2? Here is my morning:

1. Ahhh. It’s amazing I have free time. I am SO organized and can just sit here and enjoy my coffee.
2. Oh. Right. I haven’t made the kids’ lunches yet. Or mine.
3. Ah. Wow. Even after throwing together lunches, I’m still doing fine on time! And I did the dishes!
4. Dawdler Toddler, sit down at the table to eat or you will OMG YOU ARE DRIPPING SMOOTHIE ALL OVER EVERYTHING. Let’s go change you!
5. Got him changed after a 10 minute wrestling battle. Whew! I’ve got to clean the table, too.
6. Okay, let’s go to the truck. Still doing uh, okay, I guess on time.
7. Why are you crying? You need a blanket? Fine. Sigh.
8. Oh, it’s good Preschooler asked for a blanket, forcing me to return to the house so I could discover I was about to drive off WITH THE FRONT DOOR OF THE HOUSE WIDE OPEN.
9. Okay, good. Blankets & cuddlies & lunches all packed & loaded in the truck, let’s GO.
10. Oh. I need gas.
11. Finally. At school. Should only take 20 minutes to walk both of them in since they’re soooooooo slow.
12. Ah. I finally get to go to work.
13. OMG. I never got myself dressed. I’m still in sweats. Back home.
14. Oh! Good thing I came back. There’s my coffee I never got to drink. That might help.

I hope.