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.

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.

Once upon a time

Dawdler Toddler Preschooler is really into fairy tales these days. This works to my advantage at bedtime since I’m particularly lazy tired and lazy. After we read 2 or 3 books, I can get her to cooperate with getting into bed and settling down by promising that I will cuddle with her and tell her a story. Even though I make up all my stories, they all MUST start with “Once upon a time…” and end with “…The end.” as all good stories should. Yesterday, she turned the tables on me and asked “Mommy? Would you like to hear a story?” This is the first time she had offered to make up a story for me. Of course I would like to hear a story.

Me: Is it about firefighters?
Her: nooooo.
Me: owls?
Her: nooooo.
Me: a baker baker?
Her: Let ME tell the story!

Sheesh. Okay. I’ll be quiet.

“Once upon a time, there was a little girl.” So far so good. “…And one morning, her mommy left for work.” Okay. “…And she was very sad…but then when her mommy came home from work, she was happy again! The end!” Uh. Cool story, hon.

I would say I don’t know what to make of that but I totally do. She’s going through something. Just what it is, I’m not sure. I would say it’s a phase where she’s not getting enough Mommy time. Because she’s crying when I leave for work every morning, pleading with me to stay “5 more minutes?” But that doesn’t explain all of it because when I pick her up every afternoon, I’m dragging a sobbing screaming defiant 3 year old out the door as she’s wailing “I sad about leaving! I don’t want to go home!!!” and stomping her feet. Every single day.

It’s gotten to the point that other parents stop and ask “Is she okay?” Or even worse, the dreaded “What’s wrong with her?” I try to understand that it just comes from a place of “awww, poor thing” concern, but really? Can we rephrase that? It usually comes from a parent whose child never acts up. So, good. Congratulations that your enlightened 3 year old is articulate to the point of being able to clearly explain the origins of their tantrums so well that you can simply use some Jedi mind trick to head off their explosive emotions. But the best I get when I try to talk to her about it is a consistent answer of “I sad about leaving. I want to stay and play with my friends.” No amount of logic or explanation or consoling has worked. I’ve tried every trick in my book: distracting her with silly jokes, timing our exit to coincide with friends’ departures, trying to make our exit a game, ignoring her attention-seeking behavior, & using a calm, soothing tone in which I offer bribes for cooperation. No matter what I do it just escalates.

But even if I knew what was going on inside her little mind, I’m not sure I would think anything was ‘wrong’ with her. She’s a very clingy, sensitive girl. She hates transitions, spending the first few minutes after we arrive somewhere or the last few minutes before we leave a place or activity crying or trying to make herself invisible. She can be very emotionally volatile. In other words, she’s THREE. It’s hard for 33 year olds to hold it together all day so I can only imagine how intensely difficult it can be to be three. Listening to grownups all day, following all kinds of rules as you try to sort out & communicate your feelings and needs…It sounds exhausting! She always has a great day at preschool so all I can figure is she uses up all of her self-control just by *being* all day. By the time we get there in the afternoon, she just doesn’t have any emotional control left. And that’s okay.

I really have no other guesses as to why she’s like this every afternoon. So until we can tease out what the root of the tantrums is, maybe I’ll just start to answer other parents’ questions with stories. I could tell them that she hates going home because of the scary clowns we invited to live with us. Or the ex-cons who babysit every night? Or how we like to watch The Ring with her for fun after dinner since it’s scary movie season? But the truth is:

Once upon a time there were parents who wished they knew how to keep their little girl from getting so heart-breakingly upset when they go to work. And who want to help their child be more cooperative with going home at the end of the day. The end!

Shart week

Dawdler Toddler Preschooler: Mom, we learned DON’T touch sharps. They’re sharp!

Me: Sharps?

Dawdler Toddler Preschooler: No, wait. Not sharps. <thinking…> Sharts.

Me: Sharts?

Dawdler Toddler Preschooler: Yes, sharts. Swimming in the ocean. Sharts.

How to avoid bath time antics

Recipe for ensuring your kids smell straight-from-the-bath fresh and clean with a minimum of difficulty and effort:

Have older child scrub your face with their bath soap during imaginary bath time. Do not rinse.

The rest of the day any time you cuddle or hold your child, you will think “Awww. You smell SO good.”

nope, not bitter at all

Me: What time are we meeting our friends at the Children’s museum? 9:00?

My Better Half: uh, not til 11:00…

Me: <raising one eyebrow>

My Better Half: I tried to get them to agree to meet around 9:00 but then they said “Why so early?!”

Me: Their kids must sleep in.

Me: F*ck them.

—-

I can at least take solace in the fact that last night the Yankees (their team) lost to the Red Sox (ours). While I drink my coffee and pray for an early nap.

Last call

Three weeks ago we made plans with friends to go out tonight to hang out one last time before they move. Ah, academic life. Our friends are at the mercy of the job market, so they are moving from their one-year appointments at the local university to another one-year appointment at a different university out-of-state. Anyway, we had to plan far in advance due to us having family in town and our Dawdler Toddler’s third birthday, so we agreed upon Sunday June 22. We went ahead and booked a sitter. They have kids too, and they did the same. Only this morning their kids woke with fevers and vomiting. And for some bizarre reason, they’re deciding that this makes for an ideal evening to cancel on us in order to hang out with their kids. Something about how dumping them on a sitter & running for the hills would be irresponsible, blah blah blah. Sheesh.

So we – My Better Half and I – were left to our own devices as to what to do with our valuable and rare night out. We had planned a great night out on the town. Hit a couple high points, Phoenix places one really would miss out on if they had never been and seeing as this was one of their last chances, we figured we’d go one place for happy hour, another for dinner, and a third for dessert. But since it was going to be just us two, we opted for a movie instead. Rather than waste all our month’s income at shi shi (sp?) restaurants we can’t afford anyway while we stare at our phones, we decided on a movie we can’t afford either. So cliche but since WHEN do movies cost $20?! I know, we don’t get out much, clearly. The last time we got out was when My Better Half™’s parents kept the kids for a night in November. As in LAST YEAR. And we saw a movie then too but it just seemed way cheaper. Probably because we didn’t pay his parents for watching the kids. And because we went to the $3 theater to watch something that had probably originally come out over the summer.

But back to last night. After the movie, we still had an hour to kill. We could’ve just headed home but it was the dreaded bedtime hour. Getting Dawdler Toddler and Baby to go to bed is like trying to coax a particularly feisty raccoon into a cage. So we decided to let our well-compensated and rarely used sitter take that on for one night while we wandered into a bar to grab a snack and a beer before heading home. We were one of only 2 tables in the bar, and we ordered an appetizer and a beer and about 5 minutes after they brought us our order the server stopped by again to say “So, it’s last call, so are you guys going to want another?” No, we said. Then My Better Half™ high-fived me and said “OMG! It’s almost like we’re normal adults again! When was the last time we were out for last call?!” Now, granted, it being a Sunday night and a small neighborhood watering hole, this bar’s last call was at 9:00 p.m. But still! It really was like a brief return to being a member of adult society again for one tiny little moment. So our makeshift night out that cost us a fortune? Worth. Every. Penny.

Vacation recap

Yesterday was my last day of vacation staycation off. I just don’t know what to call it. It’s probably no secret that a vacation with two kids 3 and under is hardly restful, so while calling it a vacation is wrong, even the “-cation” part of staycation just rubs me the wrong way. Here are some handy reminders that I may need to review when planning our next trip to ensure sanity next time around:

  • If at all possible, avoid making the first day of your time off a 19 hour day of packing, travel with the two kids 3 & under, trying to coax the two kids to sleep in unfamiliar beds and surroundings, and picking up all members of the party.
  • When hiking, make sure none of the children goes too far ahead, potentially selecting the wrong trailhead. You know, that one that goes 600 miles to the Mexican border? Avoid that happening.
  • Keep in mind that all sightseeing road trips are for everyone else. You will be spending every stop feeding a child, calming a child, or helping a child use the bathroom.
  • But fear not! You will have plenty of time to sightsee blue skies and trees from inside while you man your station at the kitchen sink, where you will be stranded doing dishes for 9 people, 4 of whom graze throughout the day, requiring an endless supply of clean dishes.
  • Be sure and eat out as much as possible at restaurants you’ve been dying to try. Because restaurants are tons of fun with kids 3 & under, am I right?! You may not get to eat the food you ordered your Better Half selects for you (because you’re not given the chance to read a menu nor are you around when orders are taken) until hours later but you’ll be sure to enjoy the ambiance of the potties, on account of the parade of children who decide one after another, but never simultaneously, that a trip to the potty is necessary.
  • Bring a bottomless supply of coffee because you will get no naps. None.
  • And/Or bring benadryl for the children.
  • And/Or BYOB. So you can doctor up your coffee so you can prevent yourself from becoming a total witch to your family. You won’t be going anywhere most days anyway.
  • The day your time off ends, you will get to go to bed at 6:00 p.m., though and sleep a glorious 11 hours. And it will not be enough.