with all this time

In less than two months, I’ve learned a few things about having all this extra time now that both of my daughters are in school five days a week:

  • Everyone I talk to thinks about how much time they have, don’t have, how they could use it better, how best to manage it;
  • Because I allow myself time for tasks that previously fell much lower down on my priorities list, I’m more busy than before both girls were in school;
  • My too-busy is stressful, but it’s at a more mindful pace than when I had at least one kiddo with me most of the time;
  • The chronic health issues I’ve dealt with over the years might have been expressions of the physical and emotional stress that came with trying to make a living while single parenting non-school-age children (tbd);
  • Having time available to contemplate how to best manage my time is a significant improvement in my life;
  • I think about—I’m an introvert in the extreme, so I don’t act on this much—having a personal life beyond the survival level;
  • Self-care is rising on my priorities list.

Anxiety over finances has me considering a new no groceries challenge. With 3-5 school lunches x2 each week it would be a much more significant challenge. Perhaps a modified version…

(Just a “checking in” blog post to stop the darned spammers from thinking this site is inactive!)

lost in the possibilities, or, when my daughters went to school

My older daughter is 11; my younger is 5. For the last 11 years I have, for the most part, been at home with one or both of them. This summer, both girls went to two weeks of full day camp. It was the first time in 11 years that I had such an expansive amount of childcare. I was giddy and elated and I painted furniture and went to Goodwill a lot. It was summer. Most of my clients were quiet and there were very few pressing deadlines. I played a bit, though I never lost the sensation of being in a huge hurry — the kiddos will be back any minute! gotta get this done!

Today, they both went to full-day school. As I drove away after dropping them off, I laughed and I cried.

I laughed because I was filled with joy. The school aligns with our values in some of the most vital ways. It will challenge them. And, it’s safe. They feel at home.

I cried because, as the girls’ father said, “It’s a big deal moment. Out of the first nest.”

I also cried with relief. It’s been a difficult journey over the last several years. Their father provides substantial support, far above the legal requirements. But, it’s still been difficult and part of that is because being at home with our daughters has been a priority for us. Time is always scarce; I always feel in a hurry. With so much to do and so little time, I have to go-go-go or I might collapse.

Today, I am caught between collapsing—something I do a bit of each time the girls go to their father’s house—and getting things done. I’m in shock, truly in disbelief, at the amount of time I now have available to me. Not only will I be able to grow my business, but I will be able to… fold the laundry, cook meals, pay bills, complete paperwork, make and keep appointments, go for walks, grocery shop, sleep, and be emotionally and physically available to my daughters when they get home from school.

As my business grows, of course, I will have less personal time. Everything’s relative, though. Going from just two mornings and a day each week to five days a week is the lottery of time, and I’ve won it. For now, I need to learn how to breathe and believe it’s really true.

Valentine’s Day traditions

Being single on Valentine’s Day is meh. As any of my exes will attest, I’ve never been sentimental about the holiday. Despite the long, interesting, and muddled history of it, I have always associated Valentine’s Day with “just another excuse cooked up by mega-corporations for people to feel like they should be consumers of stuff they don’t actually need.” Still, as I said, being single on this day is meh. Not awful, but not wonderful.

In the last few days, I found myself looking forward to the day. I decided I’d make a special breakfast, do some fun stuff with the girls during the day, and we were supposed to go see the movie Babe at the Friends School of Portland (but the snow cancelled that). Planning with my younger daughter, we decided on heart shaped pigs in a blanket for breakfast, and chocolate dipped strawberries during the day.IMG_0083IMG_0082

As I set out the plates last night, knowing I’d be dragging myself out of bed a lot earlier than I’d prefer (my children have not mastered the concept of sleeping “late”), I started enjoying myself. I’ve decided to throw myself into the holiday, doing some things that will hopefully become traditions. I love the idea that my daughters can associate Valentine’s Day with not-romantic love memories. Then, when they are adults, if they find themselves without a love interest on Valentine’s Day, they may not feel the day is “meh.” Maybe they’ll start their own Valentine’s Day not-romantic love traditions. And maybe they’ll give their dear old mum a call because it’s a day we always celebrated together when they were little.

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what I rarely admit about how I parent

When my children have a lot of screen time, we all feel cluttered and cranky. I can’t talk about this much, though, because it’s a loaded topic. In the past, I’ve brought up my preference that our children don’t spend much time in front of screens (television, computer, other) and I’ve found people defensive. More than defensive, I find people want to tell me I “shouldn’t feel so bad about it” if I let the girls have screen time so I can take a break for myself.

People really want me to feel less bad about it. That probably comes from good intentions. But, it misses the point. I feel gross when they have a lot of screen time because we all feel gross. I feel bad about it because the effects are heavy. I don’t feel bad because I’m some kind of monster as a parent. I simply feel bad that I’ve come to a point where the easier answer is screen time, knowing the consequences will be more hyper-stress energy than if I wait it out and we stay screen time free.

What “a lot of screen time” means for me is more than an hour and/or two days or more in a row. When we have the screen going for more than an hour or two, our home feels crowded, tired, and too busy and loud. When that happens for a couple days in a row, we might as well’ve had no sleep the night before. It’s a mess.

All that said, tonight the girls watched Frosty the Snowman, and Curious George’s Very Monkey Christmas. (More than two hours.) And, we had screen time last night (the 2nd half of Rudolph and, for the older one, the American Girl holiday movie (Samantha?)). It’s fine, yes, yes, I know it’s fine. But, it also leaves me feeling like we’ve got a layer of sediment coating our lives that won’t clear way until we’ve had several days in a row where they don’t zone out in front of the screen.

When our older daughter was little, she had zero screen time. We used to leave restaurants if there were televisions being forced on us. I appreciate our zealous commitment to the value of simplicity through limited screen time. When we started adding screen time into her life, it was limited almost exclusively to nature programs and some preschool programming (Franklin the Turtle, Little Bear) even though she was four and five years old. Life is different now. The electronic childcare option is a reality for me. Plus, my daughters aren’t always with me (so their time in front of screens isn’t up to me).

It’s difficult talking about not using much screen time in our lives. It’s telling to me that the topic is so fraught with judgments and misunderstandings. It would be nice if I felt I could say “I feel gross and awful when I let the girls watch show after show…” without people trying to tell me to relax about it. We seem to be in such a minority that my distaste for screen time feels more comfortable as a secret than as something I would discuss freely in a casual social context.

Y’know, except for writing about it on the Internet.

“no groceries” update 2: organizing

Avoiding spoilage by using ingredients that could go bad before using longer-shelf life ingredients is an important goal in my “no grocery store” challenge. But, what do I actually have on hand? Again, time plays a big part in successfully managing food and sustenance for my family. Taking the time to know what I have, where it is, and what should be used when, all of these are elements I must consider.

A few years ago, I connected with the idea that I can’t keep a space uncluttered if the Things in it don’t have “Homes.” I began to be relatively strict about having things go back to certain spots. Our home is still full of stuff, and sometimes I get behind in keeping the clutter under control, but, for the most part most of our Things have Homes. The musical instruments are in that basket that lives on top of the radiator. The silk scarves are in that basket by the play kitchen. The playmobil people are in that drawer, the animals are in that drawer, the structure pieces are in that basket. The more precise the categories for Homes, the easier clean up turns out to be.

On Wednesday and Thursday, my daughters were sick. What this meant was I had no childcare (so I couldn’t do much billable work) and for the most part, the girls zoned out in front of Winnie the Pooh and a bunch of movies. An unexpected appearance of “free time.”

I decided to make Homes for the Things in my refrigerator.

First, I took everything out:

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Then, I consolidated, re-containered, and assessed:

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I grouped things in way that made sense to me, though there are some tougher categories that may lead to some re-disorganization (foods for school lunches vs. foods available for meals).

I put the items back in the ‘fridge (before and after):IMG_3212IMG_3223

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I took a peek at the pantry to get a sense of what’s in there:

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In the last 24 hours or so since I’ve had it organized in a way where certain categories have “Homes” in the refrigerator, it has been easier to take things out and put them away and still know what’s in there. I think this will help me cut back on waste and improve how I use my time planning and making meals.

My children were sick, so they were out of my hair for a long stretch of time. Taking the time to do something so “unimportant” isn’t something I would’ve likely done otherwise. Normally, I’m dealing with staying on top of things as a parent, running the household, and getting work done to have an income that’s almost sufficient for me to live on (when combined with support from my ex-). Again, I am very aware of how lucky I am. Things are difficult, but so much less difficult than I know they are for people who live in real poverty.

I differentiate myself from people living in “real poverty” not because I think it’s bad that I have so little money, but, because I am aware of the advantages I live with in my life. When I think of what it would be like trying to do something like this project if I were working a regular full-time job and carting children back and forth from childcare and managing all the rest of life’s regular tasks, I know it would be too much. If it hadn’t been for the surprise break, I’m not sure I would have done this—justifying doing “unnecessary” tasks is difficult. I already know this new organization system is going to help me make the best use of the food I have on hand. It’s truly a luxury during this difficult and somewhat frightening time.