September 25, 2016 by Julia
So…both kids are at full time school right now. It’s a new era. Weird, right? I mean, great. WONDERFUL. There’s just the small matter of, oh, WHAT TO DO WITH MY LIFE NOW.
The possibilities are truly endless!
Let’s be honest, as a full time stay-at-home mom of almost nine years, my expectations for this new period in our lives are real high. I’ve been dreaming of the day both kids would be in elementary school.
It really IS a good stage. I’m so excited about the new freedom in my life that I often wake too early, like on Christmas morning.
While they’re both at school, I move freely around the house without worrying about which child is currently scared to be alone. I don’t have to make snacks every two seconds. I don’t have a soundtrack of whining or bickering or begging following me around. I am not a human playground or treated like an inanimate object. I focus on one thing for more than ten minutes at a time. I can make quick stops at the store, have adult conversations, schedule appointments without finding babysitting, watch my own shows on TV while I fold laundry, and listen to my own music while I drive to the grocery store.
And for the first time in my life, I get a chance to miss them on a regular basis, without feeling guilty, because school is actually good for them. This is no small thing. Missing your children for short periods of time is a pleasant sensation. Jack’s golden smile as he runs off the bus and into my arms every afternoon is like a sunbeam. Fiona tells me about her day. I hold one or both of their backpacks for them as we walk home.
Parents who have not yet entered this stage, hang on. I’m fairly new to it, but it is BETTER. Anyone who tells you different has forgotten how difficult the daily grind of being around young kids can be.
Despite the new time and freedom on my hands, or probably because of it, I am scared.
The getting stuff done part is what’s been freaking me out the most. I should be going twice as fast on everything, while feeling fifty percent less stressed out. Right? That’s what I was hoping for.
I may never be able to entirely shake off using the word “should,” although I’ve been told many times I should stop worrying about what should be, and accept what is. (Heh-heh.) Mainly, I just want to be a good person. I so desperately want to do the right thing on a moment-by-moment basis. If I can’t quite summon the “correct” feelings or actions for the situation, I am plagued by guilt and anxiety.
I believe I am supposed to be and do a bunch of things now that the kids are finally in school full time. What if I can’t be? What if this huge change in our lives ends up meaning nothing at all?
Among the things I hoped for in this new stage of my life:
1.To start work on a new novel.
2.Figure out a way to contribute financially through writing.
3.Get all the usual housework and errands done before the kids get home so I can be happy and supportive and less busy with them.
4.Try not to lose touch with friends I’ve always scheduled weekday play dates with (aka most of my friends).
5.Volunteer in the community once a week.
6.Volunteer at school at least twice a month.
7. And make dinner tonight.
8. And oh yeah, prepare my lesson for our upcoming girl scout troop meeting.
9. And be Julia 2.0: happy all the time!
It’s liberating to have seven hours each day without a supervisor, teacher or kids dictating your next move, but you start to fear a month will go by and you’ll have nothing to show for it but a few completed seasons of International House Hunters. I need to feel my time is being used wisely, deliberately. Very much so. The panic sets in. Or at least it did for me.
I have to prove to myself that I can get it together, on my own. I am a planner. I don’t do spontaneity unless it’s during my scheduled spontaneous time.
Finally, last week when the weather was cool and sunny, I sat outside in one of our Adirondack chairs and thought and wrote about my values and time until I worked out a weekly schedule for myself. I mapped out things down to the half hour. I don’t really care if that makes me neurotic, because it gave me peace, purpose, and meaning to do it.
I figured out what is important to me, and I worked it into my week. There are daily activities, and weekly activities, with a main focus for each weekday, based on my family’s needs and my own desires. It’s a good mix of work and enjoyment. It was an experiment this week, as I figured out how feasible my planned schedule actually is. I won some, I lost some. As it always does, life interfered in the most mundane ways. And then I felt like a failure. But I also had days of utter joy and contentment. I tried to remember that my routine has to be flexible at times, if it’s going to be any good. People always have to come first when it’s important. The rest of the battle is just knowing my goals and then trying for them, without giving in to discouragement.
Another one of my new favorite habits is to take time at the end of each week to write three lists. I call it my weekly “Gratitudes and Goals,” because cute names make things more fun.
My first list is ten things from the previous week that I am grateful for. It’s easy, even after the rougher weeks, and the simple act of writing the good stuff down can change my perspective immediately. Occasionally, when it seems like nothing especially good happened that week, I just write “my family” or “my home,” and it still helps. Also: When I can turn a challenge completely around by writing a sentence like “I am grateful for [whatever crappy incident happened earlier] because it forced me to [examine my own crappy issues and grow as a person],” I feel especially gratified.
Then comes the second list, which is ten practical goals for the upcoming week. I usually try to get the most random, dreaded stuff on there – like organizing my desk drawer or making a long-overdue phone call to some company that will keep me on hold forever.
The third list is more intangible: three deeper goals to keep in the back of my mind, for the happiness of myself and my loved ones. Like, try to set better boundaries so we don’t get overextended as a family. Or make sure to get snuggles with both children every day this week. Or don’t be so hard on yourself.
Anyway. I am lost half the time. But I try to read a poem every day, and I think I am better for it. I recently found Mary Oliver’s 2014 book Blue Horses at Goodwill, and I absolutely adore it. This is one of many poems that spoke to me:
WHAT I CAN DO
The television has two instruments that control it.
I get confused.
The washer asks me, do you want regular or delicate?
Honestly, I just want clean.
Everything is like that.
I won’t even mention cell phones.
I can turn on the light of a lamp beside my chair
where a book is waiting, but that’s about it.
Oh yes, and I can strike a match and make fire.