Avoiding Splitsville

beach-193786_640First place?  Second place?  Do rankings even exist within families?  Is putting your marriage first over your children the same as saying that you love one child more than another?

Not necessarily.

Children are takers by nature and mine are no exception.  From the minute that I wake up, my day as a stay-at-home mom to three boys under 7 is a whirlwind.  It is a constant juggle of schedules, mediating of feelings, coaching of behaviour and supporting of being.  There are the meals, the homework, the bathing, the messes, the laundry (oh, the never ending laundry).  The responsibility after baby is born hits like the wave of a tsunami, forever altering the landscape in its wake, even years later.

But like the proverbial saying goes, you reap what you sow.

And that is why many of my own activities, interests and at the risk of sounding a tad dramatic, dreams, have taken a backseat while I parent my boys.  It’s a thankless job but one that I whole-heartedly signed-up for and most days enjoy.

In my mind marriages follow the same equation as parenting: work in equals enjoyment out.   Make no mistake, marriage is work and after baby makes her arrival marriage can feel like backbreaking drudgery . . . or maybe that was just my marriage.

In our “reality-based” society we tend to glorify the wedding but pay little attention to the years following the “say yes” moment.  But I guess watching people argue over the minutia that defines a marriage would make for boring television.

Like Guiliana Rancic, I believe that a strong marriage is the foundation for a strong family.  The definition of strong varies from family to family.  I once knew a woman who firmly believed that her place was with her children and for seven years she was only away from her children a handful of times for more than a few hours.  Her children were never far from her physical reach, even over-night as they slept in the family bed.

When I asked her about when she gets alone time with her husband she shook her head and said that they were making a short term investment in their family and that there would be time again for the two of the them.

It worked for their family.

That type of arrangement would have me on the one-way train to Crazy Town with a stop in Splits-ville.

I am selfish like that.  It’s impossible for me to silence my needs.  Like a petulant child, my inner-self sulks and broods when too much time has passed before I can indulge in me time.

Let me be clear.  I am not talking about a 3 weeklong hike in the Himalayas to find myself (although that does sound appealing).  I am talking about the need to read a chapter of a book without interruption, get a haircut without springing up from the chair with sopping wet hair to pick-up a child from school, eat a meal sitting at the table without wiping up spilled milk.

Putting my marriage “first” helps me to keep perspective of who I am as a woman and that directly affects my mothering.

When I am out with my husband, just the two of us, I feel like a woman.  I ditch the yoga pants and the sensible shoes and I feel good.  I laugh more.  I am spontaneous.  I am fun.  I am not just the Chief of the Manner Police.

Why not just reconnect with myself without entwining my husband into this process?  Wouldn’t it be just as easy to do with girlfriends?  Or truly solo?

It wouldn’t be the same.

This man knows me better than I know myself.  He’s supported me on my journey and knows every curve and loop of the road that I have travelled.  He can help me tune into the best part of myself and hold a mirror up for me to see the not-so-pretty parts, and he loves me just the same.

By spending time alone together, I find him again too.  Those subtle irritations give away and it’s like we have stepped into a time machine and reversed ten years.  Without the pressures of the boys and work, we are both our truer selves.  I am not such a bitch and he’s more present.

That’s when the magic happens.  We laugh, we talk, we listen, we dream, we plan.

We return home better people, better parents, better partners.


Another Half an Hour

I just need another half an hour.

If I’d had another half an hour last night, I’d have been more present in the moment while helping one child with homework, motivating the other child to practice his piano piece just one more time and cooking two separate dinners (one for eldest child who’d had orthodontic work done earlier in the day and who was having trouble figuring out how to swallow with a new dental appliance in his mouth, and one for the rest of us).

If I’d had another half an hour last night, I might have had time to fit in a run. I’ve committed to a 10km road race in May. I have plenty of time to train for it, if I start training now. I just need to figure out when to slot in some running time.

If I’d had another half an hour, I would have gone to bed half an hour earlier. But the clothes in the dryer were still damp at 11 pm, and I didn’t want to leave them in the dryer overnight, getting wrinkled and requiring more of my time in ironing.

If I’d had another half an hour, I’d have finished this blog post last night, in the time between when I discovered that our old computer had finally given up the ghost and when my husband, working to deadline (in paid employment, need I point out our priorities) needed to use our working laptop again.

Do Laura Vanderkam and her ilk account for those small, incremental events that steal away portions of the day? By my count, I require an extra two hours every night to accomplish everything that I want to do: not well, not perfectly, just adequately. Even if I scheduled every waking moment, I can’t anticipate every contingency, and what kind of life would we all be leading if we kept to such a schedule?

Here’s our evening planned out:

  • 5:00 – 5:45: Commute Home (ETA 6:10 every second day because of transit delays; ETA 6:30 if youngest child needs to use the facilities for “pooping time!”).
  • 5:45 – 6:30: Change out of work clothing into workout wear in vain attempt to fake it until you make it. Commence cooking dinner. Children to commence homework and music practice.
  • 6:30 – 7:00  Dinner. (ETA 7:30 if any of the following events occur: (a) dinner burns because person cooking must also mediate a light sabre battle gone wrong; locate a glue stick needed for homework; engage in interesting conversation with a child who needs your attention; or (b) phone is answered immediately before dinner by child under age 18 who does not recognize that a 1-877 number (or worse, 1-234-567-8900) means someone we don’t want to talk to; or (c) “Pooping time!” delays arrival home to 6:30.  Dinner may be ready in 45 minutes or less on nights when both parents realize too late that they both forgot to defrost the pork chops; use emergency telephone code 967-1111 for rescue option.
  • 7:30 -8:30: Completion of homework. Showers. Reading. Family time.
  • 8:30 – 9:00: Tooth brushing. Pajama wearing.  Lights out at 9:00.
  • 9:00 – 9:20: One more chapter. Parent may or may not fall asleep on child’s bed whilst finishing said chapter; this is optional.
  • 9:20 – 9:30: Change out of workout wear, and into lounge wear (Really, this just means taking off my sports bra, but it’s important to acknowledge the day’s little victories).   Curse the winter for making it too dark outside for running.
  • 9:30 – 10:00: Clean kitchen, prep meals for next day, plan clothes, review work. Optional: talk to spouse about their day. End time may be delayed to 12:00 am in the event of work deadlines, overloaded dryers (12:20 a.m. if you do the “smart” thing and split the load into two) or anything spilled on the kitchen floor that requires more than a paper towel to clean up. Consider going to sleep. Maybe.

Another half-hour? Multiply that by four, and we’d be golden. And lest you scoff, thinking that there’s no way anyone’s schedule can go so continually pear shaped as to necessitate two hours of contingency time, I have two words for you: Stomach Virus. Spilled milk.  Book Report. Hockey game. Stale bread. Dead line (ok, that’s one word, but work with me). Only the book report and hockey game can be planned for with any certainty, but they’re all equally likely to occur in any given week.

I wonder sometimes, whether it’s possible to have a “time deficit” the same way we speak of people having a “sleep deficit” — which, I suppose, is just a time deficit in a disciplined form. Don’t we all have this? A collection of things we should be doing, or want to be doing, in addition to the things that we have to do every day? Writing more. Exercising more. Spending more time with family. If the eventual outcome of a sleep deficit is that you crash, what’s the outcome of a time deficit? I suspect, it’s the same: a sudden, overwhelming urge to just lie down and NOT plan, not schedule. Not do. Just be. Or maybe to take a nap.

A half an hour should be enough.