I came across this cartoon by “For Better or for Worse” that summed up what transpires the first time all the kids leave the nest for school. For many stay-at-home moms we’ve been tethered for years with someone accompanying us to every appointment or errand so we should have oodles of time once the house is empty and the time is ours. But the comic points to a different experience and one I found to be true.
It was eight years before I had unaccompanied alone time. It felt so weird to be able to make a hair appointment without fretting over childcare. I had gotten used to weighing my needs against finding someone to watch my kids; running through the following options.
Option 1 – Ask my husband – This is a highly unpredictable choice because his schedule can change at a moment’s notice and then I’d have to reschedule or resort to option 2, 3 or 4.
Option 2- Ask a friend – This depends on the need. These requests are best saved for cases of emergency only.
Option 3 – Hire a babysitter – This is a process. First you have to find one and coordinate with her schedule. Then you have the added task of pick up / drop off. Finally you have to pay them. Is getting my hair cut worth that premium or should I wait for my mom to give me a trim next time she visits?
Option 4 – Bring the kids – Sometimes appropriate and sometimes not.
This debate ran on replay for years as I carefully scheduled ob/gyn appointments, bra shopping, parent/teacher conferences, etc. Then suddenly both kids were in school full time and I had the hours between 8:30 and 2:30 fully available to me and only me! So what was I going to do with all my spare time? I’ll tell you.
For a few month I ran around like a chicken with my head cut off, spinning in circles trying to get mounds of unfinished projects finished up in case this freedom was too good to be true. I increased my working hours at the YMCA teaching swimming thinking that I needed to “get back to work” least someone judge me. I let the school gobble up the rest of my spare time by volunteering at the library, recess, lunchroom, book fair, you name it. Fun but inefficient because it involves one hour increments all over the place. Suddenly I realized that I no longer had a block of time to get anything meaningful done and found myself revisiting childcare options one through four (see above).
What was supposed to be a wide open swath of time was now busier than ever. I felt the backlog of appointments, unfinished projects, and desire to finally exercise crash over me like a tidal wave leaving me with my head underwater. It took the entire school year to sort out how to manage my spare time in a meaningful way. Yes, I have control over scheduling my spare time, but it’s not truly mine. I’ve chosen to give it to others. So what do I do with all my spare time? I share it.