In concerned tones, women keep inquiring how I’m coping with my son’s first week of kindergarten. I giddily respond, “I’m doing great,” as I’ve been guiltlessly luxuriating in kid-free days. However, their return smiles suggest they may wish me bodily injury for this exhibition of public glee. This evil eye may indicate they have no free time. But, aren’t we all allotted the same amount of seconds and minutes to freely spend as we choose daily?
If the start and finish lines of life are not ours to choose, at least a good part of the interim is. We pursue what we think we need and want, even when we think we have no choice. Whether we choose a posh life or a pious life, “I dos” or “I don’ts,” to fall in love or in lust, or to parent no kids or six, it’s our decision. In the past decade, I have chosen to remarry, buy a big old nasty DIY house in rural United States, be a redhead, bear one child then quit smoking, as well as open and close my beloved shop.
I was busy being busy. I had to-dos out the wazoo. Yet, there, in the prime of my sexy, empowered womanhood, I felt toasty. My “me” time was “gone daddy gone.” Must have headed to the Caribbean to get its groove back without me. I was in dire need of an out or an outlet mall. Why did I constantly feel like I could never do enough to please myself?
The epiphany that followed comes from being truly done. A cry to end all cries and the offering up of whatever it takes to be happy again, because this ain’t working. I realized that I was addicted to anxiety. I was used to being anxious. If I had tons of stuff to do, I had worth. I would overachieve, then procrastinate, then fret. My psyche was more than bruised from all the frustration of never being exactly where I wanted to be, ever.
In my heart, I knew my happiness wasn’t in my daily accomplishments but in my soul. My being is made of hope and happiness, not clean floors. Clearly, if I didn’t stop my compulsive busyness and enjoy my son and our family life, our life together would speed past me in a blur of to-do lists. The moment any task is crossed off, it’s soon forgotten anyway. I vowed to reign in my overachievement, procrastination, and fretfulness; I’d either deal with tasks as they presented or prioritize their completion as time permitted.
Well let me tell you, I was overjoyed with my new magic surplus of time. For so long, I’d been obsessed with and overwhelmed by my to-dos. Now, when the bank statement came in the mail, I’d balance the checkbook that very day. Turbo done. If the bathroom looked disgusting, I relegate it to Monday’s task list and trusted myself. I don’t think I’d ever trusted myself before. My perception and relationship to my twenty-four-hour day had changed as well. I could manage my life, make better choices, and not be overwhelmed. Who’da thunk? In the photo above my desk, my son and husband grin at me from an impromptu walk in the autumn sunlight last fall. I highly recommend you grab a camera, blow off the chores, and see what happens. Manual transmission is underrated.
In a doctor’s office, I read an article by a writer and mom who’d told her family she was off the clock at 8 p.m. They knew she meant it and they hustled to have their stories read and needs met before the clock struck eight. I tried it. One night I declared my quittin’ time, read my four-year-old his book, and punched out. Even Daddy knew I wasn’t foolin’. It worked. Where the previous year I had resented and begrudged my husband his golf time, I now saw the time was mine to take, not his to give.
It felt great to hear myself set a boundary. I am proud to model self-respect for my child. Being a caretaker includes your self-care as well. If you prioritize yourself after your children, husband, parents, housework, and job, you may find yourself knee deep in resentment and not actually doing that splendid of a job caretaking everyone. You know you saw this on Oprah. Prioritize yourself first, and more time, clarity, and self-pride will follow. During a postinaugural luncheon, our newest U.S. president was advised by a former president that, “When Mama’s happy, everyone’s happy.” Amen.
Coexistence and community may provide some well-deserved relief too. Pair up with friends, neighbors, or family to coclean your houses, have regular potluck dinners, trade kid-free hours, go grocery shopping, and take on big DIY projects. Community will pay you back if you allow it to. Our deck was built this way. Your lonesome soul may be soothed by the company and the sympathetic ear a talk and walk may provide. Research has proven that griping is good for you. And everyone can use the hope that fresh ideas and a different perspective provide.
If you lessened your expectations of yourself, would you have more time? Could you lighten your load of “shoulds” and allow some “coulds” with more “wannas” and less “haftas”? I conceded a constantly clean house. Or maybe your elaborate life is a distraction from the achievement you are afraid of pursuing. Finally, I chose to just start writing because it was less work. Do you complain of an overbooked schedule to receive people’s pity? Is there a way to garner positive attention in your life instead? Or, lastly, are they your dreams of your life or someone else’s? Is someone else’s expectation of you robbing you of your choices? Our attempts to make others happy may fail to make us happy. Happiness is a gift we can only give to ourselves.
My truth can be difficult for me to see, much less to tell myself. Yet, when I choose to tell the truth, I then see the possibilities for change and freedom. I now recognize my time as mine. I can spend it however I choose in the company of whomever I choose. These possibilities equal my freedom. The trick is making choices that feel like I’m living my life instead of biding my time. I deserve my new kid-free time because I’ve earned it. I’d say I’ve successfully mothered my son through his childhood thus far. He got on that bus and didn’t glance back. I’m okay with that.