If I make just one resolution this new year, I think it’s going to be something like: Make Intentional Use of Time. And also maybe Write Shorter Blog Posts.
But one thing at a time.
That’s it. It’s all I need: intentional use of time. I’m not talking about adhering to a super-strict schedule. In six years of parenthood I’ve learned that if there’s anything I can count on, it’s going to be that I can’t count on anything, “schedule”-wise. Someone’s bound to wake up with a nightmare the night I’ve decided to set the alarm for five. Some’s probably going to get sick and barf all over herself at the breakfast table on what’s supposed to be the busiest day of the week. Someone else might, oh, I don’t know, partially dislocate his elbow on New Year’s Day and necessitate an eight p.m. trip to the local urgent care center (looking at you, Cian). It’s just…life right now. It is what it is, and it’s kind of unpredictable.
The intentional use of time is my new, sort-of simple goal. Because somehow the priorities in my life are getting swept out of the way by…gad, stupid stuff. I’m too embarrassed to tell you. Facebook. The internet. The mounds of promotional emails from stores, even though I very rarely actually use those promotions. The mounds of paperwork that pile up even though I keep going through them. Blogs that tell me how to maximize my time, which I read while wasting my own. Ugh. I hate that I even just admitted that. But I wonder why I’m so frazzled and overwhelmed so often, when I don’t have to be (unless someone’s dislocated an arm. Then I think it’s justified). I have the daily stuff I need to do, and the frequent stuff I want to do (hanging out with friends, fun stuff with the kids). I’ve never been good with consistency–I’m an all-or-nothing, impatient sort of person. It’s why I married Dave so quickly. It’s why I wrote the first draft of All the Difference in a month. It’s why, twice in my life, I’ve moved to a new state within days of deciding to do so. I go through phases–clean, clean, clean, just to let it all pile up afterward. Write, write, write, just to have to step away from it all and take a break. It’s the way my brain’s always been wired to operate, but that doesn’t work so well in Grown Up Land. Kids like clean laundry on a regular basis, you know. And anyone who’s ever washed eight loads in one day would never recommend to anyone that that’s a grand way to live.
So I’m trying, for real this time. Not jump in and see if I can swim. I’m going to try, in Grown Up Land, to ease into consistency. It’s just sometimes a matter of actually giving the “needs” the attention they deserve, and trusting that the “wants” will fall into place. So here are my needs, right now:
1. Substantial writing time, every day. Once Quinlan grew past the napping stage, and both girls started school at different hours, and Cian came along, this part got so shoved to the side I couldn’t find it when I wanted to. And I did want to. But getting childcare is not an option for us, both because a) we are a largely one-income family that decided to put our kids in Catholic school, even though that involves, like, tuition and b) I signed on to be a full-time mom, and I don’t want to lose that of my own accord. I like being the one who picks my daughters up from school each day, and gets my son his snack, and takes the smallest ones to their little music class. But I also must say that I have a job now–a job I’d like to keep, it being my life’s dream and all–which means that I need to figure out how to write in between, around, and during the Mom Job. No problem.
2. Exercise, for obvious reasons. I miss it. I feel weird when I’m not exercising. I’m happier when I’m doing it, which is good for anybody who has to hang out with me on a regular basis. I’m more confident, too. I eat better: I love me a chocolate cake, but I’m afraid I’m getting to the age where chocolate cake might not start loving me back, yaknowwhadImean? And this way people in the neighborhood won’t keep running out their houses to help me when they see me wheezing up their street on a run. I had a therapist friend once tell me that her first recommendation to clients dealing with depression, or stress, or anxiety, or just about anything, was often to start exercising. Join a gym, she would say. Take a walk, start to run. Anything. It shifts your world. Also, it’s nice to be strong enough to pick up your heavy two-year-old without grunting like a moose.
3. Cleaning–a little every day, I mean. I’m an all-or-nothinger, as I said, whether it’s cleaning or writing or cooking. It MUST happen all at once, and then once it’s over, I forget about it until I absolutely have to face it again. But I can’t spend all day cleaning anymore, just to let it slide for days. Life doesn’t work like that once you’ve five people with jobs and school and Girl Scouts and stomachs living in your house. It needs to be done, but you know? If I can vacuum the upstairs before dinner one afternoon, clean the kitchen the next, something the next? That’s what other people do, right? Can I train myself to be that way?
4. Laundry, one load, every day. This shouldn’t be that hard. But it is. All or nothing, remember. It’s usually no loads or twenty for this family. That is just madness, and madness doesn’t belong in Grown Up Land.
So here’s what I’m going to do: set aside a certain amount of time each day, depending on the day, for what I need to do. That means staying off the internet, not getting distracted, just buckling the heck down. I’m embarrassed to be telling you this–to be documenting my need to stay on top of laundry. But I’ve been drowning in a sea of sleep deprivation and diapers and crumbs these past years. I’ve forgotten what it’s like to do the same thing every week day in a way that marches toward a goal, toward productivity, rather than just trying to remember the last time I had a chance to wash my hair. The daily survival of new motherhood is over, friends. It’s time for business. And if something comes up that causes me to skip that one thing, I’ll let it go, and revisit it the next day. It’s okay, really, honestly. Long hair doesn’t need to be washed that often, does it?
I’m starting (sort of) small, for this newly-minted work-at-home mom. I should be able to do these four things every day. A few hours for writing, one for exercise (which means I actually shower at the start of the day! HALLELUJAH!), a couple for the daily cleaning and laundry and decluttering. It all sounds so lame, but you know what? When I’m not doing that, I’m in the car, always in the car, shuttling small children around. At least with this I’m doing something other than checking my news feed and waiting for my kids to come out of school. I will work for as hard as I can during those chunks of time, and once they’re over, they’re over. No dawdling over that blog post. No trying to just answer one more email. Enough of that. Major errands will have to wait till “after work” hours, along with the rest of working America. And with this–getting the “needs” met, a little bit every day instead of a lot once in a while–I’m hoping that the “wants” will then fall into place: more sleep. More time to plan get-togethers with friends and family. More fun with my kids, who will only be kids for so long. The first day I did this, on Monday, I was so chill and relaxed from these little tiny chunks of time I’d set up for myself, I ended up baking some snack bars with Quinlan after lunch, just the two of us, talking and working and hanging out together. I wasn’t stressed about what I had to do next. I was just…happy.
Intentional use of time. That’s my resolution. Plan the time. Even better: use it wisely. Set the expectations low. It’s okay to clean just that area and leave the rest till tomorrow. It’s okay to write that scene and leave the rest till later. It’s okay to text that friend instead of waiting for the time to call. It’s okay. It’s not okay to keep scouring the internet for crock pot recipes when I pretty much hate anything that comes out of a Crock Pot. Intentional use of time. Everything else will fall into place, slowly.
And I do mean slowly. I started writing this post on resolutions in the last week of 2014. Yes, it’s now January
7th 8th, and I’m just finishing it. Baby steps, people. Baby steps.
And who knows? Maybe one day I’ll even get around to writing shorter blog posts. There’s always hope for next year.