I haven’t been able to post much lately because life maintenance has again taken over. I hate to use this blog to bitch about things that bother me but if you bear with me there might be a point, and some good news, at the end.
We have now lived in our new home for three months and I’m still catching up. To give you an idea of the things that happen when you move three times in a year, I’ll tell you about my current project: catching up with my filing. When we left Michigan, we needed to take some files with us because we would be on the move for a full year. We couldn’t go without our tax files or bank records or auto maintenance files for that long. But we certainly couldn’t take all six drawers of files we had in our office. I pulled out what I thought would be necessary, and that meant splitting up some of the files and just bringing the newer, more important papers. So we now have two “pet” files, two “credit card” files, two “owner’s manuals” files, etc. I managed to get the volume of files down to one plastic filing drawer with a bit of extra space for new papers.
Well, in the year we were “on the road” we sold a house, rented three homes, Sam had minor surgery, I developed a medical problem, Adam had three different jobs, and of course there were the three moves. The final move to northern Virginia required two moving companies, a separate unpacking service, and one trip back to Michigan. All of this generated more paperwork than I anticipated and after the plastic drawer was full, I filled a huge plastic bin with important papers.
Right now I have my six drawers back and after throwing away two trash bags full of papers we no longer need, I was able to dump most of the unfiled stuff into one drawer and to pile the rest on top. I estimate that it will take about five more hours to clean it all up.
The childless people out there are probably wondering what the big deal is. I’m sure the stay at home moms get it. Any project that takes longer than a nap or the brief window between the kid’s bedtime and your own is daunting. This one is stumping me more than usual because I need to use the basement floor space to spread out all the papers, and that is Sam’s main play area. If I try to do it while she is awake, she will want to “help” by taking each paper and putting it somewhere for me. Like under the couch. Or on the dog’s head. Or in her mouth. If I start working on it during a nap, I’ll have to clean it up and put everything away before she wakes up or else just give up the use of the basement for the duration of the project. Again, the childless might say, “so what?” but I’m sure all the parents out there get it. (I have a post planned about how important our “playroom” is and how I almost went insane in the month that it was out of commission due to flooding, but it’s the kind of post that takes more than an hour, so I haven’t gotten to it yet.)
I suspect that this inability to do focused projects is the biggest problem of professional parents. All the usual complaints from moms are true: a lot of the work is tedious, it takes more than eight hours a day, and you are on call 24/7 every single day of your life. But are those things really that difficult compared to other professions? Doctors work long hours, are on call much of the time, and just like moms, have that constant responsibility for others’ lives. Lawyers and many entrepreneurs work much longer hours than any professional mom. Many factory workers (and computer programmers!) have to do endless, tedious work. But none of them have fractured time.
Fractured time is my term for the inability to stick with a certain type of task long enough to get it done. When you first have a baby, your time is so fractured that you might be unable to shower or cook or even eat a sandwich. You just don’t have a block of time big enough for such things. It’s a challenge just to keep yourself and your baby fed, warm, and clean. I’ve found that my time has become less and less fractured as Sam gets older. Instead of five naps, seven diaper changes, and six feedings a day, there is one nap, about five diaper changes, and five feedings a day. There is still a daily routine that needs to happen or things get ugly, but we don’t repeat the same exact cycle every two and a half hours.
But anything that requires me to focus for longer than an hour is still difficult. I do have about four hours every night after Sam goes to sleep, but I’m usually too tired to take on anything challenging by that time so I use it to pay bills, read, or maybe post A Little Thing.
When most people claim they “don’t have time” to accomplish something, what they mean is that they choose to do other things with their time instead. When a stay at home mom says this, she doesn’t mean that she is busy every minute of every day; she means that there is no available block of time big enough to get it done.
Those childless people (aren’t they annoying?) might now be thinking that this is just a lot of whining about the need to multitask, and in a sense that is true. Moms are the ultimate multitaskers. (This is my third sitting for work on this blog post, and probably not my last.) But certain things just can’t be done, at least without great pain, in blocks of an hour or two. Imagine trying to write a novel, create a sculpture, or write a complex computer program in blocks of one hour at a time. I suppose it can be done, but it is such a waste of time to get your mind into the project and then have to quit after such a short time. And it is spiritually frustrating.
I used to think that this spiritual frustration came from having too many short-term goals and no long-term goals. But raising a child is an extremely fulfilling long-term goal that can be accomplished alongside the tedious day-to-day tasks. It’s the mid-range things that frustrate me. Like filing. Like loading up my new MP3 phone with my favorite tunes. Like writing a blog post more challenging than linking to a funny video.
So how did I write this post, anyway? It’s called daycare, people. For the past month I’ve spent most of Sam’s daycare hours in physical therapy, but I finished up last week. From now on, three whole times each week, I should have five hour blocks of time to use however I want.