Monday, September 03, 2012

Enjoying the Long Days

As I mentioned in my last weekend reading post, I took Friday off for a special day with Pumpkin, who is starting Kindergarten tomorrow. We had her Kindergarten orientation at 1 p.m. and had told my sister we'd drop her at the airport at about 8:30, but other than that, we had nothing specific to do.

After dropping my sister at the airport, we headed to one of Pumpkin's favorite parks, down by Mission Bay. It is a little out of the way for us, so we don't get there often- which makes a visit to that park a treat. Pumpkin played for about an hour, and then she said she was hungry, so we drove to a nearby coffee shop and split a gigantic cookie.
Not pictured: Me carrying her to the plane so she wouldn't get sand in her shoes.
Next, we went to our local toy store, because I'd promised her we could go and pick out a special toy. She'd been talking for days about how she was going to get a Barbie. Sure enough, she headed straight to the Barbie section and spent ages looking at all the options before she settled on one. But then, as we headed to the Lego section (to buy a gift for a birthday party we had this weekend), she saw the bike baskets, and remembered that she really wanted a new basket like she'd seen on one of her friend's bikes. To my surprise, she decided to put her Barbie back, and picked out a Barbie basket for her bike instead. It came with tassels, which was a huge bonus.

The upgraded bike
We went home and installed the new basket and tassels, then took the bike for a short ride. Then we had lunch and rested until it was time for orientation.

After orientation, we had a few school supplies to go buy, and Pumpkin really wanted to go find some flip flops without a strap, too. Luckily, there is an office supply store in Pacific Beach, the beach neighborhood nearest to us. So we went to that store to get our supplies, and then went down to the tourist shops near the beach to find the flip flops. We found a pair, and then it was snack time again, so we walked to a nearby convenience store and bought a fruit and cereal bar, some crackers, and some strawberry milk and had snack on a bench looking out at the ocean.

My California girl.
Before we knew it, it was time to head home. We'd had a great special day. I couldn't believe that the little baby who'd turned my world upside down five and a half years ago was so big, and so ready for kindergarten. I thought of the saying "the days are long but the years are short," which had struck me as so unbelievably profound when I first came across it as a parent, but I have now seen so many places that I almost roll my eyes when I come across it.

This weekend, though, I'm living that saying. The shortness of the years is hard to miss, with Pumpkin getting ready to start Kindergarten.  But the days are still long- Petunia woke me up in the middle of the night two of the last three nights, both kids threw a massive fit when Mr. Snarky* tried to give them their bath, I've tripped over and put away the same pair of shoes three times this weekend (the kids keep getting them out to play with them).

I've been trying lately to look past the hard parts more, and enjoy the long days. Back in June, we made a list of fun things to do this summer, and we hit five of the eight things on the list, plus several other fun things that we hadn't thought to list. My favorite item on that list is probably "eat outside more," because it has led to some really delightful evenings, where Mr. Snarky and I sit in our plastic Adirondack chairs and watch the girls run around the yard and play. We had two of those just this weekend, although one did end in the aforementioned fit about bathtime.

Perhaps because of this intention to look past the hard parts and enjoy the long days, parts of the parenthood chapter of Gretchen Rubin's new book Happier at Home** really resonated with me. One of her resolutions for the month in which she focused on parenthood was to "go on Wednesday adventures" with her oldest daughter. She picked her daughter up for school and then went on an outing. She and her daughter alternated weeks choosing the destination, and the only hard and fast rule was that they had to be home by six.

I really like the idea of having special outings with the kids- both individually and together, However, my job is not quite as flexible as Gretchen's, so a weekly outing is out of the question. Instead, I'm toying with the idea of leaving early once per month. One month, I could do an outing with Pumpkin, the next with Petunia, and then maybe a family outing. And finally I could do something for me. We'd cycle through each of these things three times per year. I know it is possible, because we've done two such family outings this summer- once to go to the county fair and once to go to the Zoo at Night. I do not have a writer's level of flexibility in my job, but I have the ability to take off early now and then. Once per month is infrequent enough that no one would be likely to notice, let alone comment. I can catch up on work at home. As Gretchen points out in her book, that flexibility does me no good if I don't take advantage of it.

Still... I'm not sure I'll end up doing this. There is a guilt factor to get past, but I think I could squash any guilt by tracking my time and demonstrating to myself that I am not, in fact, slacking. The problem is more that I'm feeling terribly overloaded already, both with the changes to our routine that kindergarten will bring and with far too many projects to juggle at work. Balls are starting to drop both at home and at work. Today, we went to a birthday party for one of Pumpkin's old day care classmates. It was at an indoor bouncy place. We drove to the one we've gone to several times before for other parties, only to discover that this particular party was at the company's other site, about 15-20 minutes away. Oops. That information was in the invite. There was even a map on the web page I visited this morning to print out a waiver to sign. I just didn't check. I was doing too many things at once, with several other things queued up in my mind.

We made it to the party about 30 minutes late. The kids had plenty of time to jump. At least four other families made the same mistake. But it is not the sort of mistake I usually make. I know that it is a symptom of the larger problem I've been feeling, of having too many things to keep active in my short term memory. My usual processes aren't keeping up, and I haven't been able to find new processes that work better. I want to enjoy these days, but even fun outings with my kids won't add to my enjoyment if they come at the price of my sanity. So I'll stay on the fence about this for awhile more, until I see how we settle into our new routine and whether I'm able to find someone to hire to help me better distribute the load at work. The years may be fast, but I think I can spare a month or two.

We'll keep eating outside, though, and maybe that is enough for now.

-------------------------------------

 *Typing out "my husband" every time bores me. I asked him if he'd rather be called "Hubby" or "Mr. Cloud" and he said he wanted to be "Tubby." He is in much better shape than I am, so I refuse to call him that. Given the penchant for snark that the above comment exemplifies, I've decided Mr. Snarky is the most appropriate name for him.

**Gretchen sent me a free advance copy of the book. There were no strings attached, and there was no compensation beyond the free book. As always, any opinions I express about the book are my true opinions. I may or may not write a full review of the book, but my usual book review policy applies, anyway.

19 comments:

  1. The special day together sounds like it was a huge success! I love Gretchen's idea of Wednesday adventures, but it just wouldn't work for me. But we do Saturday morning breakfast out, just me & the little one. We've been doing this together since she was two. I watched a movie years ago where a girl was remembering going to weekend breakfast with her father when she was growing up and it just stuck with me as something I really wanted to do. Plus this lets my husband sleep in guilt-free :)

    So maybe instead of a Wednesday adventure you could find something that fits better into your routine, and somehow feels like a break to you as well as fun.

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    1. I love the breakfast out idea! Pumpkin isn't a very adventurous eater at breakfast (or anytime), so we haven't really tried taking her out for breakfast. She doesn't eat any of the standard breakfast foods, except cold cereal. But I'll bet she'd enjoy the outing even if she just ordered a bowl of Cheerios, so maybe we should try.

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  2. What a great day!

    DC1 and I have special laundry folding time together, no daddies allowed. (Daddy steals DC1's laundry.) DC1 is also a huge help at the grocery store, though since DC2 was born that has been daddy bonding time. More exciting adventures we tend to do as a family.

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    1. That's been our pattern, too- but there are some things Pumpkin is old enough to appreciate that Petunia isn't quite ready for. And spending time with one kid has a different quality than spending time with both kids. So I think we may come up with some special time alone with one (or both) parents for each child. I'm just not sure what it will be.

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    2. Given that DC2 has only been around for a month, adventures have been with just DC1 and both parents. (Except when I'm on a conference, then it is DH and DC time.)

      Chore time can be special time alone with a parent. I still cherish laundry time with my mom and learning how to cook with my dad. One-on-one parent time doesn't have to involve taking a trip or having an adventure or spending money. And since chores have to be done, you get that time in every week without it being pushed off. With two working parents (especially two working parents without a ton of money, like mine were growing up) having regular designated time that gets things done may be less stressful than designated time that is just one more thing to do, and more exciting things can be fun for the whole family when they happen. Plus the kid learns how to do chores and doesn't have to be taught by an exasperated roommate or spouse as an adult.

      And, of course, there's reading time every night. Separate for each child.

      Not saying that it wouldn't be fun to have an afternoon a week to go out and do whatever (I understand mother/daughter mani-pedis are popular in LA), but that if that's just one more thing to have to schedule, then there are lower key options that accomplish the exact same thing-- bonding time-- without increasing the stress load.

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    3. mom2boy7:24 AM

      Without really planning it that way we often have chores as special parent/child time. No kidding - picking up poop in the backyard is one of Tate's favorite chores to do with other mommy. And I am all for letting that be part of their "special" time without me lol.

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  3. Having one-on-one parent time with kids is soooo special. Neither of my parents had a lot of extra time, but what they did is 2 nights a week have special kid-time. There are only two kids (me and my sister) and we'd each get one parent's undivided attention for 20-30 minutes after dinner (then we'd swap to the other parent on the other night of the week. As we got older, the time got longer, to like 45-60 minutes

    We could pick a game, go on a walk, choose a book, make them play a game, sit and talk... I have so many great memories of "Time," as my sister and I called it. We would take turns picking activities, I don't remember there being a set schedule of whether the parent or child got to choose, but maybe there was. As we got older we also ranger farther afield, like after dinner ice-cream, or bike races in the construction site down the street, or a trip to the bookstore for a coffee date.

    I loved how this evolved as we got older but still was a set part of our schedule until high-school (once we hit high-school, evenings got harder to schedule).

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    1. That is a great idea! I'll keep it in mind as I think about what we'll do.

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  4. I like the idea of "adventures" but once a week seems too frequent to me, unless you're doing something really simple like going out to dinner. It makes it seem less special, and like another *thing* on the calendar.

    Once a month seems about right to me too. But it sounds like you guys have a lot going on now, too. I'm aggressively shedding obligations right now and keeping us to the bare minimum.

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    1. In the book, Gretchen chooses a focus for each month and has a short list of resolutions during that month. The "successful" ones continue on into later months. So I think weekly made sense in that context. And it was just a couple of hours- not a big half day excursion. It sounded like they found lots of cool things to do, but then, they do live in NYC.

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  5. My husband sleeps in really late on weekends, which used to drive me crazy, but now I really cherish that time alone with the kids. We lay about in pajamas, eat cereal, snuggle, watch cartoons, and are generally just lazy.

    But it is not the sort of mistake I usually make. I know that it is a symptom of the larger problem I've been feeling, of having too many things to keep active in my short term memory.

    Boy, do I know what you mean! I am absolutely meticulous about my work, and I made two pretty big (for me) oversights recently that really show that I don't fully have my wits about me. A proof of a paper came back for corrections, and it had a lot of extraneous text -- a repeated subsection, a couple of random repeated paragraphs. I thought "Such horrible typesetting, so unprofessional!" until I checked my own source files and sure enough, all that extraneous text was there in the source, it was totally my fault. I have no idea how I missed it.

    Similarly, I recently got a grant funded and dealt with the paperwork to have it set up this past week. I wrote the grant in May, in what was possibly the busiest time of my life, as I had to submit the grant and the week after was the conference I was organizing. I worked for 3 weeks on virtually no sleep. The grant paperwork came back with a really weird title and I was all in a huff, until I checked -- while the title in most of the paperwork and the project description itself was OK, the one on the cover letter form (from where the agency pulls it) was the version from the preproposal! I apparently never bothered to change it amidst all the other many changes and the actual writing... I would have sworn that nothing like that could ever happen to me! I was so embarrassed...

    I freely admit that having three kids is totally kicking my butt in ways I never thought my butt would be kicked. The thing is -- I have both more kids and more work responsibilities than ever before, and it's the "synergistic amplification" (heard the term in relation to drug interactions) of the two that I think is responsible for bringing me to my knees.

    I suppose it's good to know we have limits, eh?

    I certainly don't have any advice on how to claim sanity back. I can offer you sympathy and an e-hug. Things do settle and get better, I am sure you know that, so just try to wait it out.

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    1. Maybe we should try to reframe how we think about these mistakes? You still got the grant and the paper got accepted- despite the mistakes. We still got to the party and everyone had fun. So maybe we should take the experiences as examples of how we don't have to be perfect.

      I am not really succeeding at changing how I think about it- but it might be worth a try. I'm in the midst of another work-life pile up, so there are bound to be more mistakes.

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  6. I wrote on my blog today about taking a road trip with the two older kids. With three it is hard to do solo time with each, but I'd like to make it happen. If for no other reason than that it's much more pleasant than refereeing fights when you've got multiple kids with you.

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  7. I love going on adventures with my kids, and we do a lot of that kind of thing, whether it's a trip to the park/pool or the local frozen yogurt place after school or a big hike in the nearby national forest. We've been trying to have more one on one times with each, but it's hard with me on my own with them most of the school year. My older has been wanting to co-sleep lately, so I'm counting that as special time.

    I'm not craftsy by nature, but I also been making a concerted effort to do more crafts with them (mostly the easier stuff I find on the artful parent), and those activities feel like adventures, even though they largely take place at home. We made "paint" out of shaving cream + food coloring, which they used to paint the bathtub (and themselves). It was hilarious and so much fun. We also did this amazing and simple science experiment/art project that involved a cookie sheet covered with baking soda. Then you take a bunch of cups and mix vinegar with food coloring, and then take droppers and drop the color onto the baking soda. It fizzles (which the kids adore) and then leaves beautiful color patterns. I'm really glad I'm putting the extra effort into stimulating their creative selves as well as their active selves. Molly @ firsttheegg had a great post a long time ago about doing regular neighborhood scavenger hunts with her kid that seemed like a local adventure. Anyway, I guess my point is that adventures can happen in many different ways, not just outside the house or far afield.

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    1. Science Experiments You Can Eat is an excellent book that I did with my mom growing up (and DH does with DC1).

      http://www.amazon.com/Science-Experiments-You-Can-Eat/dp/0064460029

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  8. One of my colleagues does "choice" day with her girls on maybe four weekends a year. On the "choice" day, each kid makes a "choice" about what to do and the family does it. (The adults also get a choice, but my friend says her choice is usually to have lunch.) I like the concept and she squeezes it in on a weekend. When my daughter is old enough, I think I might try the concept.

    I really like the idea of less scheduled adventures. I agree with you, however, that it would be so nice to have the flexibility to do it on an afternoon a month (not to mention a week!).

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  9. With DD2 being (the dreaded) 3.5 and finally starting to have strong opinions of her own (in contrast to DD1 who had strong opinions right from the start), we're recognizing a need in our family for both girls to have one-on-one time with each parent. It doesn't seem to happen naturally so is something we're going to make an effort. The current idea is that during the weekend, there will be a block of time where one kid goes and does something with one parent, and the other pair go do something. Then the next weekend, the pairs switch.
    Now that DD1 has drop-off playdates, DD2 is also able to get some time with both parents to herself. But DD1 has been expressing some jealousy and missing the little she can remember from when she was an only and *always* had both parents to herself. We don't have a solution for that yet.

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  10. Even if, in my kids' eyes, I am a SAHM (I am at home when they are, even if I work PT), It is still hard to find quality time with the kids. They are also at that age where they want to spend time together, alone, playing/ getting up to mischief, and so I have become redundant to a certain extent. Not that I am complaining though; i finally have time for myself without the guilt.

    Since we have been on school hols we have at least one activity planned per day where we do something together and I can give them a bit more attention. Trips to the park ( here the only 'together' part is the getting there, as they soon disappear once we are there), walks in the Common, trips to the museum. But they are at the age where they are into these things, so it isn't too much dragging them around.

    During the normal school year, quality time may even mean doing homeworK together. I find this really enjoyable actually, seeing them concentrating on a task, quietly for a change. Quite soothing, actually

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  11. Our intention is to have one-on-one time, where we each take one of the boys and do whatever he likes, every Sunday afternoon. We probably do it once a month if we're lucky, then talk about how we need to do this more often. We always have a great time, and it's so lovely to see how happy they are to see each other when we get back together. They end up playing really well with each other after one-on-one time.

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