I could be unpacking (still!) from our recent vacation.
I could be starting a load of laundry.
I could be cleaning out today's lunch bag, or making a grocery list, or cleaning the bathtub...
But I'm not.
I'm very deliberately NOT. I finished the dinner dishes, dried my hands, flipped off the kitchen lights, and walked away. Walked away from all the little tasks that can fill up an evening and leaving me tired & wondering what in the world I accomplished. I walked away and laid down with a pen & paper to feed my soul -- no one else's, mine.
The minute I laid down, of course, Nia arrived to climb all over me (they have radar for this sort of thing, don't they?). To show me something, to ask me something else, to look in my ears (??). I acknowledged her and then said something I've never said before: "OK, honey. Go enjoy some free time before bed. I'm having my own free time right now."
And she scampered off (!!).
Before I left the kitchen, I set the timer for 25 minutes. Twenty-five minutes of free time. Me time. When the timer goes off I'll resume my mom duties (queue the bedtime routine). But right now I'm carving out a little time to indulge myself (the beauty of setting the timer is that I don't have to keep track of the time or keep that looming bedtime in mind at all).
From Nia's room I soon hear music drifting out from her little CD player. And two things occur to me:
Free time is important for both of us.
And, time free of each other is important for both of us, too.
The awesome thing is both can happen within the same four walls, and neither requires any money or excessive planning. Free time -- anyone can have it! Free time -- it's for the people: moms, dads, kids! ... if they believe it's possible & deserved.
That's a big if.
It is really easy to fall into the roll of Entertainment Director with our kids, isn't it? They say "I'm bored" and we instinctively say, "How high?" We instantly start dancing, or singing, or pulling out the art supplies, phoning friends for "playdates" (by the way, did you know playdate is a new word/phenomenon that didn't exist when we were kids?).
Kim John Payne wrote a book called Simplicity Parenting in which he suggests that boredom is not only healthy but it is absolutely necessary for kids because it is right after they feel bored that creativity can begin to bud & blossom.
He suggests we resist the urge to rescue our children from boredom, to say simply and dryly, "Something to do is right around the corner." And to say it over and over -- "outbore their boredom." "It will become clear to them that not only are you not going to rescue them," he says, "You are also not going to entertain them, and you are not a bit interesting after all. You're boring. Off they'll go." (pg.143)
And lo!, it happened right in my very house, on a perfectly ordinary night! (And I didn't even have to say the phrase -- that will take some getting used too, but I think that is the point.)
Free time. What a delicious concept. Free time for her to play and expand her imagination in her own way.
And... this is the amazing part... free time for me. To write, read, day dream, expand my brain... or shut my eyes for a bit -- imagine that! Free time isn't just for kids, silly rabbit.
In Playful Parenting, Dr. Lawrence J. Cohen asks us to imagine that our children have within them a little cup that is filled by being loved, fed, comforted, and nurtured. Most often the cup is filled through attachment with a primary caregiver, and drained by being hungry, tired, lonely, or hurt. When a child's cup is empty they become anxious, clingy, withdrawn, or they shut down. As children grow, their cups can be refilled through friendships, having fun, learning something new and interesting in school.
It occurs to me that I have a cup within me as well.
My cup is drained in a similar way as a child's: hunger, fatigue, loneliness, pain. But in also not setting aside time for myself whether that's solitary time, or adult time with friends (Joe included!).
Like a child with an empty cup, I find myself mentally bouncing off the walls, racing around trying desperately to get a refill, particularly when the work of being a mother and/or employee is taking all my "free" time. As Cohen points out, bouncing off walls tends to cause the little that was left in my cup to slosh out. Or sometimes I fall into another category Cohen points identifies: People who steal from other people's cups. I don't literally steal or hit, as some children do when they are depleted, but I do find myself bossing around others or intimidating others. ("Sorry! I'm just so stressed; my cup is empty; please excuse me.")
And so I'm carving out some time for me. I'm literally scheduling it and putting my foot down (with myself) to make it happen, be it 10 minutes or 90 minutes. To write, to read, to exercise, to chat with friends without little ears nearby, to take a hot bath... And it feels kind of scary. Do I dare be this indulgent with myself after five years of very hands-on parenting? I signed up for this, after all. I raised my hand and asked to be a parent. Doesn't that mean I must put myself aside till she moves away to college?
I must do this now. Because my cup must be refilled if I am to be a good mother and partner right now. How can I possibly refill her cup if mine is bone dry?
And the flip side of this coin is that she is nearly five now, and so she must have free time to discover herself & her passions, too. To get really lost in nature, art, a book...
This is good -- essential! -- for both of us.
Something to do is right around the corner.