At the end of this week, my three-and-a-half-year-old babygirl will have been a preschooler for an entire month. Her big sister’s already been a full-fledged third grader for a month. And they’re both loving it—let’s get that out of the way first. The Pumpkin’s back in her gifted program with all her friends from last year and a creative, enthusiastic teacher. And The Button—after a couple accidents early on (she did just potty-train this summer so she could finally go to preschool, after all), the time-shifting of her nap, and some on-going work on following directions that probably comes from both being the baby of the family and being at home by herself with her daddy for her entire life up to this point, her transition, really, has been a non-transition. She loves school. No crying, no clinging—every drop-off concluded with a happy wave and a quick kiss goodbye, every pick-up marked by a wide smile and “two thumbs-up for a terrific day.” It’s been so fun to hear her sing school songs and talk about school activities and “works” (it’s a Montessori school), only to be reminded that her big sister sang us those same songs and did those same things just three years ago.
But enough about my kids—this is a parenting blog, after all, so I’m supposed to write about how my kids affect me, right? Heh.
And so the big transition is this: for the first time in three-and-a-half years, I find myself alone for a good chunk of time on regular old weekdays. By myself. Sans children. And while I’d been looking forward to this all summer, seeing it as a finish line of sorts, now that I’m here, it’s sort of, I don’t know, weird.
Friends ask me, “What are you gonna do with all that time to yourself?” And I knee-jerkedly respond that between drop-off and pick-up of two kids in two places it’s really only about four hours so it’s not really that much time… But really, I react like that because I don’t know.
The first two weeks The Button was in school, I crammed in all the appointments, all the “too busy to take care of myself” things that I couldn’t do with one or two kids with me: primary care physician, dentist, optometrist, optician, therapist, barber, dog groomer, car oil change. I bought a new bike to replace the one that came with me from Rhode Island twelve years ago and has probably been rusting on the floor of my garage since The Pumpkin’s birth almost eight years ago. I forced myself to ride for an hour three days in a row, clocking about 10 miles each time. Last week, I rode four out of five weekdays, going about 14 miles round-trip each time, and I’m continuing the routine this week (I’ve designated Wednesdays my mid-week day off to rest my poor out-of-shape legs).
Last Wednesday, when I gave myself the day off from cycling and mentioned the guilt-ridden battle-in-my-head I’d had over it that morning on Facebook, my friends rallied to reassure me that it was healthier to take a break, that I needn’t feel guilty. But what they didn’t get, and what I didn’t say, was that it wasn’t about the exercise, or feeling tired or out-of-shape. Or it was, but not totally. When I said I was giving myself permission to take a day off, it was because I know too well how hard it is for me to keep up daily routines that are important, and how easy it is for me to slip. I don’t know how many times over the last three decades I’ve tried to, say, keep a daily journal, or do daily or regularly scheduled writing of any sort. All the daily little chores of domestic life, the things that have to happen because they have to happen, they give an invisible structure to my life even when I get frustrated or tired of them. But this other stuff, this stuff that is ostensibly just for me…
To put it another way: It’s been almost four weeks since I’ve had four hours a day every weekday to myself, to do whatever I needed or wanted. And today is the first day I’ve written anything longer than a Facebook status update. Just like “husband” and “parent” and “SAHD” are integral parts of my identity, so, I’ve always thought, has been “writer”—and yet it’s been easier to force myself to ride a bike in the hot sun for an hour at a time on weak knees and out-of-shape legs almost every day than to sit my ass in front of my keyboard and create something.
Earlier this summer, when a friend asked what I was going to do once the kids were in school and I sheepishly mumbled something about a novel and she asked why I wanted to write a novel, I couldn’t give her an answer. A friend whose oldest was a preschool classmate of The Pumpkin’s and whose youngest is now a classmate of The Button’s, and who recently quit a long-time teaching job to write full-time, sat me down at the end of the first week of preschool to tell me that what we do is important, and worthwhile, and that I should just do it. Another SAHD friend who is a prolific presence in the parentblogosphere busted me on Facebook when I quipped, yet again, about wanting or needing to write more, saying that I keep talking about writing, so where is it?
When we moved to Bakersfield nine years ago and my wife went to work at her new job, I curled up and licked my wounds from my painful discovery that I was not good at, or good for, the career at which I had thought I’d spend my life, and sat for too many hours in our air-conditioned house watching bad science fiction television on cable. Part of me knows that it would be too easy for me to zone out in front of Netflix Streaming or Amazon Instant Video between drop-off and pick-up, to not try because of the fear of failing, of not being good at something so wrapped up in who I think I am.
But I can’t do that. On this, my day off from the bike path, I’m sitting here on the patio of the one Panera in town with my laptop and two glasses of water, out of the house where the temptation to lie down on the sofa and take a nap might be too great [and I've only done that once in almost four weeks, after my DTaP booster], writing.
Will I write tomorrow? I know better than to promise that, because I know from too many personal experiences that breaking that promise will only lead me down a spiral of beating myself up over breaking the promise (not, as would be logical, picking myself up and starting over again the next day with a clean slate).
But just like every day with my girls, and every day with the love of my life, and every day on the bike path, I’m gonna try.
It won’t be perfect, but I’m gonna try.