i think i’m alone now

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.

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About Jason Sperber

Jason Sperber is a stay-at-home-dad of 2 daughters and a writer in Bakersfield, California. He blogs (very infrequently) at daddy in a strange land and co-founded Rice Daddies, the group blog by Asian American dads, and is the resident hapa Trekkie at The Nerds Of Color. Follow him on Twitter at @dad_strangeland.
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10 Responses to i think i’m alone now

  1. superha says:

    All we can do is try. Awesome, Jason. The trying, plus the Tiffany reference in the title.

  2. lucymfel says:

    Something that I know about myself is that I am not consistant with doing things. I will try something and give up just as quickly. These days I am trying to take the advice of my mate @rj_c and do something for one hour for myself. For the last week and a half, I have been trying to walk the dog at least once a day or do some form of physical activity like doing Zumba with our 20 month old. You committed some time to writing and it turned out to be a post that I can relate to Jason. Thanks for doing so. Regards from the island of Puerto Rico.

  3. Lisa Wuertz says:

    So many things about this that I resonate with. Particularly the part about licking the wounds after after the painful career path realization. Our kids are growing so quickly. For now I think I want to homeschool and we are having fun doing preschool that way, but part of me is afraid to not have the kids around because then I’ll have to deal with those wounds and figure out what the heck I’m going to do with my life. Thank you for sharing.

  4. like that yo gabba gabba episode says “keep trying, keep trying, don’t give up, never give up.”

  5. monica q says:

    Honest and touching. Made me tear up a bit and giggle. Best wishes!

  6. kellydamian says:

    Good to see you writing. I look forward to hearing about that first draft of your novel. Onward!

  7. Jonathan says:

    Congrats! My own start of being alone was last year, when the younger sister started Chinese preschool. I got about 3.5 hours in the middle of each day … and still never felt like I had enough time. We’ll see if this year is any different, now that they’re both at the same school. (But so far, I haven’t had a “typical” week — we’ve had illness, travels, out-of-town visitors … I’m still waiting for this alone time to materialize.)

  8. blotzphoto says:

    Great post! I am making the same SAHD transition this year, with the Grommit in preschool and his big sisters in full day I too am faced with almost 3 whole hours on my own. It is actually a challenge. Don’t feel guilty about taking some time to veg out is my opinion. They are gonna run you ragged all summer, this may be the only chance you get to just relax!

  9. Jeff says:

    As a sometimes tortured writer,
    and a SAHD who’s nearly out to pasture (the older now five weeks into full-time preschool and the younger nearing his own date with Montessori), with a hazy-at-best career future, yep, I can relate and appreciate.
    I’ll say this: the public act of writing is in itself
    a big benefit for others facing similar questions. I won’t burden you by labeling your post inspirational, but I will say I truly appreciate your honest perspective.
    If a writer’s work does anything, I believe it
    provides a welcome push to the reader to get off their proverbial couch.
    So thanks for writing —

  10. I’m glad I came across your blog today. I’ve been in a ‘licking my wounds’ kind of state about my work recently and this post was the right thing for me to read. Thank you for writing it.

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