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Tuesday October 26, 2004: Finding Enough Time


            Linda and I were talking about working exercise into our schedule when kids were part of the picture. As single moms, we've both heard all the shows and lectures about how you have to set time aside for yourself.  Setting aside personal time would be easy for us, if we could just give up more of our sleep time. Unfortunately, we've already pared sleep down to the minimum hours required to drag ourselves through the day. How many hours sleep does a single mom need? At least one hour more than whatever she's getting. Single moms' conversations center around "I really need X hours of sleep but I can routinely get by with X hours and in a pinch I can make it through several days with X hours (if I have a crash day afterwards)."

            When the boys and my divorce were both young and demanding, I went to every lecture they offered at work on how to increase your energy. The lecturers who were big on exercise suggest that women should get up an hour early to walk or run, or people could stop by the gym on the way home to put in a half hour or hour of work on machines. This was something you did to be good to yourself. Nice idea if you didn't have nearly two hours a day taken up with commuting back and forth to a full-time job, or if you had someone else to pick up the kids. 

         One perky little motivational speaker took a different approach, bouncing around the front of the room and very cheerfully expounding her secrets for an energy-filled life.  Gosh, it looked wonderful to have that much energy, and she claimed most of it was based on attitude. I could do that, I thought. No wait -- I'd been doing that. Think you're energetic and throw yourself in high gear --that attitude dug up the last of your extra reserves, getting you through a few additional days of hectic activity until you reached a weekend. If I needed to push through weekends as well, I could draw on enthusiasm to make it several weeks non-stop, though eventually I always ended up crashing. How bad is it when a single mother considers her greatest luxury to be coming down with a cold severe enough to justify staying home from work and sleeping all day while the kids are at school? 

         This wasn't what the motivational speaker had in mind.  Her biggest secret for unlimited energy was to figure out how much sleep you actually needed and then be sure to get that amount each night. She was a wife and had her own company of managing consultants, but she obviously wasn't a mother. Sleep? How many parents do I know that get enough sleep?

            My life could never fit into her reality.  At the time, my life was painfully stuck in the fast lane.  The alarm went off at five so I could get myself and the boys ready for the day. Laundry, bills, and correspondence were thrown into the morning time slot before getting the boys up for breakfast. Breakfast was scarfed down while checking school papers and signing permission slips and reviewing plans for the day, and then everyone was hustled out the door so I could drop the boys off at the sitter's and still get in to work on time.

            By cutting my lunch hour short, I could leave work a half-hour early, and that half-hour would allow me twenty minutes inside a store, with ten to fifteen of those minutes spent running up and down aisles pulling items off shelves.  I could check out with my items and drive the long commute home and still pick up the children from the baby-sitter's before six p.m. By hitting grocery stores two or three times a week, the other nights were free for school activities or sports, or maybe hitting stores for supplies and clothes.

            Once home, check on homework, get dinner started, unpack groceries, take care of dishes. After dinner came homework, one-on-one time, and bedtime rituals.  I still insisted on singing each child his special goodnight song, one of the few moments where I actually slowed down. Finally, time came to finish up odds and ends (or my own projects) and then crawl into bed exhausted.  It was the life of a single parent, and most days it worked. It worked by cutting back sleep to the bare-bones minimum needed to avoid falling asleep and either running the car off the road, or toppling into one's dinner plate, mid-sentence.

             The idea of stopping by the gym on the way home for a regular exercise class? That goes out with window with kids who have to be the sports field, or with meetings scheduled for six or seven at the school (three boys at three different schools adds up to an amazing number of school meetings, conferences, open-houses, award banquets, and concerts). The idea of stopping by the gym goes out the window when a child tells you he has a project due tomorrow and needs to be driven to the library before it closes at 7:00, or that all the mothers are expected to bring a homemade dish to pass at the school meeting tomorrow (at the very least, that means squeezing in another trip to the grocery store).

               The problem with much of what the motivation speakers focus on -- more activity, more enthusiasm -- may work for extroverts, but it's death to us guilt-ridden working moms who happen to be introverts. To be pushed through more events, and work them into an already busy schedule, leaves none of the quiet time necessary for recharging an introvert's energy levels. Of course, I'm blaming it on being introvert -- maybe it's just motherhood that does a number on energy levels.

            I don't remember my mother being this tired when she reared us. I may be remembering those years only from a child's perspective, or perhaps I'm failing to take into account that my mom is an extrovert and thrives on a busy schedule. Maybe life today has just sped up until it's all any parent can do to keep up with career and family life.

         I've never regretted the time spent rearing children. I knew whatever sacrifices I made would take only a small portion out of my life and would make a major difference in theirs. I just laugh to think how many of us mothers have come to think of sleep and/or scheduled exercise time as luxuries, to be put to one side the minute other duties call. I think it challenges us to find new ways of working in exercises, both physical and spiritual.

To be continued........

Posted on Tuesday, October 26, 2004 at 05:07AM by Registered CommenterThe Skeptical Mystic | CommentsPost a Comment

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