Ever since my kid started all-day Kindergarten last fall, I’ve had more time on my hands than I’m comfortable with. Now, if I was better motivated, I could have been working out several hours a day. I could have a spotless house and beautifully landscaped yard. I could maybe have learned how to code, to play guitar, or Portuguese (all things I claim I’ve wanted to learn for years). But, the reality is, I am not…that motivated.
My workload as a freelance consultant often comes in fits and starts, by the week as well as within the day, and I often have unpredictable chunks of free time contrasted with clusters of crazy time. I make enough for our family budget, survival, nice things, and all that. I’ve not been compelled to seek out new business for more money within my current lifestyle. Besides, business development among the small business circles just isn’t my thing. I like to dig in and do the work, not “schmooze” to get the work.
I won’t make excuses for my lack of motivation with homey projects, but will just accept that that’s the way I am.
I also struggled with loneliness and a strange sense of confusion at the re-structuring of my place in the world as a mother of a school-age child—not a mother of a baby anymore. I tried volunteering a bit at the school and it was alright, though not enough to really give me a strong sense of purpose and not my thing, either. I like to work independently, take ownership, do something completely as much to the degree of excellence that I can for the purpose of getting it done well. I don’t like group exercises for the sake of getting people together and having people feel “involved” (though I do recognize the value in that, those kinds of activities are not a “good fit” for me, and something I do now and then, only to stretch myself and lend a hand when it’s needed). It would not be exaggerating to say I suffered from a mild case of depression this first year my child was in school full-time. Nothing debilitating, but I definitely don’t feel as though I’ve thrived.
And so, when the opportunity came to go back to work, for someone else, in an office, full-time, I took it.
In June I will start up again at the place I left nearly six years ago when my baby was born. I didn’t know back then it would go down the way it did. When the time came for me to go back to work after my maternity leave, though, I just wasn’t ready. Wasn’t able to do it. They very graciously let me consult, and I guess I proved myself valuable to them.
In many ways I always knew, or at least hoped, this day of going back would come. I never viewed myself as a person who would “stay home” all day every day for years and years and years. It was mostly about doing what I felt was best for my child when she was a baby, toddler, preschooler. Now that the bird has flown, I need to fly again too. I simply have too much time on my hands and am too much of a “worker bee” to know what to do with it when there’s such a surfeit. I used to not think I’d be this way. I’d make art! I’d volunteer! I’d learn guitar! But, I didn’t do those things. I sat around and read the web and wasted my free time.
I feel a little lame that I wasn’t able to carve out a fabulous independent freelancer bohemian life that could last forever and instead am running into the safe arms of an employer at a solid office job, but, that’s just the way it is. Working for someone else brings many comforts—the obvious things like I don’t have to come up with work (ie, no business development), I don’t have to buy new equipment, software (woah, Adobe with your new Cloud scheme!), etc. The company will have in its interest to keep me in the mix of being current and educated to par in what I need to know to do a job, rather than me alone worried about “keeping up,” then there’s insurance, retirement accounts, all those things. And there’s the camaraderie. I like to be in contact with people, bounce ideas, exchange pleasantries—even with some conflicts, human contact is good. I think that’s what I miss the most now that my daughter’s away for so many hours of the day. The dog doesn’t cut it for me.
I worry that having to be in-office, out of the house for prescribed times (and oh, the commute!) might stress me out and leave me with not enough free time. The time I actually see my kid is going to decrease and this is probably what worries me most of all.
Honestly, though, the time of day I am now not going to see her has not been the most quality time for us. The after-school hours are usually just her playing or watching TV and having a snack while I get more work done (my work always seemed to flow in at the end of the day rather than the mornings when I had more time to myself) or I’d be shuttling her to soccer or other activities. We’re fortunate to have found a great option for after school and summer camp activities that will keep her busy and I think she’ll really enjoy.
My daughter and I will still have our mornings together with no need for before-school care, thanks to a flexible schedule at my job, and I plan to make those quality. Engaged conversation, nice breakfasts, no rushing. And I’ll have a smidge of time before her bedtime once I get home. My rationale is that since I will have less actual time, I will be more directly focused on engaging with my daughter during the time I do have—and the net result might actually be an improvement. I might actually spend more quality time with her now that the boundaries between my life and my work will be more starkly drawn.
Aside from me feeling adrift in these hours at home, money and security matter, too. While I say that I make enough with my part-time independent gig, “enough” is relative. We need to save for retirement. We need to have financial buffers. I feel like I am placing myself in a more secure position by working for someone else full time. It will look better on my resume if I do have to leave this job (not thinking that far ahead, just thinking of how hard it is for the unemployed now to get jobs and how my “independent consulting” for all these years might appear suspicious in today’s economy). Plus, it just seems wrong for me to be hanging around the house and not working (earning!) to at least some amount closer to my full potential. And, I really do enjoy the work I do, too. Sometimes, I can’t stop working, even when I technically can and should go tend to something else. I can’t stop because I’m enjoying it and in the flow.
So, there you have it. On-ramping made easy. My employer made it as easy as they possibly could, though I’m under no illusions that the lifestyle adjustment will necessarily be easy. I think that I’ll survive, though, and it will be better for me once I get my stride. I recognize that the flexibility of my new job, and my husband’s current job, as well as our being able to find a good activity for our daughter to attend after school (with trusted transportation) are all key in making this work and I’m so thankful that these factors aligned.
Light basement flooding (that’s what I get for trying to be “green” and catch a dripping faucet) ruins some college-era artwork that really needed to be thrown out anyway. I’ve grown and so much now is digital and client-based it was neat to see hand-drawn bits of history of who I once was (even with all the angst). Cool thing: I can salvage some leftover art papers for my kid’s projects. How symbolic is that?
I came across this article yesterday—on new research showing that we’re more focused and creative in the great outdoors—and it really struck me—I needed to get out into nature. I’d skipped running outside all weekend, trying to do new workouts and get over my lingering cold issues and so by then, I was longing for it. I didn’t feel like running, however, after doing this new DVD for the first time Saturday, my muscles were still ridiculously sore. (I really like Cathe Friedrich. She’s no-nonsense, really fit and older than me! An inspiration of what I could become, fitness wise, if I get my act together…On the other hand, I can’t say I love the new yoga DVDs I got, a Tara Stiles set. She’s kind of mumbly and the moves were really hard on the one I tried to do, with her offering no modifications and I miss the sanskrit terms, which add an air of specialness to it. Anyway, I want to like her, but we’ll have to see… )
I decided to walk around the local lake and take our dog—both new and different things for me as I usually run and I usually do not take the dog. It was really nice and I like to think of it as a bit of a “habit breaker.” I need to do more of these habit breaking things, and hopefully a book I’m reading, Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World, will help me. The book is about mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT), which has some good science behind it supporting mental health, peace and well being. (Yes, I am giving meditation another go, even after my disappointment over the summer.)
Each week of the reading will have two parts to it: a meditation exercise and habit breakers which are meant to free readers from their everyday, cyclical thinking. And, oh, do I need this. I am in quite a rut, but I do see trickles and flashes of sunlight way ahead of me at the end of some tunnel. The habit releaser for the first week is actually to sit in different chairs or alter the position of the chairs you use. I’ll do that while I’m working and eating. I do tend to sit in the same seat of the sofa all the time. (It will be good for my sofa, too to not be worn in the same place, ha ha!)
The walk around the lake was more immediately profound, though. It had the benefit of being outdoors, away from a screen and gave me the sense that I was doing something special and nice for someone else (my dog) at the same time. I learned, too, that it might be a good idea when I run to leave the headphones at home. While I don’t always have the time it takes to walk instead of run, and most of the time I do want the exercise of a good run rather than walk, I could probably benefit more from the mind-clearing, rather than grooving to mid-90s gangsta rap, trying to convince myself the lyrics don’t matter and its the beats I love.