The To-Do List in My Head versus Leisure Time

I read a line the other day that hit me where I live: “My son has my cortex.”

This is how I feel, not just about M, but about the whole division of my labor. I don’t know if it’s a working-outside-the-home thing, or a mom/parent thing, or just a forbidden-word “busy” person thing.

I am at my desk about 40 hours a week. I usually even eat lunch at my desk. While I am sitting at my desk, I have a constant list of stuff in my head: the bills that need to be paid this week; the menu plan and shopping list for the week; blog posts I want to write; the stuff I have to do to get out of town this weekend. (Pack and clean, pack and clean. Oh, and make more soup.)

So while I am physically at my desk for up to 40 hours a week, and commuting about an hour a day (30 minutes to and from), my head is not 100% given over to the work I do. Or not 100% of the time.

My head is full of background noise. I don’t know how to make it stop. How do I make it stop?


Which brings me to the idea of leisure time.

First off, I will cop to the fact that I’m not doing too badly in this area. On a daily basis, I take about 20 to 30 minutes to read. That’s my daily leisure time. My commute to and from work would be counted by time-use researchers (yes, such a job exists) as leisure time. After all, after I drop the children off at school (taking the children to school would be counted as “child care” by time-use researchers), I have about 30 minutes of, say, listening to NPR or Chvrches.

So, yeah, I have about an hour, hour-and-a-half of leisure time daily. That’s not too shabby. For reference, according to a 2012 survey, the average amount of daily leisure time is 5.1 hours.

According to Pew, fathers get more daily leisure time than mothers. Now, here I will certainly defend my husband, who works between 10 and 12 hours a day during the week (and often 5 to 7 hours on Saturday). If you count gym as leisure time (the survey referenced above would, I believe, as it falls under “sport”), three days a week he gets about an hour, hour and a half of that. Plus, Dan is the guy who comes home and turns on the television. At 9 p.m.

He doesn’t play golf. He doesn’t have a poker game weekly, let alone monthly. If he gets anything over and above what I get, I suppose it would be his “steak night” with his buddy about once a month. And seeing as I average a GNO about that often — Dan and I are pretty even on leisure time. He may get two or three hours more a day, but that’s just because he will watch television until midnight, whereas I go to bed at 10 p.m.

Anywho, I am also interested in reading Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time by Brigid Schulte, which parses her experience of busyness. When she kept a time-use journal and took it to a time-use researcher, he found 27 hours of leisure time in her week. She was rather surprised until she looked at what he counted as leisure time, for example, 10 minutes of laying in bed listening to the radio before she got up and the time she spent waiting for a tow truck when her car broke down. I seldom recommend Terry Gross, but her interview with Schulte is a peek into the way modern work, school, and parenthood have changed the parameters of what we consider leisure time. And how, mostly, that’s not a good thing.


And all of this leads up to me telling you: I’m off to the woods tomorrow with the family and many good friends. I am going to cram in all the leisure I can. I will be off the grid. Have a great weekend!

What do you think? Should leisure time be longer than 10 minutes? And take place outside of your car (if you’re commuting to work)?

The Great Nanny Experiment of 2012

Last May, when school was ending and summer time was rolling around, I realized I didn’t want to spend my mornings rousting my children out of bed to take them to daycare.

As far as I saw it, I had two choices:

1. Quit my job.
2. Hire a nanny.

We went with the second option. (The first is always very, very tempting.)

It was the right decision.

I’m not sure I will be able to adequately express the difference having a nanny made in my life. But I’m going to try.

Before I start to gush, I will state upfront that she wasn’t perfect. Kerry (not her real name) likes country music, which is probably about the only genre of music I don’t like. My kids learned some country songs over the summer, and also learned that “po-po” is slang in some circles for “police”. We’ll call it “broadening their horizons”.

Kerry also… how do I say this delicately? She could have chosen more modest clothing. Kerry is a big-boned, curvy girl, and likes short jean shorts and tank tops. I’m not sure if I had the right to say anything about this. (What say you, readers?)


I’m not sure how much my children appreciate the fact that they didn’t have to go to daycare this summer. They slept in every morning (except that one time Flora got up at 2 a.m.). They played with their cousins several times a week (my niece and nephew were over Bella and Tadone’s quite often). They were able to take swim lessons.

Kerry had no problem driving the kids around. We installed carseats in her back seat, and she took them to the zoo, the Aviary, the mall, the park, the pool, and so on. She bought them little gifts. One night, she even took the girls to the Butler County Fair — they had a blast, of course.

This is what hiring a nanny did for me, though:

First, mornings were a breeze. I got up, got ready, got out the door. I didn’t have to herd the children out of bed, to the kitchen table, back upstairs to get dressed; I didn’t have to hassle my husband about getting out of bed. I came downstairs, poured myself some coffee, and drove to work.

It was a lovely, quiet time.

Second, after work I got home an entire hour earlier than I do during the school year. I didn’t have to run around picking up the children from their school and daycares. We had an extra hour to play games, go for walks, read books or do crafts. Evenings were *relaxing*, not the usual mad dash to bedtime.

Third, my house was clean. So clean. Kerry guided the girls through picking up the house, putting clean dishes and clean laundry away, making their beds. She got them to vacuum, she showed them how to load the dishwasher. And so when I came home at 4:30 p.m., things were neat and organized. It was so… light to come home to a picked up house. I breathed more easily, I didn’t feel so overwhelmed.

Lastly were little odds and ends I could depend on Kerry for: tiny errands to pick up dry cleaning or groceries, having the kids bake or make pizza dough, running them to meet me at the mall when I had an eye appointment. It’s probably all these little things that assumed the most weight. The fact that I neither had to bug Dan nor do it myself — stop for milk, grab a birthday card, handle two children while the other one had an appointment.

Sometimes, moms joke about “having a wife”. Whether we work full-time or part-time outside of the home, or are home full-time with our children, sometimes we wish for another body to send on errands, another body to occupy one or two children while we do laundry or cook dinner — or conversely, a body to do the chores while we watch the kids. In most households, we moms still take on the majority of housework and childcare. Even though dads are more involved, it’s still not a 50-50 split in most households. So sometimes we wish for that third body. (Or telekinesis — just me?)

Having a nanny — a childcare worker who came to the house — was like having a wife for me. It was rather glorious.

Overall, of course, and most importantly, Kerry was great with the kids. She interacted with them, guided them through their day, keeping them busy with fun and with chores. Michael adored her. Kate and Flora listened to her (there was an end-of-summer dust-up) and enjoyed being with her. She really loved them (and has already offered to babysit when we need her).

So, I can easily forgive her for teaching my kids a couple of country songs. I’m not sure, if she weren’t a teacher and could work for us year-round, how we would have kept her on. It sure would be nice if she could pick up the girls from school and get their homework underway. But as it is, we’ll have to muddle along without her… (I have some ideas about that).

Do you sometimes wish for a wife?

Well, I Tried

So I completely fucked up my childcare situation — okay, not completely, but allow me my dramatic language for a minute — and I’m kinda cranky about it.

I don’t think the two halves of that sentence go together.

I have complained before about my situation in the evening, e.g. the endless driving. I thought I had found a cost-effective, win-win situation (no, not a new job), and was all set to implement it this week.

And it all went to shit.

I should probably back up a little bit.


I don’t know when I got the idea to ask Tiffany (not her real name) to babysit full-time for us in our home. Tiffany is one of our regular babysitters. She has known the girls since they started at the Day School (I think Kate was 3). Tiffany left the DS, but she offered her babysitting services to those parents, and a few of us have taken her up on that.

Tiffany is a sweet girl, likes my kids, and is responsible: doesn’t let them veg out on TV, cleans up after meals and playtime, gets the kids to bed on time. My kids like her, too.

We have *never* had a problem with her.

Recently, Tiffany lost her full-time job. And she’s pregnant. The two may be related, but I don’t know the particulars, and that is for Tiffany to work out with her former employer.

So, she became readily available. She was always willing to babysit, just about any day or time. We asked her to watch the children the week between Christmas and New Year’s — the kids could sleep in, I could leave early in the morning having only myself to get ready. During that week, Dan, Tiffany, and I talked about her watching the kids at our home until she delivered her baby in May. Maybe doing a little driving to pick them up. We worked out a plan that had her working for us part time — Flora in school full time, Michael and Kate at the DS three days a week, Tiffany picking up from the DS and watching Kate and Michael at home all day twice a week. If Flora had half days or days off because of holidays, Tiffany was available.

I was very enthusiastic about this idea. I saw a future where I could leave work, maybe make ONE stop instead of two or three, walk in the door by 5:15 at the latest. Occasionally, I could have her switch on the slow cooker or rice maker so meals would come together more quickly. She would empty the dishwasher so I wouldn’t have to do the nightly dance of empty dishwasher, fill dishwasher, clean kitchen, run dishwasher before bed.

It was going to be great.

Tiffany flaked out on us. She doesn’t want to drive in the snow. Her PCP said she needed to get more rest, and shouldn’t be babysitting so much — which REALLY? How does she think I did it, pregnant with Michael, with two kids AND A FULL-TIME FUCKING JOB? Since time immemorial, Tiffany, mothers (to-be) have been sleep deprived, physically overextended wrecks. So good luck with that.

Where was I?

Oh, yeah. Flaked out 21-year-old. About two days into our new arrangement.


In the meantime — and I will make this as short and non-ranty as I can — DCL simmered with resentment because she wasn’t watching our children any longer, hence is not making as much money as she was, and so won’t watch our children any more. Bridge, burned. (I was unaware of the simmering resentment/rage until I received a pissed off email. After my husband read it, he said, “Yeah, that’s how a nice Christian woman says, ‘Fuck you.'”)

Fuckity fuck.

This is where I start thinking I would’ve avoided all this angst (and eff-bomb dropping) if I were a SAHM.

Boat, sailed.


I worry about Tiffany, and I was hoping that babysitting for us would give her a little money in her pocket, a little stability. Dan and I do really like her, and she’s going to be struggling more once her child is born. This post is more about my frustration than any anger at anyone. As far as DCL, she is entitled to her anger at us; we did not give her enough notice about pulling the children out of her care. I wish she had *talked* to me instead of emailing me. That made me a little sore.

Changes need to happen in my life, and changing up my childcare arrangements to accommodate me better was supposed to be a little boost in the direction I want my life — and my time — to go. It’s fallen through, and my disappointment is keen.

At least we’ve eliminated one pickup (sorry, DCL). Kate and Michael are together, so drop-offs and pick-ups are shorter; I’m driving a little less.

Lining, silver.

What do you do when your best laid plans go to hell?

Random Thoughts: The Head-Spinning Edition

Well, that was fun. Civil disagreement, uncivil disagreement, misunderstandings, hugs, and a lot of interesting views. Thanks.

What shall I tackle next? The End of Men? Are “men finished“? What about men and women moving between spheres? Are women the new men?

What about peanut butter? Smooth or crunchy? What about organic peanut butter?

I prefer to buy organic peanut butter because it usually has two ingredients (peanuts, salt). Organic peanut butter drives Dan batshit crazy.

As you may or may not know, organic peanut butter tends to separate, with the oil coming up to the top. Before you use it, you have to stir it and reincorporate the oil.

Dan hates doing that. I will admit, the process can be messy when opening a new jar. Oil can slop out and run down the sides; it’s oily, messy, sometimes sticky, a PITA.

But it’s not exactly the end of the world.

Usually, once mixed together and refrigerated, the peanut butter stays mixed.

So I keep buying organic PB. And Dan keeps bitching about it.

Some things never do change.

Although, I did buy this last week for a temporary reprieve:

So there.

What’s your favorite controversy this week?

I Have to Come Back to This

“My strong feeling is that women have changed enormously to accommodate being mothers and working. But the world of work has not changed to accommodate the fact that now almost half the people in work are women and many, many hundreds of millions of them are mothers. … Why should I deliberately limit my family because work is too hard to combine with motherhood? How about work becoming slightly easier to combine with motherhood so that women can fulfill both the things they want to do? Which is to have wonderful children which are the great lights of most of our lives and to have a career….

“Don’t let work structures dictate the concerns of your heart.”

— Allison Pearson, author, I Don’t Know How She Does It and I Think I Love You

This is a quote I heard over the weekend on NPR’s Fresh Air. I immediately fell in love with this woman (hear the entire interview here). I have so many thoughts about it, I can’t even begin to sum them up. But I wanted to get this quote out there. What do you think?