Is there anything more annoying than a parent with all children recently in full-time nursery/school, shrugging their shoulders and saying “I don’t know what I’m going to do with myself!”
It’s so annoying. “I could think of a million things I would do,” you fume, as you push one kid in a buggy and shriek at the other one to hurry up, undo a packet of Pom Bears with one hand, answer the phone to your husband who wants to talk about a parking ticket – where, why, how, WHY?? – steering the buggy with your knees, drinking a flat white and blowing your stupid bloody hair out of your eyes that just will not fucking behave.
I would have a massage, you think. I would calmly re-organise neglected corners of my house. I would read a book. I would fuck off for hours into town with no-one asking where I was going or what time I would be back. I would get really fit. I would cook elaborate dinners. I would write a novel. I would re-do the garden in the manner of the grounds at Sudeley Castle. I would… I would… I would…
And then it comes to it and it’s your turn. You come back to an empty house after dropping the youngest wherever and you’ve made no plans because what if the youngest freaks out and wants to come home, is sad, tired, lonely, can’t deal with it. So you sit blankly, staring into space, going “Shit, I don’t know what I’m going to do with myself.” It’s just one of those miracles of physics that the less time you have, the more you find to do. Give me an hour and I will give you the world – give me all day and I will fall to drink and despair.
I am lucky. Sam is going to nursery 9.30am – 3pm only two days per week this term, so I have got time to get used to this sudden sheer-cliff drop of empty hours until he goes full-time next year from 9-3pm every day.
I am choosing to relish the feeling and trying not to panic. It’s panic that makes you do insane things like get a puppy or have another baby. And I am also trying to luxuriate in the free time. All I did before this was complain that I never had any free time to just read a book or go for a walk. But when it comes to it, you can feel a bit guilty about just sitting about all day reading your surprisingly gripping history book about piracy in the Caribbean in the 18th Century or memorising the calls of of English garden birds with your Chirp! app. This is despite spending the last five years mired up to the eyeballs 24 hours a day in shit, vomit, smeared food, snot and tears. And the kids were a bit messy, too.
To feel adrift in a sudden influx of spare time must be natural and is probably just some sort of process one emerges out the other side of. Like having your eyesight corrected, or your hearing, or getting a new leg or a dishwasher or a twin tub – anything that frees you both mentally and physically, it all must require adjustment.
At the moment I am looking around the room that I occupy in our house, “my” room, which resembles nothing so much as a “junk” room. As I suspect I will be spending quite a lot of time in here, I think I might have to smarten it up – Polyfilla and paint over that awful crack on that wall, throw out those boxes, store that wrapping paper properly, find a new place for those suitcases.
And get myself somewhere to sit that is not my desk – for all that important pirate history book-reading. At the moment I am eyeing up this Soderhamn chaise longue from Ikea at £335.
Although this Kolton chair, from Made.com at £449 also looks jolly comfy.
I am recently in the position of kids at nursery/school and recently redundant so I had this feeling to the MAX…..and yet two months in and I am finding myself so f’ing busy….laundry, cleaning, redecorating the house at snails pace, attempting to revive my social life (which has been flat-lining for about 4 years) and more laundry, plus all the extra curricular clubs I now ferry the kids to. I often wonder, as I slurp cold coffee in between tasks, how the hell did I ever manage to do all this and have a full time (40hrs per week) job?? I WANT MY FREE TIME BACK! i want to have a massage/read a book/go into town for hours on end etc etc at least now and then….. I love my children, but they stle my free time and replaced it with housework and taxi-duty.
and can I just add … Crap! I should have been in the shower instead of reading your excellent blog! will be late for school now! Whoops! #badmummy
Do not get a puppy! I see those ghastly women, all relieved and pleased with themselves in their activewear, having dropped their kids at school, saying to themselves thank god for Fido (insert middle-class dog name of choice here), so I have something to go home to and someone who still needs me. They smile and shrug and say to me in my shop, no really I would like a ‘little job’ but what with the dog and the holidays …..
Reclaim and retain your independence. Plus it’s good practice for when they really do leave home. I repeat. Do not get a puppy!
I agree. Definitely don’t get a puppy. You won’t be able to go into shops and all the north London parents will do that horrified “Argh! Kids! Stay AWAY from the ravenous beast!” when they see you coming along with it.
Sue Madelin says
My number 1 top tip – never feel guilty for doing nothing. You have many years of 24/7 attentiveness to make up for. (And that doesn’t completely stop just because they’re at school so there are many more years to come.)
Enjoy your feeling of freedom – even if the only thing you can think of doing is staring at the wall for a week wondering what to do.
I love my boys but having just deposited number 2 son back at uni after a 5 week Easter break (yes! 5 WEEKS!!!) we are again relishing the peace at home. (Well it would be peaceful if the flipping decorators weren’t here making noise and dust and wanting endless cups of tea all bloody day – but it’ll be worth it in the end I expect.) They grow up so fast and before you know it they’ll have left home – so get practiced at pleasing yourself before you forget how to. (Oh – and if you can spend some of that free time with your hubby before you both forget why you liked each other in the first place then so much the better.)
Liz B says
What is the book please? I am intrigued!
It is called The Republic of Pirates by Colin Woodard. You do need a basic interest in pirates to get the most out of it, but I think it is really engaging and well-written.
My other down-time pursuit, not that you asked, is learning to differentiate between all kinds of birdsong, using the Chirp! app. Engrossing.
Angela Forrester says
Hi Esther Love your blog!
This post reminded me of an aphorism I heard from an old boss which was ‘if you want something done, ask a busy man’ (or woman of course).
I’m looking forward to that free time too and am full of hugely grandiose ideas of achieving fitness, filed paperwork and home-baked bread etc – so I’ll be reading the Empty Nest posts with interest!
Becky B says
i tried to make sure I had days where I was only thinking about me, I could do dentist/doctor/hair appointments without a child in tow , after those and the household chores – which never seem to get smaller, I read books ,watched things videoed (yes i am that old lol), I had time to organise birthdays, Christmas, anniversary, what we would do in the school holidays. I think I even started cross stitch lol.
the time seems to get filled and you wonder if you only have the time travelling from/to collect kids to be alone in.
I can’t tell you how timely this post is. 6 yr old already at school & 4 yr old twins starting in Sept. I too have the same grandiose ambitions, but will no doubt spend several hours staring at the wall. Also, the guilt thing resonates – the sheer luxury & indulgence of reading a book (pirates or not) all day….but could I actually do it & not feel the guilt.?Then I remember those days with 3 under 3 at home all day, on a Tuesday, in winter & my husband going off to work & how I wanted to cling onto his legs to stop him leaving me where I wouldn’t get a second to myself & seemed to survive on cold tea & half a biscuit! Maybe I’ve earned this time to work out “what next”, while finally sorting the house & not being interrupted every few mins by a small person needing my attention. Looking forward to reading future posts on this new phase of life…
Clara, you must always have those 3 under 3 freezing Tuesday winter days in the back of your mind when you consider your free time. What would THAT Clara want you to be doing. Sounds like you’re on the path though.
Hi man! My tip is to move to the country and get both puppy AND chickens, and then you can while away the hours trying to ensure one doesn’t eat the other. HB
… *and* have another baby…
Esther, could you write something about working from home sometime? How to get things done professionally from home. I don’t have kids but have been married for 1.5 years and I am (supposed to be) an art maker. Things have gotten better a little recently but after leaving university I have had the problem of too much time on my hands. I don’t know how to be productive on my own without a community encouraging me. Thanks for your blog and recipe rifle, as well!
Mary this is a very good question. It’s hard to be efficiently productive when you are in a creative industry and not in a place of work. It’s a good topic, I’ll have a think about it.
Last time I had this sort of downtime (toddler at nursery and baby still cooking) I had a complete breakdown and decided my new ‘style’ was to wear knee length Boden-print wrap dresses every day… I almost binned my entire wardrobe and bought loads of frumpy stuff that just isn’t ‘me’. Months later, I woke up and thought, where the f*ck are my boyfriend jeans and Stan Smiths?? It was mental!
This time round (toddler now at school! and new baby starting nursery in Sept) I’m hoping to lap up every luxurious minute of alone-time. I’m going to nap in the day, get massages, go to the gym, walk the dog for hours on end, read books, stare at walls…and I can’t bloody wait. I miss my children like a pain in the chest when they’re gone but I’m bloody well going to enjoy it at the same time this time round!!
i got a puppy and what a cluster fuck that turned out to be. i’ve never voluntarily touched a dog in my life so i have no idea what i was thinking, biggest mistake of my life. you’ll never hear me say ‘thank god for ‘
It’s natural when any busy stage comes to an end. When I was doing horrible professional exams as well as working full time I used to fantasise about all the things I would do once the exams were over, but then once they were I felt strangely bereft and didn’t know what to do with myself. And it’s so true that, as you say, the less time you have, the more you find to do and yet vice versa having a full day of freedom can revolve around making toast and posting a letter…I always find making a list, starting with small achievable things (also useful in case you get a call from the nursery) helps. That is if you’re the sort of person who finds crossing things off a list very satisfying.
I am off the radar for two glorious days a week whilst mine are at school, I nap, I read, I schlep about. I go for smear tests without having to tell the world and having to arrange complex childcare arrangements. My biggest fantasy in those dark dark days of winter afternoons with a baby and a toddler was being on a long haul flight by myself eating and watching films. And lo, off to Mexico in May for work. I plan to savour every moment on that plane (and then shit myself when We land and I have to work) X