I was talking with someone recently about growing as a person — both at work and outside of work. We can continue to expand our knowledge and skills in ways that benefit all aspects of our person.
I was caught off guard with the question: “So, what do you do outside of work?”
After thinking for only seconds, I responded with what first came into my head.
“Well, I write. A lot.” I write in my blog, and have been blogging since 2009 (though I have since taken my original blog down). I write here on Medium occasionally with content that I don’t feel fits into my blog. I journal every day, recapping the minute details that no one cares about but me. And I try to grow and stretch in other ways — submitting to publications, or engaging in some type of self-prescribed creative practice.
I preciously guard this time to myself: every morning from the time I wake up around 5:30 until everyone else stirs about an hour later. Time in the evening between when the kids are tucked in and 8:00, usually another half an hour. And Sunday mornings — my time, to myself, from the time I wake up until about 8:30 a.m.
I use that time not only for writing, but for reading, planning out my day, or anything that I need to do for the entire family, like signing up for an event.
I spend time with my family.
“I am trying to cultivate my children. Raising small humans is hard.” Pause. “But not in a helicoptery-parent type of way.” Very intentionally, my kids are not involved in a lot of activities. They go to LEGO club one day per week after school for an hour. Sometimes in the Fall and Spring they opt for Run Club, which is a one-hour, once-a-week commitment, for only four weeks. In the summer I make them do swimming lessons. And that’s it.
On the weekends, we usually sit down for some type of “creative time.” They can write, draw, paint. They could opt for puzzles. We have designated Quite Time on the weekends for two hours a day, where they can nap, read, or play quietly (and the adults can nap — see what I’m going for here?) They have specific start-and-stop times for screen time every day so there is no arguing.
When there is no school in the summer, we add Bitsbox, Duolingo, or Zoombinis to replace homework time, and they go to an all-day Montessori camp. If I could add one activity, it would be something related to music, but haven’t yet figured out how to work that into our days.
Year-round, we make use of our memberships to the Art Institute of Chicago, Field Museum or Museum of Science and Industry (alternating every year), The Art Institute of Chicago, and Brookfield Zoo. I take them to a Unitarian Universalist church on Sundays so they can learn to be good people.
I always carry a stack of notecards in my purse with colored pencils, and at any time, anywhere, they can ask for a notecard and write or draw something. Interesting pictures have come out of inspiration from the Art Institute and church.
On weekends, we do Family Game Time, where a board game is selected from our large collection, and we play for about an hour. Twice a week in the evenings, we play Mario Kart on the Nintendo Switch as a family, affectionately referred to as “Showdown Sunday” and “Throwdown Thursday.”
I engage with others.
“And I am part of a support group for parents that have lost babies. That support group was there for me after my daughters died. Now, three years later, I can be there for other parents.”
I still go to support group meetings, though usually mentally prepared that it is not “for me” but “for the other parents” in the room, to provide support. I can speak from the “other side” of the acute grief that is so intense immediately after losing a child. Does it get better? Yes. Will it ever be normal in the way that it was before loss? No. It is a new normal.
I participate in many events with the group throughout the year. A private Facebook group provides additional support. And I speak on parent panels at the local hospital, sharing my story and the stories of my daughters, hoping to educate hospital medical staff in how to care for a patient like me.
How do I fit in anything else?
As much as I love the way that I spent my time, there is always something else that I wish I could be doing. Maybe I would brush up on my Spanish skills along with the kids, or teach myself to code. Exercise different parts of my brain.
Physical exercise is always an aspect I struggle to make time for. Finding a consistent yoga routine has been an ongoing challenge. I could go in the evenings, but find that I am way too tired. I could carve out some time during “normal business hours” since my job allows that type of flexibility, but find that the amount of work never decreases and I will then need to perhaps work during time that I would rather be spending with my family. Weekends are an obvious, easy option, but then I am taking away from our time together as a family.
So what do I do? After I have written it all out, it seems like a lot. And at the same time feels like there is always something more I want to do. If only I didn’t like sleep so much…