School project being completed at 10PM by kid after soccer practice: not exactly what I wanted to be assisting with, but nevertheless well worth my time. Why? Read on. (Yes, that is a pyramid made out of rice krispie squares.)
On Facebook last week, I posted a photo of my daughter at one of her track meets, and expressed my pride at being there to watch her race. Among the complimentary and sweet messages in response, an acquaintance posted this comment: Can you write a book or blog about how you manage your time?
It got me thinking: could this be a book that I could write? (Kevin says no; he thinks the subject would bore me silly.) (Note: “Could this be a book I could write?” is a surprisingly common question that I ask myself.) I do have a facility for squeezing a great deal into my day, including time for watching my kids do the wonderful and ordinary things that they do. And yet I often think my facility for organization has more to do with privilege than talent, because I don’t have to spend a great deal of time on tasks that may be essential or unavoidable to others, such as a long commute whether by car or public transit, or a full-time job performed primarily for money. Truth is, I resent and rage at any perceived waste of my time, such as waiting in long line-ups to sign official forms, or sitting in traffic on my way to an event I don’t want to attend. I’ve tried my best to work at being patient in these situations, and to learn patience and stillness from them, but I feel keenly any waste.
What’s being wasted? Time. Precious and diminishing with every breath.
Yet I’m quite willing to “waste” copious amounts of time doing things like this: meditating followed by journalling / blogging.
So it strikes me that a significant element to effective time management is defining what you consider wasteful, and rearranging your life to perform those tasks as infrequently as possible. Again, I recognize that it’s a privilege to be in position that would allow a drastic life change, like quitting a job, but most of us can probably find some small ways to change the lives we’re living if the lives we’re living cause us enough pain. How does change happen? In my own experience, it happens in a variety of ways, but most often it happens because I notice a point of discomfort, pain, unhappiness, and recognize that things I am doing (or not doing) are at least in part the cause of my unhappiness.
What comes next is that the routine has to change. The structure has to change. You can’t say “I’m going to make a change,” and not create the structure to support it. Small example: None of us are getting up at 5AM to run because we feel like it; it’s because we’ve decided it’s worth doing, and we’ve arranged our schedule, our habits, our routine to support our choice: we’ve checked the weather, we’ve laid out appropriate workout clothes, we’ve gone to bed a bit early, we haven’t had a drink, we’ve set our alarm, we’ve arranged to meet a friend or friends, and with the wheels in motion, we simply show up and do what we’d planned. But without the supporting structure to carry us through—to carry the idea through to action—we’d sleep in, telling ourselves, I’m too tired right now, I’ll just do it tomorrow, or I’ll run tonight instead, or … and the imagined moment never arrives.
It’s like painting lines for bike lanes sandwiched between live traffic and parked cars and then blaming cyclists and drivers for colliding. It would be more useful and more accurate to blame the structure instead, rather than putting the onus on human beings to make rational, correct, perfect choices at all times, in all situations, in all weathers. Human failure is inevitable. Therefore, change the structure, put the bicycles in a separated, unobstructed lane, and everyone will both feel and be safer.
Structure is what shapes our lives, far more than we accept or acknowledge, and this is true right down to whether or not we floss our teeth, or eat lots of veggies. That we are “creatures of habit” is a truism because it’s true. So scan your daily life for routines that aren’t serving what you value. Maybe there’s room for a change, here and there.
I realize it’s more philosophy than step-by-step advice, but here is my time management strategy in a nutshell.
1. Identify what matters to you.
2. Be curious, be open. Respond to pain or unhappiness (and to joy too!)—recognize it, don’t ignore it.
3. Figure out what changes are possible.
4. Don’t think about making a change, actually force change to happen by altering the routines and structures that govern your daily life.
One last piece of my time management strategy: celebrate every little thing worth celebrating. The sandwich that tastes good, the kid who is telling you a story, the green of the clover coming up in the back yard, being outside, a good nap, holding a 3-minute plank, chatting with other parents beside a soccer field on a particularly fine late-spring evening, driving with a child and having a side-by-side conversation. Don’t waste your own time by wishing you were somewhere else. Whatever it is, wherever you’re at, take it in. Tell yourself: This is not a waste. This is my life.
PS I feel like this post has a slightly preachy or evangelical tone. Please don’t think I think you should be getting up at 5AM to run; rather, I think you should be getting to do your own personal version of an early-morning run, that is, the thing that’s kind of hard but makes you feel alive.
Every now and again, I think, well this is a bit much. Last night, the power went out after Kevin and I had gotten the kids to bed … which was already really late in the evening. It had started to rain (though not enough to counter this drought we seem to be staggering into.) I showered in the dark, climbed the stairs to bed in the dark. Then, just as we were ready to sleep, the power popped back on, and with it all the lights we hadn’t turned off; and an annoying alarm began to sound loudly and regularly.
Kevin dashed to the basement to try various switches. Kids started coming to find me, one in tears: “I’m so tired, and I can’t sleep, and I’m scared, what is that?”
“I’m tired, too, and I can’t sleep either, but don’t worry, we’ll figure this out.”
But the alarm went on and on and on. Finally, fighting inertia, I went downstairs, where I discovered Kevin perched on a stool in the dining-room about to violently dismantle a smoke detector — except I realized in that moment that it wasn’t the smoke detector making all that noise, it was the carbon monoxide detector, plugged in to an outlet nearby.
“Wait!” I said.
Kevin paused, screwdriver in hand, curses temporarily stalled.
I unplugged the device from the wall.
Silence. Blissful peace and quiet.
Then Kevin had to clean up the mess he’d made from knocking the smoke detector around, and I plugged the carbon monoxide detector back in again, and all was well.
Because it had been a very long day already, this all felt a bit like the proverbial straw. But it wasn’t, I guess. I keep thinking the straw has landed, yet life goes on. We figure it out.
I went to CJ’s grade one class yesterday and read The Candy Conspiracy, and talked about writing and storytelling, and watched them make up their own stories about imaginary worlds made of candy. CJ and I walked home together, CJ chatting all the way. I ran twice yesterday, with a friend in the early morning and by myself at a soccer practice in the beautiful light of evening, covering 14km total, which is far and away the furthest I’ve run since last fall. Kevin took Suzi to the vet for a minor infection. I made quesadillas and beans & rice and asparagus for supper, and somehow we all managed to sit down together at 5PM to eat and share stories about our day, before rushing off to soccer and gymnastics. It was the usual jumble of quiet and rush, and being with others in so many different ways. So many different conversations I get to have every single day. Today I’ve done a radio interview to promote the launch, and met with my party planners to finalize logistics for Saturday. And that doesn’t include all the emails and texts to various friends, family, colleagues, acquaintances.
On today’s menu: samosas and pakoras for supper; piano lessons this afternoon; and this evening, two soccer practices and one rather-far-out-of-town game, necessitating reliance on the help of one grandma (my mom) and at least one friend (my co-coach Marnie). Maybe rather than worrying about needing to rely on others (for rides, for babysitting, for carpooling), I should embrace how much necessary connection it brings into my every day. Connection is good. Connection is community. Hopefully the giving and receiving is mutual or evens out in some cosmic way. It’s humbling to need help and to ask for it; I’ve gotten much better at it.
All for now.
I know he looks awesome, like a wild child, but he couldn’t see to play the piano, or soccer, and he absolutely refused to wear a headband or a ponytail of any kind–even the kind called a “man-bun” (why?!)–and even though his sister told him he looked “adorable,” after which she privately and with squeaky delight told me “he looks like a sweet little girl!” Anyway. What you can’t see are the snarls and dreadlocks. After his first soccer game, during which he really couldn’t see, he agreed to a summer cut, which he can grow out as long as he likes until next summer, when we will reassess again.
I mean, it’s not like he isn’t perfectly wonderful either way. He just looks a little more clean-cut than we’re used to.
For some reason, I also wanted to write briefly about our funny drive, yesterday evening, to see AppleApple’s play, with a car packed full of children. AppleApple was already at the theatre, and we were ferrying her three siblings, plus two friends, a boy and a girl, who were seated (unfortunately for them!) on either side of Albus, who had decided at the very last minute that he might need a snack to sustain him through the performance, and who had therefore brought along a plastic bag into which he’d stuffed two pieces of chicken/mushroom pizza. The entire drive was a comical, looping exchange, mostly between Albus and me, regarding the pizza-eating plan. Would he eat it now? Mightn’t he get pizza sauce on the people seated next to him, both dressed very nicely? Or even on himself, dressed rather less nicely? Or would he sneak it into the theatre for a mid-play nosh? (What? No!) But look–he’d conveniently brought along a plastic bag for sneaking purposes, he could tuck it under his shirt. Or would he eat it while walking from the parking garage to the theatre? Both pieces or just one? How hungry was he, exactly? Why? Why the pizza? Why now?
I think AppleApple’s friends were at least mildly amused by his antics, which certainly gave shape to the conversation for the whole drive. Something about the scene summed up for me what it means to have a teenager around: kid inventing his own fun out of a situation he doesn’t particularly want to be in, and parents not really getting what’s going on and being mildly amused/mildly annoyed by the whole scenario. Anyway, I wanted to remember it. So there you have it, for the record. He turns 14 in a week and a half. (I also cut his hair on Friday after school, but he doesn’t like me taking photos of him anymore. So that’s a photo of AppleApple mugging for the audience as the play was about to start–with her French horn, which she played beautifully to open the show.)
Coach and soccer player # 1.
My meditation focus for this month is: anxiety.
I spend way more time not in my office, writing, than sometimes I’d like. But hey. This is Life. For the record, here is what I do when I’m not in my office, writing. This is not a lifestyle endorsement, trust me. After reading this, you may suspect that I need an intervention.
Yesterday. Pack laptop, leave house at 2:30 to pick up AppleApple early from school, drop her at piano lessons; drive back to different school, pick up CJ for piano. There’s a lag between the two pick-ups, so I edit in the car for 25 minutes, shutting down my laptop only with great pain; CJ wonders why I’m late. Drive back across town to music school. Arrive in time for CJ to do his home reading out loud before his lesson, while I attempt to listen and finish the edit I’d abandoned in order to pick him up. Fooey calls around 4 to say she’s home (Albus texted earlier, same message; now I know where everyone is). Fooey has a friend over—is that okay? Okay, so long as dogs are crated. Soon, a text from Fooey: Can another friend come over too? Parenting by text; answer, no. I’m now downstairs at the music store buying an intro to cello book for AppleApple, and discussing the launch party plan for Candy Conspiracy with my friend Zoe who works at the music store. CJ’s lesson done at 4:30, home again, I set out food for supper, start oven to make store-bought french fries, chop veggies to go with hummus. I also telephone my friend Marnie to discuss our coaching plan for the boys’ team and to arrange transportation/child exchange for this evening; while on phone I wash the walls going up the stairs, because I happen to notice they are filthy and my mother-in-law and her new boyfriend are coming to visit this weekend; I’m sure they won’t care, but this is the kind of detail one notices under these circumstances. Kev home at 5:10. I’m changing into soccer gear, urging AppleApple to pack a supper for herself and get ready for rehearsal, and by 5:30, we are back in the car driving across town. I’ve eaten a pita smeared with baba ghanoush and a few red peppers. Traffic is nuts. I’m oddly calm—no, it isn’t odd, actually. I’m calm because just after we pull out of the driveway, I ask AppleApple to entertain me on the drive, to take my mind off the many anxieties about our evening’s schedule; and she tells me cool things her class learned during a lecture on quantum physics from a visiting scholar. And my anxiety melts away.
Drop off AppleApple, enjoy a few minutes alone in the car by listening to pop music on the radio—Chandelier gets stuck in my head; in fact, is still stuck in my head. Windows down. Sweet. Switch station at 6PM to listen to CBC news about NDP win in Alberta. Back home, grab a few fries, locate a watch, briefly talk to Kevin, clear table and help clean up from supper. At 6:40 everyone in the house is back in the vehicle, with a bag of balls in the trunk. Drive up the street and drop off CJ, pick up Fooey’s friend who is also on her team (a fair exchange of children!), visit briefly with Marnie, pick up coaching stuff. Drive across town and drop off Albus and Kevin at their practice field. Continue on to our practice field. Find parking, haul balls to field, talk to a friend whose son is playing in the time slot before ours.
Coach and soccer player #2.
Realize the so-called planned club-led practice is not going to materialize: this practice is going to be Carrie-led. Set up drills and games and try to teach skills and make it fun for nine friendly funny nine-year-old girls for an hour. Make up a team cheer to go with new team name: The Fierce Green Grapes! Wait with child whose parent is late to pick up. Begin to quietly panic. Call parent. Parent arrives. Drive back to pick up Kevin and Albus at their field, discuss practices and strategies for future drills on the drive home. Drop Albus at home. Drop off Fooey’s friend, pick up CJ, chat with Marnie. Home to use the bathroom. Return to truck, drive across town to pick up AppleApple from dress rehearsal for play. Discover dress rehearsal is going late. And later. And later. Sit in parking lot, listening to an interesting program on CBC Radio’s Ideas, by Lynn Coady, on literary snobbery and the future of books. AppleApple finally done, arrives dressed in clown costume.
Drive home. So hungry. Kevin has made tea. I drink tea and scarf the rest of the baba ghanouj (not homemade) with very stale tortilla chips that I find on the counter. And a few leftover carrots.
Bed. Read two pages of Knausgaard. Sleep instantly.
Alarm goes at 5:30, and I’m off for a run, and at it again. More soccer tonight!
“I think I’m going to need therapy to get through the next two and a half months,” I told my friend at the soccer field, only half-kidding. So be it. The quiet during the day is keeping me sane, I think, and the early morning exercise, and the writing. Although the writing also consumes me terribly; or wonderfully. So maybe it’s good to be distracted and occupied by evenings spent outdoors with one’s children, even if it requires a whole lot of driving and elite-level scheduling acuity.
Wish me luck. I need it. Or better yet, wish me calm.
I’m trying to get more organized, she told me this morning. To which I replied, I think you’re already pretty amazingly organized. Even if you forget your shoes at school sometimes.
She performed three times at the Kiwanis music festival this week, placing in every category. This required months of work to learn, then memorize, then master the intricacies of each song, not to mention to perform under pressure. Yesterday, she handed in a major school project she’s been researching and writing for months (on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the subject she chose). Next weekend she’s performing in a play, representing several months’ commitment to rehearsals. And she continues to play/practice soccer several times a week, and will start refereeing games this month. I think she’s also singing/playing ukulele with friends at a school coffeehouse. How she’s not curled up in a fetal position in a corner somewhere is beyond me. Instead, she seems pretty chilled out. I would swear she’s having fun. If she looks a little nervous in the photo above, it’s because it was taken right before her first performance on Monday. She was a little nervous. (So was I.)
Here’s what I’d like to say to her. Yes, you’re a bit scatter-brained sometimes. Sometimes you tune everything out and daydream. This can be annoying when the bus is waiting for you, or it’s past bedtime. But I think you’re plenty organized. You see the big picture. You know how to get where you’re going, and that it takes patience and steady effort. You also seem to know what matters: all of the steps along the way. So how about this: You keep doing what you’re doing. And I’ll help you remember your shoes.
PS But even I am not so organized as to iron your shirt…
Yesterday on birthday eve: still 6 years old. Count ’em.
A big day here at our house: the baby of our family is seven years old! He requested a “soccer party,” so we’ve accommodated with indoor field time and friends invited this evening. It was one of his few requests. Last week, he tried to compile a birthday wish list. He carefully numbered a lined piece of paper with 1. 2. 3. 4. and so on all the way to about 20., then started to fill in the blanks. Sometime thereafter I discovered him moaning and groaning in the kitchen, staring at his wish list, stabbing at it with a pencil, tearing his hair out. “What’s happening here?” I asked. “I can’t think of anything else that I want!” he cried. He had written down one item at the top of the list. Soccer stickers. “Don’t worry about it,” I suggested. So he didn’t. And this morning he opened his very few, very modest, almost exclusively soccer-related gifts this morning (including stickers), and he appeared to be thrilled.
Also on birthday eve: CJ inexplicably poses with mini-stick and Suzi-dog, while balancing on one leg.
We’ve been reminiscing about the morning of his birth. He was born at home, but only Kevin and I were here. The other kids were away overnight with Grandma Linda and Grandma Alice. We called them to share the news. They had three questions: boy or girl? name? and does he have red hair? We said, yes, he has red hair. Ha! We continued to look for evidence of red hair for the next several months, until we finally realized that no, this one was different.
Fooey looks through photo albums: these were taken that summer when she and CJ went to dance camp together, and CJ was the only boy.
This morning I observed that if I’d only had one child, I would have thought I was very good at training children to fall asleep. Albus was a champion napper and sleeper. Then AppleApple turned up and wrecked those illusions. And if I’d only had two children, I would have thought I was very good at giving birth on my due date. Both A & A were born exactly on time. But then Fooey arrived 15 days early (and CJ further blew the illusion of control and showed up 10 days late). And if I’d only had three children, I would have thought we could only produce red haired offspring. But then CJ arrived and proved that, basically, there can be no assumptions in parenthood.
They are who they are. And he really is who he is. Wonderfully so.
On birthday morning. Seven years old.
We all love him, just as he is. Seven years old. Isn’t that a great age!
PS He’s going to let me cut his hair on May 3rd. Why May 3rd, you may ask? Because, he will tell you, his outdoor soccer season starts on May 4th.