Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Breathing Room (Babble)

I’m having a really good week.  My brother’s girlfriend came up from Texas just to help me out during my current busy rehearsal schedule, and having her in the house has been such a relief.  Kristie is sweet and funny and generous and my kids adore her.  I have an adult in the house to talk to again, and someone around to help keep track of the children.  I’m able to relax a bit for the first time in a long time.  I can breathe.

I’ve been trying to explain to people why relieving my stress isn’t as simple as “Go hire a babysitter.”   That’s the first thing most people say to me when I express any frustration about dealing with the kids, and it kind of stops there in their minds as if that just never occurred to me before and now all will be well.  There are several reasons why this is not as simple as it sounds on the surface.

First off, I do use babysitters.  I have rehearsals I need to attend and concerts to perform, and there are moments in my schedule where of course I need to get out and have someone else be responsible for my children for awhile.  But part of single parenting means my pool of available babysitters is usually reduced to whoever can get themselves home afterward.  Once my kids are asleep, I can’t leave the house.  I either need sitters with their own transportation or who live within walking distance.  This drastically limits whom I can call, especially since all my rehearsals fall on school nights and go quite late.  Could I hire someone from a service so this isn’t an issue?  Probably, but I’m going to chalk that up to my own trouble with leaving my kids with someone I don’t know.  It would make me nervous, and my nerves can’t handle much more.

My biggest help in the neighborhood is my friend Julie (who is across the street or next door depending on which of the two houses during the moving process I happen to be in).  She volunteers to come put my kids to bed every Thursday evening so I can go to a rehearsal with the Milwaukee Mandolin Orchestra.  When I’m in a bind she rearranges her work schedule to help me out.  She is wonderful and somehow always makes me feel like I’m helping her by letting her hang out with my kids.  I already depend on her so much I don’t want to push it, but for keeping up with my obligations, rest assured I do have people around to watch my children.

But I get the impression that what some people think I need to be doing with my valuable babysitting time is to go get a massage or something that sounds relaxing.  Trying to relax is not relaxing for me.  To achieve the sense of calm I desire I need to feel like I’m making progress on some of the many projects I’m interested in, or that I’m caught up on something.  If I try to sit and read while I know the kitchen is a mess or there is violin repair work hanging in my shop, I can’t enjoy it.  I read when I’m caught in situations where I’m stuck anyway, like waiting in my car prior to the after school pickup.  As nice as having a couple of hours to read a book for fun sounds, the idea of hiring a sitter so I can do that just to be up that much later at night to catch up on the laundry makes my head hurt.

And here is my biggest problem with the whole “Just go hire a sitter” idea for helping me relax– I can’t predict when I need one.   For instance, most days at work I’m able to handle having Quinn there with customers pretty well.  I have people schedule appointment times so I can pace what I do with my son.  It’s nice.  I can rehair a bow in the time it takes to watch a typical DVD, so if I know when to set Quinn up with a snack and a movie, I’m fine.  But there are days like one last week where the customer was supposed to arrive at 8 in the morning, and then couldn’t get there until 11:30.  That throws off everything.  Juggling Quinn and work into lunchtime after we’d exhausted all the ‘sit quietly in one place’ options was impossible.  I would have loved a babysitter at that moment, but how could I have known I would need one?

Also, most of the projects I want to tackle for my own enjoyment are creative endeavors, and I can’t schedule them.  I write best when I wait for the moment to strike me and run with it.  There are days playing viola for fun would be marvelous and others where it would be torture.  I can’t just give myself a couple of hours to work on building a violin because there are days my hands are up to it and others when my focus just isn’t there.  I need time to settle into a creative mood in order to really enjoy some things.  The elements of my life that I indulge purely for my own pleasure are not things I can coordinate with a sitter.  They have to be allowed to just happen when the moment is right, not forced and scheduled into a block of time when the meter is running.

This is why having Kristie here for more than a week is making me feel like myself again.  Not only do I not have to make complicated arrangements for leaving one child with a sitter while taking the girls to choir and having someone else drive them home while I go to rehearsal (etc. etc.), but I have the freedom to be distracted at unscheduled moments.  I have to be so vigilant caring for three kids alone that it’s hard to turn that off in the space of just a couple of hours.  I need real time to be able to let some of that go.

It’s not just knowing I can pop out to the store alone for a minute because someone else is in the house, but to be able to take that a little for granted that makes a difference.  If someone is here for a matter of hours and says, “Quick!  Relax!” it’s just not going to happen.  But to have the luxury of picking my moment, and to have my thoughts to myself when I choose is lovely.  I can’t find those random moments of peace when I hire someone to watch the kids.  I need my money’s worth when I use a sitter, and I need to cram important errands and deeds into that time.  But the fifteen spontaneous minutes of extra practice I got in on my viola the other day while Kristie played with the kids in the next room?  That was golden.

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