Schedule shutdown complete

I’m participating in the Slice of Life Challenge
hosted by Two Writing Teachers

Do you listen to Hidden Brain? I love it so much, and incidentally, if I could have every interesting thing I learn read to me by Shankar Vedantam, I would grab that opportunity right quick. In this episode from a while back, guest Cal Newport shares part of the little ritual he uses to step away from work mode and transition to going-home mode. He says, “Schedule Shutdown Complete.”

Although he means it differently (and so usefully!) ,This is what I have so often craved, Schedule Shutdown. My whole adult life, I’ve had strong feelings about time. How there’s not enough of it. Who needs it, wants it, gets it. What it’s worth, and what is worth it. How I “should” spend it or need to or want to spend it, or how I did spend it. None of those seem to line up. My soul and brain and personal history have created ideal climatic conditions for a perfect storm of anxiety and attention issues, along with whoppingly poor self-esteem. More often than not, this storm makes landfall at the problem of Time.

My son put it best when in second grade he announced, over a math worksheet, “I hate stressful time!” Me too, baby. I’ve had panic attacks about it. And many, many weeks per semester, I have feelings like “I wish I could just pause everything and have a week with nothing scheduled.” Or, more fanciful yet, I’ve imagined some weeks that my calendar app would fail and that I miraculously would receive a free pass on showing up to absolutely NO scheduled events and would be excused from ALL deadlines for the rest of the term. I know I am not the only teacher, parent, writer, or human being that gets this feeling about time from time to time. I just spend more time there than many.

Photo by cottonbro on

Then, two years ago, it actually happened. We experienced complete schedule shutdown in the form of the initial worldwide spread of Covid-19. And while of course this was a bad thing and nobody wanted a pandemic, it’s a fact that my initial reaction was relief. Relief that my own schedule was wiped off. I know I am not alone in this.

Notice how many people bought jigsaw puzzles, art kits, or board games? It’s like we worried we wouldn’t have enough to do with our free time. This reminds me of my own elementary school visions of what “the future” would entail. I think “the future” was synonymous with “the year 2000.” Man, that seemed impossibly distant. (And we never simply said 2000; we said “the year 2000.” So futuristic was that date that we had to clarify that it was indeed a year! That someday in our own lifetimes, there would be years NOT beginning with 19!) In the future, we would be wearing high-tech jumpsuits with all kinds of color-changing, thermal-varying capabilities. In the future, we would have flying cars, and we would have robot maids. And in the future, we would have so much more leisure time. Automation would make our work so efficient that we’d all have to think up other ways to pass all that newly-saved time.

And it’s indeed true that the shutdown canceled many things, creating some extra time at home. But as you’re guessing by now and likely experienced yourself, a complete schedule shutdown didn’t fix my time problem. Some things I recall about time at that time:

  • The things that were erased included good things, things that would be meaningful or fun or both. So, while I had more time to do things, they weren’t necessarily the things I wanted to do.
  • My then-husband’s things and my children’s things were also canceled. This meant that the time I wanted to do things was immediately filled by their things– things they would otherwise have sometimes done outside my presence.
  • All existing time-saving things that I had implemented previously were of course also wiped off the schedule. So, cleaning, cooking, providing for physical needs of others, etc. were now taking up more time than before, not less.

Those are the externals, right? And they sucked, and they sucked WAY WORSE for most folks, whose paychecks ALSO were canceled. So, please know that I know.

But, how about the internals? The eternals?

All those cancellations sometimes created pockets of re-opened time in the immediate sense. However, they stole time from life overall, especially for my kids. Yes, we got the afternoon off to play board games or go to the park instead of school and sports. We got pajama days and random times of trampoline jumping when we’d normally have been doing math. But, we lost third-fourth grades as well as seventh-eighth grades. We lost taking my taking my daughter to Europe for her thirteenth birthday. She missed middle school sports, completely. She missed all the eighth grade “lasts” and so many firsts. My son missed playing in a band with actual other instruments. He missed opportunities for his special needs to be noticed and addressed at school. Some of these things are no big deal long term. Some of them are very big deals.

I, consequently, am more aware of the passage of time in my kids’ lives and in my own life as a parent than ever before. There’s a narrative that says this awareness of the fleeting years of childhood is a good thing, that it makes us grateful. Of course that’s true in its way, though more often than not I want to broadcast this essay of Glennon Doyle’s in response. However, I was already grateful before. I was already aware before. The clock on their childhoods and my own time with them was already running before, and even then it was running fast. All the time, running, running. And I was already aware of that, already grateful for what I did have and would not have for long.

The schedule indeed shut down. But the shutdown was not complete. Nowhere near complete enough. I am just as anxious about time as ever.

The first warm day

My daughter and I went on a mini trip by ourselves… and it was WARM!

There’s nothing like the first warm day. We’ve been inside, bundled, too little movement and too many snacks, since November. We’ve been in each other’s space, in each other’s business, on each other’s nerves. We’ve been tired. So tired.

Free the feet!

And then today. Today was the day the air conditioner in the car came on for the first time. Today was the first day we walked outside with no jackets. Today was the first day we could lean back on rocks and read by the river. The first day that ice cream actually made sense. The first day without socks!

How many days like this until next winter comes around?

How many more nights away with just this girl?

Keeping track of time

My feet haven’t touched grass since September. Heck, until yesterday even my shoes hadn’t touched grass since December sometime.

My skin hasn’t felt the cool pool, nor have my toes touched sand, since August.

I haven’t been married for over a year.

I haven’t worked from my office in 729 days. Exactly.

I haven’t eaten banana pudding since 2013. It was in West Virginia. I went back for seconds, then thirds.

I haven’t been pregnant, fat and proud and full of hormones, since 2012. My hair was curly from the hormones. I emobodied anticipation itself.

My kitchen hasn’t smelled of green chile stew since 1998. 

It’s been 44 years since my first day of kindergarten, and here I am still in school every year since.

I’m participating in the Slice of Life Challenge
hosted by Two Writing Teachers

This week I am…

I’m participating in the Slice of Life Challenge
hosted by Two Writing Teachers

This week I am…

Driving kids places, again and again endlessly

Resisting dessert some days, eating three brownies another

Rearranging furniture in my basement, making a sewing space, reorganizing the supplies, so much aspirationally-purchased fabric it fills a dresser, yet I have sewn exactly once in this house since I moved in

Selling off furniture I bought used in a hurry, divorced and starting over, to other people who are also now starting over

Reading a book about murder, and another one about feelings, and I find that these are not so far apart as I had imagined

Oh yes, I had one of these. Photo by bert b on Unsplash

Telling my kids about the 80s (my heyday!) and delighting in their love of The Cure and Galaga , and even green text on black screens

Marveling that just as I grew up in endless cold war they, too, are learning Russia is an enemy

Listening better than I used to, and hearing how much we have all changed

Writing for my blog every day, and hearing in my own voice how much I have changed

From my table

I’m participating in the Slice of Life Challenge
hosted by Two Writing Teachers

From my table in the corner of the trampoline park…

I see boys somersaulting over barriers

I hear a little girl repeating “Mommy, watch me! Watch me!”

I see a cool dad inventing jump challenges for a lucky son

I hear a squeaky voice yelling, “Keep going! I’m jumping to space!”

I see moms zoning out on their phones at benches to the side

I hear screams that curdle my blood but then always crumble into laughter

I see sweaty hair and sock feet

Boing! (My own photo; please don’t use or reproduce)

I hear breathless voices shouting “Stop! I was going to jump there!”

I see toddlers toddling

I hear would-be ninjas crashing into padded obstacles and thudding to the floor

I see my son, running freely after a long week indoors, red-faced, breathing hard, finally maskless, joyful, laughing

I hear his laugh like I haven’t heard all winter, kids like they haven’t been for way too long.

(Does it count as a “slice of life” post if it’s a slice of two days ago and not today? I never was that great at following rules.)

Little things

He forgot to read his book for school today. This he realized as he was putting on shoes to leave for school this morning after a leisurely four-day weekend. Instantly he transformed, from boisterous, cheerful almost-middle-school weirdo to panicked, shame-filled, sobbing nine year old. Oh, my child. I know how it feels.

I’m participating in the Slice of Life Challenge
hosted by Two Writing Teachers

I know how it feels to find myself late to a meeting for which I’m unprepared. To arrive at the presentation without my notes. To realize my phone is not charged– just as the important call begins. To forget the milk. Always. To run over to your school mid-day to drop off the permission form, the field trip money, the instrument, the book, the medicine I forgot to give you.  To get in the car and see, again, that I am already late to wherever I’m going, even though I had left plenty of time. 

“I’m a failure,” he cried to himself quietly in the backseat. Oh, my child. I know how it feels.

I know how it feels to see how other people remember. How other people stick with it. How other people finish. How they start right away. These things that should be easy. “You’re so smart,” they said, “Why can’t you do this?”

I’m great at Big Things, I have learned to say. Just not at the little things. I’m great at having ideas, ten or twelve of them while the rest of the group still sits silent waiting for inspiration. I’m great at solving the problem. At keeping my cool when shit gets real. At dreaming. I’m great at making a change, big change, like scrapping everything and starting over, like revising the text I worked so hard to compose in the first place, like rearranging the furniture in the middle of the night, like thinking up another way. I read fast, and I read everything. I’m great at imagining, just like you, and at words, and music, and seeing the whole big complicated picture in a flash. Just like you are.

But not at the Little Things. You don’t want me keeping your calendar, doing your errands, borrowing your stuff. I won’t remember what I told you last time, or much of what you told me either.  I won’t send you a birthday card, or a Christmas card most years. I couldn’t do homework, can’t return library books, drive around with stuff to return to stores in my car at all times, can’t mail a package. I make a habit slowly and break it easily. I’m always starting over. 

You, my child, are not a failure. You are a masterpiece. You are fallible like a human being, the most human of humans. Your laugh is easy and your wit blade-sharp. Your mind pops like a firecracker; your words follow your ideas like a tail does its comet. You’ll read your book this morning; you’ll talk about it animatedly; your ideas will inspire the others; your insights will be piercing, And different. Your day will be sparkly. Your life will be a sparkly life of Big Things.

I wrote tonight

I wrote tonight.

Before that, I wrote with a group of teachers, all tired from a long day, a long winter, a long year, all brave and committing to write together.

Before that, I quickly ate the chicken with peanut sauce, brown rice, snap peas and potstickers that I had made. On my son’s plate was just the chicken, plain. On my daughter’s plate was just the potstickers, plain.

Before that, I drove my son home from robot club in the fading daylight. My son explained about technical diagrams and quizzed me hard about a video game taking place in a house. 

Before that, I bought a snowblower from a neighbor. It’s only me, I said, and it’s too much to shovel. We wished together for a robot that you could just send out to clear your snow on a cold morning. 

Before that, I was in my house, with no video games or robots or anything. It was quiet in the house but noisy in my head.

I wrote tonight.

Note: The “before that” is a fun and easy-entry way to capture a slice of life. I learned it from my friend onathought, who undoubtedly learned it from another teacher.