Friday, January 26, 2007

And now for something completely different (but what?)

My experience as a stay at home mom has never involved much in the way of staying at home. Yes, of course, raising kids involves a lot more hours in the house than working full time ever did. But between kid classes and activities, playdates, errands and a few "me" hours courtesy of a babysitter each week, I've always managed to spend some part of each day in the company of others. I fully admit that a full schedule is as essential for my own well being as my kids' personal development; I need people and stimulation above and beyond that which tiny individuals building Lego towers and drawing rainbows alone can provide. Fortunately, I've always been good at finding outlets that meet my need for social interaction while my kids' needs are being met as well.

When we moved to London, the first thing I did was to start to pull together a roster of activities and outings that I could enjoy with Evan while Julia was in school. We tried out a number of things in the first month or so, and eventually settled into a comfortable routine with a playgroup, a cooking class and a Friday morning Shabbat program to anchor our weeks and outings and errands to fill in the gaps. We met some people we both genuinely enjoyed and got to know London a bit. It was a start, and I think we were both pretty content.

Then Evan started school. The good news is that he finally seems to have gotten through his adjustment issues and I've been able to cut 8 blocks out of my daily routine now that he's happily staying at school for the full duration of the class. But now that our new routine is starting to solidify, I'm noticing a slight problem with the way it's structured. The issue? Suddenly I'm a stay at home mother who actually stays at home. And I'm going stir crazy.

Evan goes to school 5 days a week from 1 until 3. There are so many things wrong with this kind of schedule for a nearly-3 year old that I can't even bring myself to list them all here, though I'm sure anyone who has ever parented (or even met) a nearly-3 year old can imagine quite a few of the problems it presents. But we were lucky to get a spot for him at all given the fact that we have not had him down on some enrollment waiting list since his third day in utero, so I'm committed to making it work for him. This means laying low in the mornings and hanging around the house so that he's still got the energy and interest to fully participate at school. It means laying low and hanging around the house after school because he's completely knackered, as my British neighbors would say. And in exchange for all of this "around the house" time? I get from 1:15 - 2:45 daily to do with what I wish. And gee, that's enough time to do... well, nothing.

With the exception of one lovely child-free lunch with a friend who was only in town for the day and the mindless chatter with other parents at school drop offs and pick ups, I have not had any in-person human contact with anyone outside of my immediate family all week. I think that it's entirely possible that I have been home for more combined hours this week than in any given year of stay-at-home parenting to date (OK, it's plausible that I'm overstating this equation just a bit, but it sure feels like a distinct possibility right now). I have supervised the assembly of dozens and dozens of puzzles, played a gazillion games of Caribou and Candy Land and read more books than I care to recount. During times that Evan has entertained himself, I have cleaned my entire home out of sheer boredom and am actually starting to eye Paul's shirts with half a mind to ironing them myself. I? Am suddenly a housewife. And I'm bored silly.

I admire women who get great pleasure out of keeping the home fires perfectly tended. But I am not one of those women. I love being a stay at home mother as long as the focus is on the mothering part. But the staying at home part? That's not going to work for me. And as the going out part is not going to work for Evan right now, it's pretty obvious to me that it's time to leave the board games and the markers in someone else's very capable hands for a few hours a week and find something to pursue outside of parenting. I need at least one thing in my life that involves interaction with human beings that I did not give birth to. It needs to inspire and invigorate (or at least interest) me. And it sure would be nice if it involved using at least a little part of my brain before the whole damn thing goes and completely atrophies on me.

In a city as diverse and cosmopolitan as London, there are a million options at my disposal. I could take a course. I could join some sort of a group. I could volunteer my time. I could seek part time employment. I could explore almost anything imaginable here. And therein lies the problem. There are so many options out there that I am completely paralyzed. If there were only one logical solution to my situation, I'd simply grasp the bull by the horns and make it happen. But faced with dozens of them, I find myself making myself another cup of coffee and contemplating mopping the floors. Me. Mopping. It aint pretty, folks.

I know that this is a fool's dilemma I face here, and I know that most people would probably not hesitate for half a second before setting out to (fill in your own blank here). But I am obviously denser than most, because instead of filling in my blanks, I am kind of drawing one at the moment. So give me some hints, folks. What would you do in my shoes? Would you learn something new? Use what you know in a new way? Prepare for the future? Seize the moment? Some combination of the above? (Yeah, I know I told you that you could go back to passively reading. I guess I lied.) Bonus points for creative ideas, concrete suggestions or anything that actually gets me off my ass and out of this house.


Blogger denzylle said...

Whilst reading, and before you mentioned it, my first thought was volunteering. If that does appeal, see Wednesday's Guardian which has a whole section filled with organisations seeking volunteers.

My own preference, in your situation, would be to take a course, and in fact, in your situation, I did just that. There's so much on offer.

But my real suggestion, unfortunately, doesn't get you off your ass and out of the house, as you put it. It's to submit samples of your writing about this experience with the possibility of getting a weekly newspaper column or a magazine column. I read the Guardian every day and it has often run such columns. But there's also the other daily broadsheets, and London's Evening Standard. I don't read enough women's mags. to know which to suggest but, if this interests you, I'm sure you could do your own research.

Or - if fictionalising your experience appeals - what about a novel or even sitcom scripts about the trials and tribulations of being an ex-pat mother?

If you really have to get out of your flat, you could always take a laptop to the local library to write. And, if interacting with others is a major objective, this could be combined with joining a writing group.

7:19 PM  
Blogger Steph said...

I don't know that it works for you, but in preparation for the day when both of my kids are in school full time, I'm thinking about going back to school to get a Masters in a completely different field so that I can pursue a new career at that time.

The idea of volunteering is always a good one because you can find something that fits your interests and schedule and "give something back".

I like Denzylle's idea for you, and was thinking along the same lines to suggest possibly pursuing some freelance writing.

Yeah, I know, I basically restated a lot of what you already said and didn't really offer up anything new. Thanks so much for the help, right? ;-)

7:38 PM  
Anonymous Kristy said...

eh. Sit on your ass a bit...sometimes, it's good for you. After it stops being good for you, I'd volunteer...find yourself a group that does something that resonates with you, and go for it.

9:23 PM  
Blogger Gina said...

From someone who does sit at home on her ass with her children all day...(LOL) I suggest volunteering. There's got to be something you would find interesting. I'd start with the Temple and work out from there.

I also agree with the PP who suggested you submit your writing. Follow your dream...Do. It. ;)

12:40 AM  
Blogger lieslf said...

Hhhmm, I would tend to agree with the PP's concerning volunteering or writing. But in the short term, Spring is coming, and if I were in your shoes, I'd be exploring the Royal Botanic Gardens, and then venturing out from there to some of the other local horicultural treasures :)

So, do you like plants and gardens??

1:17 AM  
Blogger Gretchen C. said...

I love that expression, knackered. It's one of those words that you don't need to have the meaning explained to you the first time you hear it; you just know. And a word like that is useful indeed.

With respect to your dilemma, what I would do in your place is explore, explore, explore the city on foot. Pore over a map, figure out a bit of London you haven't seen before, get there by Underground if you need to, and get to know it. Maybe you are sick of that. I know for sure you're sick of walking. But an opportunity to really know London? That's not something most Americans get.

2:50 AM  
Blogger denzylle said...

I agree about exploring London. You are only here for a relatively short time and you're fortunate you live close to the centre. There are so many gems and special places.

The first time I visited NYC (six weeks), I bought a book of walks based on architecture across all the boroughs and I walked the whole lot (in December and January!). I felt like I got a good overview of the city that way, so that, on later visits, and when I worked there for 14 months, I was able to fill in the gaps in my knowledge more easily.

Like any city, London has guided walks, parks, gardens, galleries, museums, open houses, architecture, specialised shops, afternoon cinema and theatre (I feel so decadent when I go on a weekday afternoon!).

One of my favourite places is the City (didn't you live there when you first arrived?) on a winter weekend because it's deserted. But some of the streets and buildings date back to 16th century and you can still see houses and pubs where Shakespeare visited, and the effects of the 1665 Plague and 1666 Great Fire of London.

I'm sure you have discovered Time Out magazine which, besides listing events, also lists things like guided walks and has features like 'Secret London' where I always find something I don't know about, even tho' I've lived here 20 years now.

Or, if you go to a bookstore, don't buy another tourist guide to London - buy one of those intended for people who live here, that lists all these special places. And you don't even have to walk everywhere - just get a flat cost day ticket for changing buses or tubes rather than a rip-off Oyster card where you pay for every trip.

11:46 AM  
Anonymous Cami said...

How about becoming a regular "lecturer" at Speakers Corner in Hyde Park!!

Aside from that :) I'd agree with freelance writing, volunteering (expat organization helping others who move here?), and getting to know London neighborhoods. Not that you want to be kid-focused, but does their school allow parent volunteers?

8:27 AM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

What to do? BLOG, of course! ;)

If it were me, I'd spend that time working out -- maybe at a gym, if that counts as social interaction for you. But then, that's not for everyone, and maybe not for you. If not, I'm in the "Explore London" camp. If that hour-and-a-half gives you enough time to do so. And if that is not enough time, perhaps you could schedule regular tea with the Queen?

Whatever you do, do NOT mop the floors. ;)

11:12 PM  
Blogger Rebecca said...

Some great ideas here, several of which have sparked me to start doing some research. Thanks to all of you for your input. I don't imagine I'll solve this dilemma in a day, but I promise to keep you posted on my progress...

2:48 PM  
Blogger denzylle said...

If you're a reader, here's a suggestion for a more passive approach to exploring London:

1:20 PM  

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