by Risa Green
I have finally reached the holy grail of motherhood: both of my kids are in school all day, in the same place. No more dropping one at eight am and one at nine am, no more twelve o’clock preschool pickups and three o’clock grade school pickups. No more “getting involved” at two different schools, no more trying to get all of my errands and work done in the three hours that my little one was in preschool. I am now, officially, a MWTH. No, this does not stand for Monday, Wednesday and Thursday. Rather, this is (pay attention now, I’m coining a phrase here), an acronym for Mother With Time on her Hands.
Like many moms I know, I have been fantasizing about becoming a MWTH since, well, since the day my daughter was born nearly nine years ago. I dreamed of daily exercise, of lunches with girlfriends, of regularly scheduled, uninterrupted writing time. It sounded heavenly. It sounded indulgent. It sounded incredible. But now that I have it, I have to admit, it’s actually kind of boring.
At first, it was quite lovely. My new book had just come out in September and I hadn’t yet started working on another one. I wanted to enjoy my new found freedom, and I wasn’t in any rush to crank out another novel. So my days were leisurely. After I dropped my kids off at school I would go to the gym, or for a hike. On my way home I’d stop at the market to get fresh food for dinner, then shower and maybe read a book or take a little nap. I’d start prepping for dinner as soon as I finished eating lunch; cutting up vegetables, marinating meats, slow roasting a chicken. I’d run errands here and there, I’d take the dog to the dog park, I’d grab coffee with someone now and then, but mostly, I just hung around the house. I spent a lot of time on cooking websites trying to find recipes that the whole family would eat. I spent a lot of time cleaning out closets and organizing photo albums. I spent a lot of time on iTunes trying to find new music that sounded similar to old music I already have. It started to get old after about a month. After two, I was ready to kill myself.
Yes, I was skinny, yes, my family was eating organic, home cooked meals, yes, my house was neater than it has ever been before, and yes, I was listening to cutting edge bands while I drove to the bus stop in the afternoons. But one day, I hit a wall. I couldn’t help thinking, is this it? Is this what my life is now? Is this what I spent seven years in college and law school, and another ten years climbing my way up corporate ladders for? To cook dinner at one o’clock in the afternoon? To greet the security guard at Whole Foods by his first name? I was an over-educated, over-qualified mind trapped in the life of a 1950’s housewife. No wonder they drank so much and popped pills all day. Talk about depressing.
The very next day I started working again. So what if the spaghetti and meatballs I was going to give my kids for dinner wasn’t cooked from scratch but came from a bag at Trader Joe’s? So what if my closet wasn’t organized by color? So what if I had a little muffin top hanging over my jeans? I began doing research for a new book, and the days started to fly by. And it felt so good. So good to have a purpose. So good to have a reason to get up in the morning that didn’t involve domesticity. So good to engage my mind again. So good to have something that’s just for me.
Look – I know I’m lucky. I know not everyone has work that they enjoy, or that allows for flexibility, and I know that there are a lot of people who don’t have work at all, either because they’ve lost their jobs or because they don’t know what to do with themselves now that their kids are in school and they’ve been out of the market for ten years. So I’m not writing this to gloat. I’m writing it because it seems like so many talented, smart, hard-working women drop everything to have kids, and then we wait and wait and wait to get to this time in our lives where it can finally be about us again. But then we get there, and we find ourselves wondering, now what? So many of us are over-achievers who thrive on stress and having too much to do and not enough time to do it, and we spend years running around like chickens with our heads cut off, racing from one carpool to another, planning birthday parties, running errands, being room moms, making dinner, schlepping to practices and games and buying snacks for the practices and games…but then when it all slows down, suddenly, we’re lost without everyone else’s stuff to fill our time. And so we find ourselves confronted with the fact that for all these years we’ve made our lives about everyone else, and now, when it’s actually our turn again, it’s not all that easy to take it.