Thursday, October 21, 2004

Free Time

I remember free time. Free time in third grade meant reading the library book I always kept on my desk, or drawing elaborate pictures of my black puppy, Midnight, while I waited for my classmates to catch up. It meant wandering my cul-de-sac and neighborhood on my bike. I used my free time to squish along the banks of the creek at the bottom of the "big hill."

Free time in junior high meant riding my bike up and down the hills of my hometown. Free time meant hours spent in the public library, perusing bookshelves and striving for invisiblity while I stuck my nose in a book. I baked cookies and took piano lessons and grew nasturtiums outside my bedroom window.

I managed to get through high school with a straight-A average, yet found enough free time to be a hospital "Volunteen" on the "broken bones" unit at our local hospital. I wanted to be on the maternity ward, even then, near the tiny babies. I'd peer through the windows at the extremely premature babies. Then I'd return to my assigned floor, pass magazines to people immobilized by casts and fill water carafes.

As a high-schooler, I had enough free time to babysit, play the piano, read, participate in youth group activities, work part-time at Taco Time and work with children at church.

And then, there were summers. Remember summers? When you never saw mornings at all? I'd pry my eyes open at 11:00 a.m., then roll over until noon. I'd chat on the phone, ride around with my best friend, Shelly, in her canary-yellow Volkswagon bug. We'd jump waves in the Pacific Ocean and wander the waterfront in Seattle. We'd whittle away entire days, doing nothing.

I was so eager then for my "real life" to begin. I couldn't wait to be grown, to be in charge, to be responsible.

I used to have free time before I had children. For nine anxious months while we lingered on an adoption waiting list, my husband worked and I was unemployed. I ate chocolate covered raisins, watched deer outside my back window and watched reruns of "thirtysomething." I saw movies during the day. I can hardly imagine the bounty of free time that I squandered in those days.

Now, I must shove stuff out of the way to get free time. Sometimes, quite literally. I'll push aside the malignant paper pile on the kitchen counter so I can open the front page of the newspaper and read while the babies eat noodles for lunch. I will become temporarily blinded to the unfolded laundry while I sprawl on the recliner and read. I will leave my house in complete disarray without a drop of much-needed make-up on my pale face so that I can drive in silence.

Free time comes in incremental moments or very late at night. Sometimes, I'm just too weary to embrace the free time that drifts my way. Sometimes I miss the window of opportunity.

Often, I long for the bulk of free time that I had in my youth. That kind of time is shattered now into a million shards, mostly too small to use. Is it possible to even foresee the loss of free time that occurs when one becomes responsible for the feeding, care, and toenail clipping of four children?

I don't think so.

Because if you realized that clipping forty kid-toenails would cause you to neglect your own toenails--which sport summer's polish at Halloween--you might pause. You might wonder how much, exactly, the going rate for "free time" is.

Free time here costs me sleep. That's the price I pay for "free" time. A girl has to have her priorities, after all.


Blogger Marykay said...

Ahhh, the elusive free time. All four of mine are in school from 8:30-2:30 so even with those six hours a day it still doesn't feel like free time. It's always go pick this up, go get that, make a meal, finish the bills. Yesterday i totally blew off an appt to spend an hour in the bathtub reading a magazine. I just couldn't cope with the idea of another day where I hadn't done one thing for myself.
Someday I will read again...

4:28 AM  
Blogger Beth said...

This was bittersweet to read, because it was so nice to be reminded of free time and what that used to look like, but at the same time, it made me miss it even more!!

6:36 AM  
Blogger Tina said...

I so love your thoughtful writing! It makes me think...and remember...

10:42 AM  

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