inviting spontaneity on a pesky day off school

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Tubular bind-off for the shawl collar on M's cardigan.
Tubular bind-off at the playground

I spent yesterday at home with M, since she didn’t have school. Well, I say “at home”, but really, we spent as much of the day outside as possible! The weather was amazing. I was feeling a bit (ok, more than a bit) overwhelmed, between the work I need to catch up on for the classes and workshops I’m teaching, and the knitting that I need to get done before Rhinebeck, and had been resenting the fact that I had to stay home with her when I was so busy. But I decided yesterday morning that I would treat this day I’d been dreading as a sort of spiritual exercise (our theme this month at First Unitarian is “Letting Go”, which is a skill I definitely need to practice!), and follow M’s whims as much as possible. We don’t actually get to have very much undirected time together during the school year – our schedules just don’t have very much “give” to them. For all the talk of how “flexible” academic jobs are, well…I suppose they are in their own way, but realistically my job during the semester is probably more than full time (given all of the time I need to spend outside of class time giving feedback and prepping and whatnot), and the times when I have to be IN the classroom (either my own, or a class where I’m running a workshop) or in meetings are anything BUT flexible! So spontaneity isn’t a big part of my life right now.

We started the morning with “letter work” – M has very suddenly become obsessed with learning to write, and has been asking me to help her spell specific words. The lists of words she wants to spell are so charming and fascinating to me – yesterday, it was “DUCK”, “MONSTER”, “GOOD”, “BEAUTIFUL”, “PERFECT”, “GREAT”, and “TREE”.

Practicing letters! (Not sure why she wanted to write "duck monster", but it's awesome!)

She is so, so excited about being able to write things that I can read. Even if they’re kind of random letter strings…she gets a kick out of me pronouncing them to her! She used to just write zigzags on things when she wanted to “write”, but yesterday she said to me very excitedly, “mama, now I don’t have to write zigzags on everything, I can write LETTERS!” Yes, kiddo, yes you can! And because I’m a huge nerd/linguist/writing teacher, we had a little talk about how shared knowledge is necessary for communication, and that’s why she can’t just use “her U” (her first attempt looked more like a Q, oddly) to write “DUCK”, because it’s not the “U” that we all share and recognize as “U”. And now I think I need to dig out my Alice in Wonderland book and read to her about Humpty Dumpty and his words that mean whatever he wants them to mean :)

Then we watched a Reading Rainbow episode together, and in it, they mentioned having a picnic, which led M to request (for probably the 100th time) a “picnic at the beach”. We’ve never actually been able to make it happen, due to the aforementioned busy schedules, but I had the glorious realization yesterday that…hey, we actually COULD! It was delightful (but also a bit disorienting – I am not generally a person who handles unplanned activities with grace) to be able to say “YES” to something like that! We took our little PlanetBoxes up to the beach and had our lunches with the lovely view of Lake Ontario in the background.

Lunchtime view.

I love how easy the PlanetBoxes made this – we just opened them up on top of our beach towels and had everything we needed. Seriously, I know I probably sound like an informercial here and I know PlanetBoxes are a bit pricey but they are absolutely the BEST reusable lunchboxes I’ve ever found, and I’m so glad that M and I both have them now.

Beach picnic! She's been asking for one for ages and today it's actually possible, so here we are.

It was a wonderful day for soaking in the sunlight – we probably won’t have another day this warm and sunny for 6 months!

Soaking in the sun. Probably the last day like this we'll have for 6 months!

I’m not gonna lie – I’m so unused to spontaneity that I had this nagging sense of “I’m not supposed to be here, this isn’t what I’m supposed to be doing” the whole time we were at the beach. Like I was going to get “caught” going off-plan, or something! As I said, I’m definitely a person who needs some practice at letting go of plans and schedules.

After the beach, we headed to the playground, where (after pushing her in the swings for probably 40 minutes straight!) I took advantage of M’s brief period of willingness to play without me to work on the tubular bind-off for her garter-rib cardigan (pictured at the top of this post). She checked in with me a few times, always with a beaming smile.

Happy girl at the playground!

I’d started the shawl collar on Sunday, and holy moly shawl collars have a lot of stitches! And the kitchener-based bind-off isn’t the easiest one to do “on the move”, but I did make some good progress at the playground. And I got to finish the bind-off (and knit 2 pockets!) at Knitting Guild in the evening, so now I’ve just got to kitchener the underarms, sew on the pockets, and weave in the ends before I block it. I want to block it on Wednesday night so that I’m sure it’ll be dry for us to pack up and bring down to Rhinebeck – I’m sure I can sew on buttons in the car if I need to.

We followed up our playground time with baking – she helped me make the dough for the loaves of bread we’re baking for the teachers’ lunch at her school (it’s her classroom’s turn to provide the meal), and then helped me make apple cake with some of the apples, but I managed to leave out ALL of the sugar, which made the dough very stiff and nearly unworkable. I’m told it actually tastes ok (I didn’t get a chance to eat any before Guild), but we both had a good laugh about mama leaving the sugar out of cake! I really do enjoy baking with M, when we’re not under time pressure. I’m not sure how to put more “give” into our lives (and I’m definitely not going to ask for more days where M doesn’t have school during my teaching semesters!), but I do think that yesterday showed me how much fun M and I can have together when we’re not beholden to a particular plan or schedule. A worthy exercise. (And now I must return to workworkwork.)

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5 thoughts on “inviting spontaneity on a pesky day off school

  1. What a wonderful day! I’m like you, where I find it hard to find the joy in kids’ days off school, so to read how you made it such a joy was a small lesson for me. I’m glad you both enjoyed the day so much!

  2. OK, so I have a lot of thoughts here! First of all, the idea that academic schedules are flexible is a total myth. I’m a part time adjunct and that’s not flexible at all, in that I HAVE to be present during class time. I’m not overworked at that job, thankfully, though I am paid miserably, so I have to pick up lots of freelance work elsewhere. I think the only people who really believe academia=flexible work schedule are the people who aren’t in it.
    Second, unscheduled time is really important!! It’s important for both creativity and mental health. I totally hear you on feeling a little guilty for having free time especially during the week when you’re used to being at work. (I myself should be practicing piano right now but there is very loud sawing and drilling happening 3 feet away from my piano where a new window is about to be installed, so I can’t. I feel guilty but there’s nothing I can do about it and nowhere else I can practice).
    Third, childcare is work. It’s not like you took the day off and did something alone. Someone has to take care of your daughter on the day her school was closed, and you shouldn’t feel guilty because the two of you actually had fun doing it. It’s good for both of you :)

    • You are SO right about academic jobs. I think people imagine that the only work that goes into teaching is what happens IN the classroom, and that I can do whatever I want with the rest of the hours in my day, and that just ain’t so. Between office hours, workshops, and meetings, my days are pretty full anyway (I could in theory leave campus to run an errand on a couple of days each week, but in practice, nope, never), and THEN there’s all of the feedback and prep work that needs to happen, usually in “off-hours” (though I do try VERY hard to get as much of it done during the normal 9-5 schedule as I can, so as to spend time with A and M). When M is sick at school, it’s A, with his regular 9-5 job, who can go pick her up and take care of her, not me, who has to be in the classroom (even when *I’m* sick – I’ve only cancelled once, when I was literally in the hospital) at scheduled classtimes, no matter what. I love my job, and while I am occasionally overworked in it (my workshop load is maxed-out this semester and boy, am I feeling it!), I wouldn’t trade it for something else, but it does really bug me when people have a mistaken impression that my work is flexible or not as demanding as it actually is. And you are also so right to say that child care is work (and HARD work, at that!). In a strange way, there is a lot of overlap between the work I do as a teacher of (mostly) freshman-level writers and as a mother…so much so that I feel like the “coach” parts of me end up getting used up at work, leaving me with not enough for M at the end of the day, some days.

  3. Hooray for letting go and having a lovely day! I’ll bet M will treasure the memory of this day. Isn’t it nice to say “yes”? I feel like I spend so much time saying “no” (no throwing toys, no hitting the cat, etc.).

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