Walking back to the car after the school run, I called to Sam to hurry up, then caught myself, realising that for once, there was no reason to hurry.
It was 9am. We had just dropped Clara and Emmie to school. And both were invited on playdates after school – both being collected by other mums. The stars had aligned. For the first time ever this school-year, I had no school run. So the next appointment would be picking them up at 5pm.
Eight hours. Eight whole hours off the clock.
No school collection. No coffee plans. No visits or visitors. Just me and my toddler and eight hours to do anything we wanted to do.
I can’t remember the last time we were off the clock like this.
The first thing we did was slow down. I mean literally – on the way back to the car. I told Sam, “We’re in no rush – you decide how slowly we should walk!”
He looked up at me, delighted, then slowed his pace entirely, taking tiny baby steps.
“Like this mummy? Me can walk slow this way like baby?”
And when I told him he could, he gave me a trademark “Yip-pee!” – something he reserves for really amazing events, like being allowed to watch an extra TV program or have a second piece of cake.
We smiled at a man out walking. I noticed a brass “66” in the shape of two swirly snails on a house we passed, and pointed them out to Sam. He picked up leaves and twigs from the ground. Just tiny events on our school-run, but much more enjoyable than rushing past the snails and the twigs and the leaves and the passersby, as we usually do.
When we arrived home, a feeling of calm washed over me – the kitchen was still a mess after breakfast, but who cares? I had eight hours to clean up! I might not even do it straight away, I thought. I might have a cup of tea first. No rush.
Sam got out his train set. We ate scones. I folded laundry. He sort of sorted socks. We chatted. I stayed offline. Mostly.
We decided we’d go to the supermarket after lunch. Emmie had made me a shopping list the night before – I called out each item we needed and she drew it in her copy book. All of the items looked quite similar in the end but I reckoned we’d work it out, the toddler and I.
We possibly should have done something amazing with our eight hours of freedom, but in a way we did – we kept it simple, we slowed down.
And there was no shouting, no crying, no stress. Not once. Bliss.
So, how to recreate this on a regular basis? I’ve thought about it. We’d need to drop a few things:
1. No work
My most stressful moments are often linked to work – going there in the morning or arriving home tired in the evening. Or one supremely challenging day when I had to go into the office while on maternity leave, three kids in tow, as I had nobody to mind them.
The kids changed out of their clothes and into princess costumes right at the moment they were supposed to be getting into the car. It was two years ago and I still feel horrible when I think about how I shouted at them that day. Giving up work isn’t an option right now, but in my hypothetical scenario of a stress-free utopia, not working – well, not having to be somewhere all day every day – would definitely be a prerequisite.
2. No plans
Plans of any kind can cause stress in our house – having to be somewhere at a particular time leads to pleas of “Girls! Can you put on your shoes and get in the car! Come out from behind the curtain! Put down that yogurt! Why are you taking off your clothes?”
I think most parents are familiar with this. So not making plans would be a solution.
Although it would be hard to never see my friends again. And even if we had a lovely day in this example, I think there might be some cabin fever in time, if we never, ever arrange to meet up with anyone again.
And let’s face it, we sometimes arrange playdates and coffees that suit the parents as much as (or more so than) the kids, but interacting with other grown-ups keeps us sane.
So I guess the solution is to have a balance, and to know that it’s OK to have some days with no plans.
3. No housework
I did a bit of laundry and some dinner prep but otherwise didn’t do any housework on our slow-down-day. It had been a busy week and I didn’t take much convincing to step away from the hoover. It’s hard to give up housework entirely though. For me, the key to avoiding “house versus child” related stress is to:
- Start with top priority housework like clearing the dishes or making dinner, and work down the list
- If kids are happy playing, let them play
- If they’re upset or need attention, drop the housework till later
(disclaimer: house may not be clean if following above plan)
And actually, even if I give up work, give up meeting people and give up cleaning my house, there’s still no guarantee that every day would be like our slow-down-day.
I’m sure there would be days that we’d go stir crazy cooped up in the house together (because of the whole not going anywhere in the car in case it gets stressful trying to get them to put on their shoes)
So we might just have to muddle along as we do, and take our slow-down-days when they come. Slowly.
This is part of a linky on Babysteps – hop over there to check out some other mindful-y type posts!
For a very different type of day, and stories from other mums who had to think outside the box when childcare let them down or work needed them out of the blue, check out this article by me for HerFamily.ie: