I was driving somewhere – dropping the kids or picking them up – when I saw her. A woman, a bit older than me, kneeling at a flower bed in her garden. Weeding or pruning or sowing or tweaking, one or all of the above. And the image stuck with me as I drove past, and the thought that went with it – “Imagine some day having the time to do that – to garden.”
I don’t actually want to garden (or maybe I do, I’ve never tried) – I just want to know that I have the time to spend on gardening. Or on something that’s unhurried and doesn’t involve something functional like a making a dinner or meeting a deadline; something that’s just for me.
I don’t know anything about the woman – she may have been trying for the last six months to fit fifteen minutes of gardening in to her overspilling schedule. She may just have finished a double-shift as a doctor or nurse. She may use gardening as her time out from running a global bank. She may have raised six kids, the last of whom just moved out, leaving her free to finally flex her green fingers.
But if I take the fleeting glimpse and the first assumption as truth, then that’s what I dream of. A time when I could be free to do something with no clock and no required output and no purpose that serves anyone else. Not for fitness, not for work, not to produce food or clean floors. To just do something I feel like doing.
These are not those times – not while kids are small, and any available work-time is short, and parenting-time is busy. And that’s okay, I don’t wish these days away, I know how fleeting they are. But seeing that woman in her garden did make me wish for a little reprieve, a breather.
And I know I’m not alone – I know everyone at this stage of life is busy all the time. We’re all doing some version of work-kids-work or kids-kids-kids, with – if we’re lucky – a small, Netflix-sized breather before going to bed and doing it all again.
And this isn’t a pity party (oh, but it so is, isn’t it) – it’s just a wish to be off the clock for long enough to do anything I feel like doing. I work roughly the same number of hours now that I used to work in my job in financial services – 30 to 35 hours a week – except back then I had a childminder, whereas now I am the childminder too. I work mornings, I look after the kids for the afternoon, then I work again at night, rushing bedtime stories because I’ve got to get back to my laptop. There’s no break. No lunch break, no breathing space. And definitely no time for my future equivalent of gardening.
I had a taste of it on a weekend in Harrogate this summer, at a crime festival (a festival for people who like reading and writing crime books, not to teach you how to be a criminal) – I went there on my own (which is the most freeing thing I’ve done in the last ten or fifteen years) and on the Saturday afternoon, I had four or five hours to myself. The realisation that I could do anything I wanted to do made me physically dizzy and I couldn’t stop turning it over in my mind.
I could wander around the town, exploring a place I’d never been. I could go for lunch in any restaurant, because I wasn’t trying to fit in with someone else’s taste. I could read my book and drink coffee and eat cake. I could browse in the shops. I could go back to the hotel and lie on the bed eating chocolate. In the end, I did every single one of those things, and it was magnificent.
And not that I want this all the time or even often – I’d miss the kids for a start, in that way that they can drive you crazy all evening but make you smile when you think about them once they’re asleep at night – sometimes to the point where you want to wake them to tell them.
I’m not wishing any of this time away, just wishing – every now and then – for a bit of woman-in-the-garden time. And September, the real new year, seems like a good time to make a resolution to try it.
We went to see Christopher Robin recently, and lots of it hit home – like letting work take over or rushing bedtime stories – but there was one quote in particular that made me stop and think: “Doing nothing often leads to the very best of something.”
So that’s my plan for September: to take time out every now and then to do a bit more of absolutely nothing.