Time is a stagnant object that we move through each and every moment of our lives. As I got dressed this morning I started thinking about the fluidity of time and how we as people account for it in our daily lives.
When I am stressed, the thing that irks me the most is that I’ve lost “unaccountable time”, time in which I am not accountable to anyone. I don’t mean the 5 minutes before picking the kids up from school or the 10 minutes when I stand in the kitchen before the timer goes off. I mean the time in which I’m not moving from one thing to the next, to the next, to the next without any time in between. When I’m over-scheduled I can go for weeks and not have time to stare out the window at the squirrels, move from bedroom to bedroom, straightening, touching, and listening, plan the week’s meals or take a hike with my dog during daylight hours. Accountable time is time in which something is owed to someone else. I am a person that does everything to the best of my ability, and if I am working on time that is paid for by someone else, then I am 100% “on” during that time.
Historically, weekends were a time of relaxation and the time between 5pm Friday and 8am Monday was “unaccountable”. This is not true in any modern household that I know of! Weekends are as scheduled as the work-week, what with kids’ activities, family gatherings, work-related items that didn’t get done during the week, house chores, bike rides, science fair projects, etc.
During my junior year in high school I dated a guy that was a college freshman. We’ll call him “John”. John was a type-A guy that felt the need to be accountable to everyone else, to be the person that everyone thought of as “dependable”. I remember a letter he once wrote that described a note he posted on his dorm room door. It was an itinerary of where he could be found at any given moment during the entire week. He noted the time he got up, where he would be for all his meals, where he could be found during class time, where he was during his research labs, the times and location of his study sessions, and what time he would ultimately hit the sack at night (never before midnight). John was depressed, anxious, and completely out of balance. (We broke up shortly after that; it was painfully clear that he needed to sort out his priorities outside of a long-distance relationship.)
Copious amounts of “accountable time” eventually make me feel like I’m hurling through space with no flight suit, flight manual or brakes. This is not only stressful, but down-right dangerous. I’ve come to realize that each day HAD to begin at 5:30 AM so I could do 60-90 minutes of exercise before being home to get the kids ready for school, get myself ready for work, drop everyone off where they needed to be, do my own work at a break-neck pace so I could be finished with my work before leaving to get my kids and take them to their sports activities, do homework, make a hot meal for the family, check my email, and collapse in bed so I could do it all again the next day. I stopped doing any and all of the things that made me feel like I could “give back” to the communities that I’m involved with, as a protective shield over my self and my time.
I realize that this is a life that MANY people in developed nations lead, and I am no different. The problem is that we’re trying to do it all and we end up doing it all BADLY. We’re NOT modeling healthy behaviors for our kids. We’re not happy, functioning people in our own right. We’re miserable, stressed people that have to choose one or the other, all the time. We have to choose where we’re going to put our energy: marriage or kids; family or work; work or spirituality; health or finances… There are so many things to choose from in this fast-paced world. We’ll never do it ALL.
While I think about my own re-structuring of priorities, I see the need to block out “unaccountable time”, time in which I have no plans and am not needed anywhere. Some people call this “family time”, but I don’t like that because then I am accountable to my family and feel the urge to plan things, so that our time is being fully used and we’re “creating memories”. And I don’t like the idea of saying “this is my running time” or “this is my writing time” because then I feel compelled to stick with those plans even if that’s not what I really need at that moment.
I KNOW I’m not the only one who is really good at making plans and sticking with them. I also know that I’m really BAD at de-programming. The few times that I’ve gone on vacation have been incredibly difficult. It’s hard to do that RELAX thing when you’re working so hard at having a good time. “Relaxing” and “working” are polar opposites, yet I notice that I just used them in the same sentence to describe a conundrum many of us face.
It takes a long time to get to the mental and emotional place where you know priorities need to change. It also takes a long time to evaluate and implement those changes. I think of this as pregnancy; it takes 9 months to add on all that weight, and at least 9 months to take it all off again. So with the pregnancy metaphor, maybe I’m in the “just gave birth” stage and am starting the slow process of “taking off the weight” by looking at my time and finding places in my life where I can be “unaccountable”.