Where Does the Time Go?


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Time management has never been my strong suit. I begin most days well-intentioned, with big plans to DO THIS and DO THAT, which mostly degenerates into watching videos on Facebook and taking quizzes to determine who was Rory’s best boyfriend on the Gilmore Girls.

So I was really struck by a recent piece in The New York Times called “The Busy Person’s Lies.” The author, Laura Vanderkam, is a time management expert who’s written a few books on the subject and suggests that we often think we are busier than we really are. In the essay, she shares her experience tracking her own activity for a full year, which included writing, extensive travel to give talks on time management and giving birth to her fourth child.

And I was like, what is my problem? My fourth child is 13 and I have a hard enough time just getting to the food store, much less traveling for work or writing a book.

I have come to understand that I need structure in my life and without it, I flounder. I can’t have too much time on my hands and find the more I have to do, the more productive I become.

So, when I left work to care for my first child many moons ago, I had a lot to figure out. With just a newborn at home and tons of hours to fill in the day, I’d often spend much of it shuffling around the house in my pajamas carrying my little crybaby and waiting for his dad to get home.

But then more kids came and the crybaby got a little older and the days became more structured. Breakfasts and coloring and story time at the library, mid-day naps and maybe a walk around the neighborhood followed by chicken nuggets, tubbies, a story and then – blissfully – bed.

When the older kids were in high school, I went back to working full time and although things were bonkers – four kids in four different schools – it was kind of impressive what I was able to accomplish each day. Not only was I doing the regular parenting stuff – making meals, food shopping, back-to-school nights – but I also launched and managed a local news site — reporting on and writing, like, five stories each day — and attending grand openings, school assemblies and municipal meetings a few nights each week. Somewhere in between all that I also started a blog.

To get that job, I had to take an intense three-hour long writing test, which happened to fall the day before Thanksgiving. I went up to my office (really a desk pushed next to my bed), instructed my children to stay out of my way, ploughed through all the writing, was told I got the job, came downstairs and started cooking Thanksgiving dinner for 20 people.

No sweat.

Fast forward three years and a company-wide layoff later and I found myself once again with not only hours of unstructured time each day but also wondering how I ever managed to fit a full-time job into all my mothering duties.

But now, about three years after that conference call layoff, the kids are that much older and self-sufficient (well, in theory, anyway). Now that a year of moving and renovating a new house is behind me, I kinda find myself floundering again. I mentioned this to my friend Dan the other day and he said, “I hear that a lot from my clients who don’t have jobs. They can’t seem to get anything done.”


But I don’t really want a full-time office job. I mean, I do, don’t get me wrong. But I still have a seventh grader and three months to fill during the summer. There’s only so much Netflix I’m willing to let him watch each day.

I really want to develop freelance opportunities and work on a bigger writing project and am tired of trying to figure out how to squeeze that in between cleaning the kitchen and trips to Trader Joe’s.

According to Vanderkam, the first step is keeping track of how you spend your time, which I started doing a few days ago and it’s been an interesting exercise (you can print out or download a spreadsheet here). I’m trying to approach the process with positive intentions and not as a way of beating myself up.

Vanderkam, whose most recent book is aptly titled I Know How She Does It, writes, “Keeping a time log is not about figuring out how much time we waste. It is about making sure we are not telling ourselves stories about our lives that are not actually true.”

I mean, I know that being a single mom with four kids can be time-consuming, especially in the summertime with everyone at home. There are a lot of distractions. But I also know that I could manage my time a lot better. Like, do I need to check Facebook every 15 minutes? I think not.

Working from home can be challenging, but rather than scrolling through photos of kindergarten graduations and cat videos — and man, I love a good cat video — I’d really like to concentrate on more productive activities. Like, maybe writing or starting a meditation practice. Or food shopping, for that matter.

“Just because you know where the time goes doesn’t mean that you need to punish yourself for wasting it or feel bad about spending it the way you do,” Vanderkam said in a recent interview with KJ Dell’Antonia for the NYTimes Well Family blog. “Are you happy, or not? If you’re happy, celebrate that. There’s nothing wrong with sitting on the porch drinking a glass of wine and staring at the trees.”

Vanderkam was able to keep track of her days in 30-minute increments for an entire year. That’s 8,784 hours. And she had a newborn. How hard can it be for me to do it for a week?

I’ll keep you posted.

Do you know where all your time goes? What are some of your time management tips? Share in the comment section below.

When I’m not trying to figure out where all my time goes,  I write about being a mom to grown, and almost grown, kids. Sign up to get all of my latest posts sent right to your inbox by typing your email into the box below. You can also follow me on Facebook and Twitter. 

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Summer ’14 Highlights: ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ and Egg Whites

I do also go to Costco on occasion, I'll have you know.

Sometimes I go to Costco, I’ll have you know.

My two daughters came into my room this morning to find me lying on my bed, typing on my laptop.

“Mom, are you wearing real clothes?” one of them asked, and she started to inspect the strange pleated pants I was wearing that I bought at Athleta recently and had really taken a cotton to. They’re kind of  silky – a step up from nylon – and an oyster color and are fitted at the ankle and fuller around the waist.

“Yes I’m dressed,” I said, indignantly. “If you’re MC Hammer.”

“Mom, we really think you need to get out of the house,” the other one said. “It’s like your old job all over again except now you’re just doing nothing.”

Then they started to toss a million different activities out to motivate me off the bed (Who do they think they are? Me?):

“Why don’t you go clean your closet?”

“Or maybe organize the crawl space?”


“Go to the gym?”

“Do you want to come to Harmon with me?”

But when I tried to interview them about their collective fear that I am frittering my days away this summer, they immediately stopped talking.

“I don’t want any of my quotes showing up misconstrued, as usual, on your blog,” said the older one, “which you’ve already done, like, a magillion times.”

NOTE TO SELF: Start wearing a wireless device to capture these conversation gems on the down-low because there is little else to write about of late.

With about six weeks left to go, this summer break from school (I hesitate calling it a “vacation” because, let’s face it, kids lying around your house all day is not akin to a week in Jamaica) has been a study in contrasts around here.

While the season started off with a bang – filled with head staples, stitches and matters of the heart – it has kind of evened out into one big yawn.

I mean, the most exciting thing that’s happened in my life this week is that I swapped out egg whites for Greek yogurt in my morning smoothie.

But that might be okay.

I mean, the downside is that I’ve had absolutely nothing to write about, which is a combination of being in a very slow personal news cycle and not wanting to hurt people’s feelings (oh, how all the feelings get in the way of things).

I’ve had my fair share of sustained summertime excitement over the years. In fact, this is the first summer in memory where I haven’t wanted to blow my brains out by mid-July.

In the past, I had little kids to keep busy, and I did so by lugging everyone to the beach each morning. That evolved from me dragging toddlers and infants down to the sand with pack-n-plays and blow up pools to swim team and tennis lessons and playing with their summer friends while I sat and chatted with my in-laws or read.

Certainly not terrible, but kind of mindless and repetitive.

Then the older kids found a social life – along with Four Loko and weed – and were out looking to get it popping 7-nights-a-week. On the heels of all that fun, I went through a divorce and landed a full-time job that kept me busy 24/7. It was relentless, but kind of great, too.

But now that I’m unemployed and the older three kids are busy this summer with internships and part-time jobs, I feel a little adrift just working on my writing each day. And a little guilty.

But then, I came across this quote last night in a book I’m reading called “Spiritual Divorce,” that kind of borrows from AA’s line of thinking about acceptance:

“Without the faith that life is just as it should be, we cannot accept people, places, and things as they are. We will always be trying to change, manipulate, and control the outer world. ”

So I’m trying to embrace where I am, which is really a gift. It’s an opportunity to spend more time with my youngest child – who I’ve spent the last four summers trying to get rid of for work – and concentrate on my writing.  It’s just how this summer is supposed to play out and who knows what will happen next.

In the meantime, the other big news in my life is that – aside from having something I wrote slated to be featured on Scary Mommy in August and another possible local reading in September or October – I am officially obsessed with the new trailer for “Fifty Shades of Grey.” 

I heard the sultry new version of “Crazy In Love” Beyonce recorded for the trailer coming down the hallway from one of the girls’ rooms earlier, and I shouted (from my bed), “Hey! Are you watching Fifty Shades?”

“Yes,” they said in unison.

“OMG I’ve already watched it twice this morning,” I squealed.

“Ew, mom,” my younger one yelled.

“I’m obsessed,” I shouted back, laughing.

“Stop!” she shrieked. “You need help.”

C’mon. I mean, a girl needs a little excitement in her life. Doesn’t she?

Weekend Warriors

File:Viele Einkaufswagen

File:Viele Einkaufswagen

During the many years that I stayed home to care for my young children, I made it a point to avoid any and all supermarkets/warehouse clubs on Saturdays and Sundays. I could do that because I had the luxury of being able to hunt and forage for pantry staples like Pop Tarts and Tostitos while everyone else was at work during the week.

Monday through Friday, there were no lines at the Costco and Wegman’s that I frequented. I could park relatively close to the store entrance and move freely about the cereal aisle and could even – when necessary, and sometimes,  it’s totally necessary for the good of the shopping trip – easily navigate one of those carts with the little Cozy Coupe attached to the front to keep wily toddlers occupied while I stocked up on ground turkey and hamburger buns for dinners during the week.

But when I started working full time a few years ago – and even though I worked from home and was not necessarily shackled to an office desk – I was forced to join the ranks of the weekend warriors.

Once stuck with having to do my food shopping/errands on Saturdays and Sundays,  I observed something that, at least where I live, is seldom seen at Foodtown or BJ’s during the week: men.

And no offense to you guys, but from the looks of things, you don’t know what the hell you’re doing, almost like you’re on an episode of “The Amazing Race” and have just landed in a foreign county and you do not speak the language. You’re either staggering around the produce section trying to discern the difference between a shallot and a scallion, or clogging up the baking aisle while calling your wife to see whether she wanted the dark or light brown sugar.

Just buy both. Please.

It’s like when I had to send my then-husband to the supermarket to pick up some Kotex for me when I had my first miscarriage and apparently he looked so pathetic standing there in the feminine hygiene aisle — I mean this was a guy who couldn’t even stand to hear the word “period” — that some older woman took pity on him and helped him find the necessary lady products.

So imagine my consternation yesterday while doing my weekly food shopping and found myself waiting on a line of shopping carts trying to snake through Wegman’s bakery section on Super Bowl Sunday when I realized I DIDN’T HAVE TO SHOP ON SUNDAYS.

I could have waited until everyone went back to work on Monday, especially the jackass that held up checkout lane 7 yesterday afternoon because he wandered off to find something while his wife did the checking out and then reappeared about five minutes after the checkout girl had finished ringing up the order. He was all, “Huh? Huh? What? What?”

There is a place in hell for you, sir.

Sure, I’ll miss the free samples at Costco on Saturdays – who hasn’t made a meal out of those freebies? – but am willing to make that sacrifice if it means I don’t have to stand behind couples arguing on the checkout line or park the length of two football fields away from the store’s entrance.

Being unemployed has its advantages.

Silly Saturday: I Quit

Before going back to work full time three years ago, I was home taking care of the kids for 18 years. And while a lot has changed in our family over the last few years, working from home has allowed me to still be around for them when they get home from school each day or to grab them when the school nurse calls or drive them to practice or work.

In fact, because I spend most of my days sitting around in yoga pants in front of my laptop, my youngest son describes me as a “stay-at-home-computer-mom.” I may be busy trying to hit my monthly goals for work but as far as he’s concerned, I am buying another pair of shoes on Zappos.

Anyway, I saw this video while trolling Facebook this week. It’s a takeoff of another really popular one in which a young woman who has had enough of her job as a video content churner quits via an awesome video she created of herself dancing through her office and announcing she was done. (As if that didn’t make her clever enough, I also found out she had a “Modern Love” essay published last April. Bitch.)

Only in the video below, the woman works from home, surrounded by all her family’s piles of stuff and I could totally relate. Sometimes you just want to say, “Adios,” even if it’s just to go out and get milk.


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My kids hate my job.

Check that: my kids are dubious that being the editor of an online news source even qualifies as a real job when it’s happening from a desk in my bedroom.

To them, it makes no difference whether I’m writing about an arrest or if I’m posting “LOL!” on Facebook. As far as they’re concerned, my focus is on my laptop and not on them.

And it’s been a struggle this first year of working at home, trying to set boundaries and not letting my work bleed into time I should be spending with my family.

So one of my New Year’s resolutions, next to getting more organized about my finances and cutting down on my weekly wine intake, is to be more present with the kids when we are together – not listening distractedly as I check my e-mail or being glued to what’s happening on Twitter. To really be focused on what they’re saying.

I even saw a quote attributed to Buddha posted on Facebook (naturally) that I was inspired to share with the rest of the family on a chalkboard in the kitchen. I got out my fancy chalkboard markers and while a few of them watched in anticipation, I wrote: “I am awake.”

And the collective response from my people was: “lame.”

But in the week or so since I’ve written that, we’ve had a number of opportunities to talk about what it means to be “awake” to life.

For instance, the 9-year old insists on losing his new NorthFace jacket twice a week. By last week, he had misplaced the fleece during the big cold snap we had along with his new basketball sneakers, which coincided with the start of the season. After making him scour all the basements in the neighborhood and under all the furniture in our house, his sister found the sneakers in a metal bin in his room that is supposed to hold Nerf guns and other weaponry, not footwear.

Then this morning, the same finder of lost sneakers was running late, trying to slurp the last spoonfuls of soup for breakfast, and ran out of the house to high school wearing fuzzy socks and slippers. She called crying, mortified by her fashion blunder and even madder at herself for having been so discombobulated. This comes on the heels of rushing out of the car last night to play practice and dropping the iPhone – all of two-weeks old – that was on her lap onto the pavement and shattering the screen.

And I am just as guilty of not being present. It makes the kids crazy when I can’t remember something they just told me and I have been known to drive off and forget to take a child or two with me.

We all have complicated lives – with kids and work and dinners and dogs that randomly poop on your rug – and sometimes it’s hard to keep it all in check.

But I am determined to slow it all down, to appreciate this stage of my journey into the wilds of parenting.

So I’ve made a standing date with my high school girls each day after school. I close up my laptop and head down to the kitchen to greet them when they walk in and try to lure them into talking about their day.

I positioned myself down in the kitchen after school last week and they burst through the front door, looked at me and started up the stairs.

“Wait,” I called after them, “don’t you want a cup of tea?”

“Nah,” said the older one.

“We hate tea,” said the younger.

“But we could just talk,” I reasoned.

They slunk into the kitchen and sat down at the table begrudgingly answering my innocuous questions.  I turned my back to grab a spoon and they fled as if from an interrogation, and I thought, “These are the same people who feel like I don’t pay them enough attention?”

When I actually look at them they act as if I’m Medusa and they’re about to be turned to stone.

So let them hate my job and complain I’m always online. Even when I didn’t work I had my nose buried in e-mail and Amazon.

They can complain I don’t pay attention to them, but maybe someday they’ll see what the job gave them, like college educations, and that I found something that allowed me to provide that and still be a presence in our home and have tea in the afternoon.

The kids were sitting around the kitchen table recently and the three older ones were poking fun at my job and what it was exactly that I did and the youngest chimed in, “ She’s like a stay-at-home-computer mom.”

I’ve been called worse.

This essay was originally posted on Patch.com on January 11, 2012