Take turns with parent time



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It’s Wednesday, 5:45 p.m., on a sunny September evening. Tonight’s my turn to get out of the house and the thought of a bike-induced exercise high has kept me sane through sorting four loads of laundry, changing three poopy diapers and sweeping up half a box of Cheerios. Husband, toddler and I are eating spaghetti and meatballs, when my husband finishes his plate and leaps up from his chair.

“Where are you going?” I ask suspiciously.

“To the bike shop,” he responds. “I just need to bring in my front wheel to get fixed. I’ll be right back.”

I put our toddler to bed but by the time he gets home and I get on my bike it’s past 7 p.m. and there’s not much daylight left. My turn isn’t much of a turn. I tick a mark on our scorecard in the column ‘time due’.

When we first became parents we jostled for position – okay, sometimes we shoved – to find some time for ourselves. I was like the bossy kid in class, often accusing my husband of jumping the line. Truth is, we’d forgotten how to take turns. Enter the schedule and the scorecard. The schedule exists on paper. We keep the scorecard filed safely in our heads.

It wasn’t always that way. My first outing with friends was when my son was eight weeks-old. We were meeting downtown. I hadn’t been much further than up the street since he’d been born. As I drove away, I felt like I’d sawed off my right arm and left it at home. My friends, all moms, picked up my fragile new mommy self, dusted me off, and encouraged me to stop staring at my phone. But once the movie began and conversation ceased, I picked up my phone again. What was happening at home? Where were the frantic text messages from my husband? I had been gone a full 90 minutes. I snuck out of the theatre and drove home in a panic to find my husband on the couch, baby asleep on his lap and a book in hand.

With practice, taking my turn got easier. I soon found myself bartering post-bedtime and weekend naps like a ferocious stock trader just before closing.

Just past his first birthday, my son got pinkeye the night before the book festival I’d been planning to attend for months. As we wrestled our screaming toddler to scrape goop from his eyes, I realized one of us had to take him to the doctor. My husband did the job so I could go to the festival, but two weeks later when the pinkeye returned, I shuffled my schedule.

Of course, sometimes the schedule crashes. Last summer we all went camping and tried a day of biking with a group of friends-with-no-children. We planned to divide the day: one half biking, one half toddler-fun. The bikes and my husband rolled away around 9 a.m. My son and I ventured to the nearby beach and returned to our campsite for lunch and his nap. At 2:30 I was still alone while my son slept peacefully, and with each passing moment as I waited for my husband to return, my temper rose like the waves we’d left at the beach. I did get a short turn but I wasn’t a happy camper. Tick one for me again on the scorecard.

Keeping score sounds competitive and might be a great way to erode marital happiness. I recently read The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin and she quotes from her happiness guru, St. Thérèse de Lisieux: “When one loves, one does not calculate.” I disagree. What I’ve learned from our efforts to continue our pre-baby activities, enjoy family time, occasionally sleep eight hours, remain employed and feed ourselves is this: bartering and calculating represents the linchpin to our family happiness.

When it’s my turn to go out, I drop in on the bedtime routine for a quick hug and a few ‘night nights’ instead of hours of bottles, stories and ‘yes, it’s sleepytime, please lie down.’ I cash in more than scorecard currency. I invest in my sanity and spirit. The next night, when I’m on bedtime duty, I enjoy reading Goodnight Moon, even the second time through.

Some days our schedule feels like an itchy, too-tight turtleneck that I want to peel off. I dream of dropping off our son at a grandparent’s house and jumping on the first flight to Vegas for the weekend.

Friday evening rolls around and I’ve got scorecard credit piled up from my Wednesday evening bike ride that was cut short. But it’s my husband’s turn to meet up with friends. As I wave goodbye, our son’s nose pressed up against the door beside me, I check my watch and consider what activity all this credit could buy. My turn will come, but I’m still keeping track on the scorecard.

Megan Clendenan (with her family above) is a Vancouver freelance writer and mom of one who’s learned how to take her turn.

Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, October 2012.

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