Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Living on Grape Time, Accomplishing Little

One inescapable truth about motherhood is that it's forced me to slow way down. I never thought I had enough hours in my day as a childless adult. Now I'm confounded by this paradox: How can the days go by so slowly, yet the daily accomplishments amount to so little?

First, we must consider basic math. If you have a toddler, each task or activity will take, at minimum, 50 per cent longer than that same task or activity would take without the tot. So a half hour trip through the bank and post office will chew up at least 45 minutes. If you don't budget the extra time, you are guaranteed to face some additional delay, such as thirst, throw up or a hasty retracing of steps to retrieve a Tonka toy quietly dropped fourteen blocks ago.

Once you make it into the bank or post office, it doesn't matter if there's no line, or if your transaction is simple, or if the person helping you is God's gift to customer service, because even if you accomplish your errand in record time, you've already budgeted the extra minutes for crisis management into your agenda. The savings get wasted, somehow, because you don't score enough extra time to embark on a new task.

Certain outings possess an inherently higher degree of difficulty.

Any excursion wherein the Grape comes within touching distance of any food or beverage item automatically takes almost twice as long as the same errand did in the pre-Grape days. Think about it: Before kids, I bet you didn't allot time to re-stack the six foot pyramid of (expensive, organic, imported) tomatoes that your little angel toppled while your attention was oh-so-briefly diverted to the bananas.

Not that this happened earlier today. It's just an example.

In the summer months, the tot time suck factor might decrease to about 35 per cent, since bundling and un-bundling everyone to face the Boston tundra accounts for at least half an hour of each sub-zero outing. During the average day, I spend almost two hours engaged in the act of preparing to leave the apartment.

Please note that parents of children just learning to use the bathroom should go ahead and add the fifteen per cent savings right back in, since we all know that toddlers in training need to seek out and use every disgusting, inconveniently located, disease harboring facility within seventeen blocks of their mom's planned flight path.

There's also an up-charge for children with strong opinions. Say you spend fifteen minutes browsing in a bookstore. You make your selection with your kid smiling happily in his stroller. Maybe you bribe him with a new story book which he clutches proudly in his little hands as you approach the cashier. Then the store's computers go down. The line extends into the street. The clerk summons reinforcements. They all frown and curse the computer. Your kid loses it.

Nothing works. Not singing about Old MacDonald's ducks and pigs in front of two dozen annoyed strangers. Not stale Cheerios excavated from under the stroller. You decide to cut your losses and leave the store.

The Grape (oops, I mean your kid) howls like a monkey when forced to relinquish the board book he'd never heard of but now cannot live without. You've spent a half hour and accomplished nothing. Add to that time the half hour spent leaving the house and the fifteen minutes needed to redirect the little lad after the summary confiscation of his would-be treasure. Now maybe you start to see where your time goes.

The second major toddler time management issue is that, unless you count yourself in the unfortunate minority, your small humans adhere to something resembling a nap schedule.

Naps are great; they save many parents' sanity every day. But, you cannot plan an errand that might infringe on nap time, lest you miss the crucial wind down window. If the tot sails past sleepy time without going down, the rest of his day and yours will, to put it bluntly, suck.

You will do nothing for the rest of the afternoon but beg, plead and cajole the child to go to sleep, until such time as he finally shows signs of succumbing. By then it's too late. If he sleeps during the time formerly known as happy hour, the whole night will be shot.

Which means the next day will be a disaster, which can't happen since you already wasted five-plus hours today fighting with an eighteen-month-old over a two-hour snooze.

At this point the task becomes: keep him up until bedtime at all costs. If this means scrapping the elaborate dinner you'd planned to whip up in order to dump the kid into the tub to keep him alert, so be it.

Another universal truth about naps: If your child senses you have pressing business or a fun social engagement planned, he will sleep like a champ for hours upon hours. If however, it is raining sideways outdoors and you have nothing planned, he'll nap for fifteen minutes. At most.

The third major issue stems from children's biological programming. They must be the center of mom's attention at all times. If that means clinging to your legs and wailing while you make an important phone call, bake a birthday cake or attempt to use the bathroom in peace, that's what they'll do. They want to ensure you accomplish nothing extraneous to their immediate demands and they will pursue that goal with single minded focus.

R. grumbles it's ridiculous that I allow the Grape to follow me to the powder room.

But consider the alternative: At least if the Grape is busy grabbing at my person, I can see him.

Which means I know he's not turning the oven to self-clean mode while the aforementioned cake is in there, or clubbing the dog with his Mozart Cube, or throwing away my favorite earrings, the TV remote and my iPhone.

Not that any of those things happened yesterday...


  1. Bravo, touche', agree, agree, agree with all of it.

    I hope you were able to exhale after writing and publishing this post.


  2. Hi Mari! Love this post. Reminds me a bit of....Veronica's Nap! And I see you left a comment today on Writer Unboxed. Good to see you there!

    I have a lot to say about childrens' need for our attention, and at the risk of drawing boos and hisses, have always taken a pretty hard line that we CAN control that to a certain extent when they're really small, and it gets easier as they grow. And of course, day care and sitters are much better for long-term projects than kids' nap time -- and we should NOT feel guilty about using them. A happy mom makes for happy kids, and if doing other things (like, um, writing?) makes you happy, it's a noble cause.