What I Learned On Summer Vacation


I cannot tell what I did with my whole week on Folly Beach. I know I spent a lot of time staring at the ocean. I shelled a ton of peanuts for myself and the kids. I read Gone Girl in one day. Even with buckets of time, we never turned on the TV. (Don’t mistake that for TV snobbery. I’m watching Project Runway as I type, and I’m way too invested.) The more freedom, the less time I frittered away scrolling through my Twitter feed. (But I love my Twitter feed!)

My best guess it that when I don’t have the pressure of, “Gah! I only have 10 minutes to myself!” I’m less inclined to pack each second with frantic activity.

An unintentional effect of the TV/internet diet was a total news blackout. The impact of that, a revelation. I felt so much better not knowing the disaster of the moment. Not a little better, a lot better. I think it’s important to know what’s going on in Egypt. I wonder, though, what possible use is it to hear about some personal atrocity or disaster. I need to think about that more. In the meantime, I’m resolving not to click on the horror show links in my social media feeds. And, with regret, I’m going to hide — at least for now — some of my friends who can’t seem to resist sharing that stuff.

My hope is that if I burn less of my concern, adrenaline and empathy on people I will never meet and can’t help, maybe I can put it to better use with people right here in my life.

By the by, I don’t think that means I can’t help a stranger. None of this applies to events that have a wider social implication. If something is breaking on LGBT rights, I want to know so I can send money, write my senator, whatever. If a far-away individual really can use my help, I still want to give it. But I do not need to know about poor Amanda Bynes and her parents. I don’t need to know about some crazy woman having a temper tantrum while her husband films her. I don’t even need to know the crushingly sad stories of disaster befalling children like my own (which is, all children). I can’t help and it just leaves me feeling something between ickiness and despair.



St. Boggess Summer Program

As of this morning, we are the proud owners of a kindergartener. That took me three times to spell, which goes to show how fresh the situation is.

Before any more book learnin’ happens, though, we have a whole summer stretching out in front of us full of shenanigans.

Iron monster goalies

We’ve signed the boys up for the prestigious and highly selective “Camp Go Play In the Backyard.” We’ll augment that with enrichment experiences like “Find these groceries and put them in the cart.” and “Who can put away the puzzle pieces the fastest?”

I will personally feel enriched when I can get ready for work without saying, “Please get your shoes” nine hundred gabillion times. I wonder if I can get their internal clocks reset so fully over the next few days that they are snoozing right on past my departure time by Tuesday morning. I can make up the togetherness by letting them stay up and party well into the night.

Where does the time go? Seriously. That’s a real question.

I’m writing this at 35,000 feet and more than 2,000 miles from home. It seems like this is the only way I have time to write any more. Which, of course, is a notion that most sensible people reject pretty quickly. I’m first in line for the idea that people find time for the things most important to them.

Nothing is more boring than reading about (or writing about) not writing. I just say all of that as a way to set up the thoughts I’m trying to work out, which is to figure what I’m doing so differently in the past year that my “discretionary” time totally vanished.

Every work day looks more or less the same. I get up pretty early, get ready for work, and take the boys to school. I come home shortly before dinnertime. I play with the guys. We eat dinner. Then we realize we’re already behind on the bedtime routines. The boys go to bed too late too often, and it’s because I’m trying to cram in too many things with them in those precious evening hours. When they go down, I go down. I know I could make myself get up. But right now I’m getting enough sleep and I desperately want to protect that. I can’t go to work groggy and off my game. Which is why Damon always takes the lead when Elliot wakes up at night. I wish it was me, though. Sometimes I hear him wailing, “Mommy!” in the middle of the night and I go up, because who woulnd’t? But that’s not how it usually goes.

Cutting back on time with Alden and Elliot can’t be the answer. I already don’t get enough time with them. And who could deny these faces?!


But really, imaginary working-outside-the-home moms of the world who are reading this, what sweet ninja time management moves am I missing? I used to write. I used to read books. I used to see TV shows. I swear I can’t put my finger on what has changed so much. Something clearly has, though. Sheryl Sandberg? Anne Marie Slaughter? Anyone?

I definitely dither around on my phone, but that’s always filling in minutes here and there. It’s not like I’m spending whole free hours checking Facebook. The phone may be part of it, but probably not enough to make a big difference even if I went cold turkey.

Weekends are better. I could obviously make gains there. We spend a lot of time outside, swinging in the hammock, going out for pizza, walking. Even with all that, though, I could probably still carve more out for myself if I got a little more structured and a little more willing to say ‘no’ to some things I really don’t want to do. I’m actually pretty good at saying ‘no.’ I just need to remind myself to do that. Is finding a few hours two days of the week really the best I can hope for, though?

Dynamic Load

Four weeks ago my back started to ache. I’ve been know to cite the “tincture of time” as the best cure for most things, but even I knew I was beat when I found myself sitting in my car and wondering just how I was going to get out without help. Now I  have a small pharmacy on my counter and my second physical therapy appointment tomorrow morning at oh-my-god o’clock. I have drugs and ice packs and heat pads and therapy and still a sharp point of pain in the axis at small of my back.

My physical therapist wants me to know that I’m getting old. As if I didn’t see “elderly multigravida” scrawled across the top of my chart when i was pregnant with Elliot. When I humble bragged that I can walk many miles comfortably, but threw in that I hate to just stand for a long time, he said, “You’re weak.” To my face. Perhaps most galling because it is true.

Still, I’m not *that* old or un-fit. What I am, according to this therapist, is the mother of a “dynamic load.” Any chump can learn to life a static load safely — a heavy box, a piece of furniture — but a heavy object that remains always in motion — a rambunctious three-year-old — is a whole different proposition. In the final analysis, I believe I hurt myself potty training Elliot. If there is any dignity in that, I have yet to find it.


A Small Request

Update: I know the very best people. And they know other very best people. I’m so grateful. 15 dictionaries arrived today and I know more are on their way. Our goal was to send 100 books (five of us were shooting for 20 donations each), which would provide one for every three girls. I’m starting to suspect we will do better than that.


Hey Friends,

A former co-worker up and left her promising corporate work so that should could live far from her friends and family in circumstances most of us would never consider. She’s helping young women in Rwanda.

She can tell you all about it right here: Courtneyspondence: Can you outrun that malnourished, barefoot 9 year old? (No. No, you can’t.)

If you didn’t read that, consider going back. Really. It’s notable for its good cheer and for its profound reality check. At least that’s how it worked on me.

Her friends and former co-workers want to help somehow, do some little thing. When we asked her about it this is what she said:

One of the big goals at the village is for students to learn English.  Their first language is Kinyarwanda and they take all their classes in English and will go to university in English, so mastery of English is a required path for almost any dream they have.  I am helping students learn English as much as I can.  

 One thing I’ve noticed that is a big challenge is the students do not have dictionaries.  When they don’t know a word from their homework, they ask each other or me, but I think a dictionary would be almost required for me to learn a language.  Either an English Dictionary, or a Kinyarwanda/English dictionary would be a huge help.

If you find her work as compelling as I do, I’m hoping you’ll want to help a little bit too. Here’s what I’m asking: Buy this $11 dictionary and ship directly to me from Amazon*. We will box them up and send them to Rwanda (Shipping is pricey. We can do better if we bundle them all together.). Our goal is to get 100 dictionaries. If each of us can get 20 friends to send us a dictionary at work, we’ve hit our goal.

If you can do it, that’s much appreciated. If you can’t, maybe you could leave Courtney a supportive message on her blog. She didn’t ask for that, but I’ll bet she’d like it.

*Jillian St. Charles
9721 Sherrill Blvd.
Knoxville, TN  37932**

**Strangers, please don’t come to murder me at my office.