Tag Archives: self-care

The freedom of free time

This week I’m thinking about free time – mine, my kids’, my husbands. We all seem to have precious little of it. All summer I’ve been looking forward to the time when my kids would go back to school and I would have “six hours” a day. What I forgot is how much of that “six hours” goes to necessary work like housecleaning, grocery shopping, making food, setting up various doctors’ appointments, filling out paperwork for the kids’ school and teachers, and so forth. That’s just the basics. There’s always something more, like camping, a remodel, activism, keeping up on the Chicago teachers’ strike . . .

Anyway, six hours goes fast when you nibble away at it like that.

Meanwhile, my kids . . . when I was in second and third grade, I don’t think I had homework. Well, they have homework. It’s my job to be the big bad boss lady and stop them from having fun so they can do it. I was on board with the concept last year, but this year I’m feeling rather grouchy and rebellious. Somehow, what with the time it takes for dinner, bedtime routines, and homework, they really only get one or two hours to play after school, and it shows. In particular, my son totally zones out. All he had to do last night was fill out a reading log with what he’d read . . . and what with one thing and another, it took him a half hour. He wasn’t like that over the summer. He could manage his routines when there weren’t so very many of them.

My younger daughter, meanwhile, has begun to verbally articulate her need for play. This started over the summer, when she suddenly started noticing it and complaining when we overscheduled our days. It’s a good thing, because otherwise, I honestly wouldn’t have noticed. Now when she throws fits over having to stop an activity, and says, “I NEVER get any time to play!” I get it.


Play is important, both for grownups and for kids. It teaches you to learn for fun, not because you have to. It’s how you learn to be creative. It’s also how you learn who you are as a person – when there’s nothing particular you absolutely have to do, what do you choose?

My mom was one of the rebellious few who, during the feminist movement, chose to stay at home with me and my brother, and that’s one of the best things she could ever have done for me. It gave me hours and hours of freedom, and it gave me a role model who worked hard but also wasn’t afraid to laze around the house. So I have some expectations for me-time that maybe other people don’t. My expectations may often be thwarted, but on the other hand, maybe that’s why, when I say I’ve written a story or done this or that, people say, “But how did you find the time?”

How do you find the time for ANYTHING? is my response.

Burned-Out Activists

Last week I went down to the Central library for a meeting with some activists. We did some work and talked about this and that. Then the topic of burnout came up. Somebody or other had put in lots of good work and then left the movement entirely.

“Still, that’s great if somebody can come in and give it their all for a year,” somebody said.

Really? Is that good? To work yourself like a dog for a year and then give up, leaving everybody else in the lurch and needing to work twice as hard because you are gone?

“It would be better if they could put in half that much effort for two years,” I observed.

You know, or a quarter for four years, or whatever.

Lefty activists get to feeling that there’s some crisis that needs their immediate attention, and that most of the world is oblivious to it, and that they are urgently needed because they’re the only ones who can help. Well, yes, the world is in crisis, but the thing is, no one person can fix it.

I take inspiration from the Serenity Prayer, used in AA to help folks chill out: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.” (And holy moses, somebody needed it bad enough to tattoo it on their body!)

And the airplane advice: “Put the oxygen mask on yourself first.”

So how can activists prevent burnout?

1. Recognize the signs. If you wake up thinking about your cause every day, you’re in the danger zone.
2. Put in half the effort. Keep your commitments, but make half as many.
3. Take a day of rest. If the Judeo-Christian God did it, so can you.
4. Take a vacation.
5. Curb those messianic thoughts. That’s right, you’re not the Judeo-Christian God.
6. Ask for help.
7. Think ahead two weeks. Are you coming up on anything that’s going to demand huge amounts of effort? If so, consult #6 and #2.
8. Look around you. Is somebody else in your group verging toward burnout? Can you help?
9. Find something you enjoy doing, and then go do it every day.
10. Laugh.

Well, those are some answers. But they lead to a large and important question:

Can I take my own advice?