If you are a Dr. Phil viewer, you may have seen the recent show on Dr. John Robinson’s time-use study claiming that “Women have at least 30 hours of leisure every week. In fact, women have more leisure now than they did in the 1960s, even though more women are working outside the home.”* If you are a working woman, you may have already used Google Earth to locate Dr. Robinson’s home, somewhere in the Baltimore area, and are currently figuring out how to make something very large and very heavy fall onto it. And if you were doing this, by the way, you’d be using your “leisure time.” As Brigid Schulte wrote, in her Washington Post article on the study, answering emails or using the computer for anything other than work is leisure time. Other examples include:
“Watching movies with the kids. Visiting a sick friend with the kids. Talking to a friend about her leisure time on the cellphone to report this story while taking my son’s bike to the shop for repairs with the kids. Leisure, leisure, leisure.”
“Printing out a gift card to Best Buy for my friend’s son while yelling at kids and husband to “get into the car now” two minutes before leaving to go to a birthday dinner. Leisure.”
I haven’t read the study itself, and I’m not a Dr. Phil fan. I was turned off by his approach to the topic, which seemed to be: “Let’s tell a whole lot of working moms that they have 30-40 hours of LEISURE TIME each week, watch them all foam at the mouth and then do a SHOW about it! HA HA HA!” But Amy Hatch, from ChambanaMoms and ParentDish knows a whole bunch of stuff about it, AND was on the real live Dr. Phil show. So you can read an informed person’s view about the whole topic here.
I’ve been thinking about this though, and I decided to distill the more burdensome tasks associated with mothering into two main categories. Then I analyzed whether the elimation of these two tasks would make a statistically significant difference in how much leisure time I might have. I decided that the answer was yes. Without having to do these two things, I believe I could take on a whole new hobby, such as cleaning my house. So here they are, the two most oppressive tasks of motherhood: answering questions and carrying things.
A few nights ago as I was putting Gabe to bed after a busy evening, his narrative of weird, random, end-of-the-day-running-on-fumes comments was taking a while to wind down: “Sharks have blood in their mouths.” (He just started watching “Finding Nemo”). “Helicopters are sometimes blue and sometimes red.” “I don’t have any juice.” “Some dinosaurs eat leaves.” And so on. Just as he was quiet and breathing steadily, and I got up to leave, he opened his eyes and said, “Can grasshoppers walk too?”
My brain jumped and I thought, “‘Walk too’, as in ‘walk as well as jump?’ Or ‘walk too,’ as in ‘walk the way other insects or some other life form can walk?'” I didn’t respond, but the point is that even though we had just gone through the whole shark thing, and even though it was the 4,000th question of the day, even though were both so tired, my immediate reaction to this question was to try to answer it. My brain still thought it through, using up precious CPU that I could have been using for a leisurely activity like paying bills on-line.
This is to say nothing of the mundane, relentless questions the older boys ask: “Where are my pants?” “If I give you 4 quarters, can I buy a song on iTunes?” “Can you sign this permission slip, form, homework assignment, etc.?” “What are we having for dinner?” “What time is my track meet?” “Can I go to Patrick’s?” “Can I ride my bike to the library?” “Can I come in?” “Can I use the drill?”
The questions, they are endless. I imagine my brain cells as billions of tiny greyhounds, quivery and tense, always on the alert for the next question. Real leisure time would make them implode.
Now with regard to carrying things, I had my first child 14 years ago, so including the pregnancy, during which I was carrying him inside of me, that’s almost 15 years. 15 years during which I have not once gotten out of my car empty-handed. For 15 years (which included 2 more children), I have neither gone anywhere nor done anything without something bulging out of me, strapped to me, hanging off of me, hanging on to me, balanced in my hands, slung over my shoulder, or pushed on wheels in front of me.
When getting home at the end of the day, or simply getting out of the car at different times during the day, there has always been someone or something to be carried out of the car and into the house. For example:
- Car seat
- Diaper bag and assorted baby paraphenalia (too numerous to list)
- Library books
- Misc. clothing such as a single mitten, one sock, the winter hat you insisted must STAY ON
- Toys and/or pieces of toys, especially those with tiny parts
- Candy wrappers and other food-related items (e.g. used straws, soda cans, petrified french fries)
- 632 pieces of “art work” made by child at daycare and the things that fall off the “art work,” e.g. dried pasta, pipe cleaners, shiny beads, feathers, etc.
- Tissues and napkins
- Cell phones and other small electronics, esp. ones that beep or vibrate from unknown locations in the car
- Sporting goods
One time I was driving to the grocery store and I passed my friend Jean who was walking her dog while carrying one child in a pack on her back and pushing the other in a stroller. Just in crossing the street she was responsible for THREE lives other than her own. Just seeing her made me so tired I almost fell asleep while driving. Another time I was in Boulder with my friend Ann for a conference, and we took a walk in some foothills at the edge of the city. Along the way, I kept seeing cool rocks I knew Noah and Jacob would like, so I picked them up and put them in my pockets. It took me some time to realize what I was doing–weighing myself down with rocks to bring home for my kids.
So I’m hypothesizing that if I could free myself to spring out of my car unencumbered, or unleash those quivery greyhounds in my brain, I might, over time, build up enough physical and mental energy to devote to myself to a leisurely hobby, like using the oven instead of the microwave.
But it will be a long, long time before I find out, because the only populations I know with leisure time are children and retired people. At the end of Brigid Schulte’s article, she interviews labor economist Rachel Connelly (mother of 4 children), who looked at the same data as Robinson (who is 74, divorced and lives alone), and found that working mothers have next to no true leisure time. Connelly says:
“It would be great if you could have career-type jobs where you only work 30 hours a week. Are we getting there anytime soon? No, we’re not. So you live in a dirty house. You say, no, we don’t make homemade cookies. You enjoy your kids, enjoy your work. And know that [the time squeeze] can’t last forever.”
And perhaps you nurture fantasies about developing a highly contagious little illness that requires A LOT of bed rest and possibly an intravenous sedative. But you DON’T read time-use studies by old men that make you feel bad about your life.
In honor of true leisure time, here is a poem by Elizabeth Smither called “A Day in Bed with Aunt Maud.” I think we should all get to live this way more often. How about you?
A Day in Bed with Aunt Maud
My dear high-foreheaded aunt, good
at sums and attentive to all that love
demands, loved a day in bed.
No illness drove her there, or fever
no drenched nightgown, twisted
but the bliss of a day in bed.
She lay, she slept, she reached out
a hand towards an improving book
she closed its covers on her day in bed.
She contemplated the plaster ceiling rose
and all the world that swam around it
a spider web from her day in bed.
She lay like someone in a shroud, proud
of her stretched toes, her spine
bearing not this day on her day in bed.
She took some rations, delicate things
and a jug of fresh-made squash
she dined daintily on her day in bed.
What did you get? the others asked.
A firmer view of the world, she said
through lying down on my day in bed
and love and anything you care to ask.
They never did. Away they sped
She contemplated them from her day in bed.