On not watching the clock

photo-163It happened more than once on the Mosaic logs. A woman had negotiated a schedule to leave work quite early. She’d go pick up her young kids from daycare…and then confess to spending the afternoon and evening hours watching the clock. How many minutes until dinner time? How many minutes until I can start the bedtime routine? Small kids aren’t always the easiest people to hang out with. Especially in the years before they can really entertain themselves (or be trusted not to eat a nickel they find on the floor somewhere), you feel constantly “on.” And “on” is a hard state to maintain for long periods of time. Hence the clock watching.

I succumb to some of that myself, so I wanted to be careful about today. Our nanny is on vacation, and I had the kids today (my husband has them tomorrow). He was working late tonight, and I figured it could be an 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. sort of thing. The weather forecast called for all-day rain. My 7-year-old is still in school, but not the younger two (ages 4 and 2).

So I had a rough plan. We’d do a museum in the AM, and either a shopping trip or YMCA trip in the afternoon. We’d go out for dinner at night.

It worked pretty well. While the Franklin Institute turned out to be closed today, and the kids may have heard some colorful language during my attempts to park downtown (I hate parking in downtown Philly), we spent a lovely 2 hours at the Academy of Natural Sciences. The “dinosaur museum” has dinosaurs, and a sandbox up on the 3rd floor (a nice touch) that the kids spent way more time in than anything else. We drove home, had lunch, then sat for 20 minutes before we got our stuff together for the Y. I ran for 30 minutes while they went to the play room. Then we went swimming. We had to leave a little sooner than we would have liked, because we had to be home in time to meet the bus. We had play time for a little over an hour, then we went to Peace a Pizza, this pizza chain where they have a kids’ area with little chairs. The main attraction, as far as I can tell, is that the kids’ area features movies, and my kids absolutely love the idea of being able to watch movies while they eat (it’s kind of a big no no in our house — no TV during meals). So we had pizza, and ice cream. Then I had to pick up a prescription at the pharmacy. That kind of pushed everyone a wee bit over the edge, and I will admit that my children were racing down the aisles of CVS, but that was the only major naughty moment for the day. After we left, I drove home to find my husband was already there, so we all pushed various combos of kids in strollers on the driveway (they call it a roller coaster) until bedtime.

There weren’t really any occasions for clock watching. My Fitbit tells me I got 15,000+ steps, though with the pizza and ice cream, that’s probably necessary. It’s a reminder to me that things go better when I think through the days. Even thinking up a particular home-based project for an evening (reading 2 chapters in a certain book, baking cookies with the kids) lessens the sense of too much time, which often degenerates into sibling bickering around here.

I completely acknowledge that this is not the case for everyone. Some people can move spontaneously from one thing to the next, or have kids who do beautifully with at-home, unstructured time. This is not my life, however, and part of managing life is figuring out what works for you.

Photo: The dinosaur museum also has butterflies!

14 thoughts on “On not watching the clock

  1. I was gone all day Saturday for a work retreat, and my husband had forgotten about it until Friday. He said the day (with our three kids) was rough, largely because he didn’t gear up for it. He didn’t plan anything, didn’t have any plans to work with. So- much clock-watching and too much frustration with the kids. I have been there and experienced that many times. He needs something to do out of the house with the kids or he goes a little nutty. Everyone’s got to figure out what works for them.

    1. @Katherine – my husband decamps for relatives’ houses when this happens! He views the 2-hour drive as a small price to pay for built-in entertainment once you get there…

  2. I only pick the kids up early if I have a plan for something fun (or someone’s sick). We have a “dinosaur museum” here, too! It is the Natural History Museum, and it is pretty good. Lately, though, the kids have been asking to go to the Zoo on their “special days.” My 7 year old has done Zoo camp and been on several field trips there, and so she can show me things I didn’t know about now- and last time, we even discovered a hummingbird house neither of us knew was there. The other thing I find works best is to only take one kid out early at a time. We have FAR more fun that way. Of course, that isn’t always an option- like our unplanned day off during the recent fires. But if I’m planning the day off, it is one at a time!

    1. @Cloud – one at a time can be a lot more fun. The kid gets the parent’s full attention, so there’s no jockeying for it, and the wandering-off thing isn’t as stressful (you can follow one kid!) It becomes harder, of course, as the number of kids rises. I love seeing my 3 kids play together, and they’ve recently been lobbying for all-3-kid sleepovers (my daughter sleeps separately from the boys) but the lack of one-on-one time is a downside.

  3. I’m all for planned activities with my 18-month-old. People might think it’s strange to have a little kind signed up for music, gym and swimming, but I LOVE the structured interaction. Honestly, I don’t think either one of us gets a lot out of just hanging out at home. And when we are at home, we spend a lot of time outside. He really likes it, and there are enough families with similar aged children where we live that there is often someone for me to socialize with while we keep the kids from doing permanent damage to themselves.

    1. @Chelsea – especially when the kids are in the toddler stage, I am a big fan of structured activities. Toddler gyms are safe and — more importantly — enclosed spaces, so you can kind of relax a bit. 18 months is peak wandering off and falling down stairs time.

  4. Planning activities definitely makes time go faster. I have to also make sure, though, to plan in some rest time for the older one (and nap time for the little one) or they get too tired and cranky (frankly, I need a bit of a rest myself, at least a chance to sit down for an hour when I’m running around all day!)
    We went to the Dinosaur Museum (as the kids call it) about 50 times last year (we had a membership). The kids LOVED when they had the animatronic dinosaurs that RAWRED and moved around. I’m a bit tired of that place so we didn’t renew for this year. Haven’t been to Franklin yet but my husband went with my older son’s class for a field trip and said it was cool.

  5. Planning does help prevent the clock watching, but I contend that if the activity is really boring to me — as many MANY child-targeted activities are — I will clock watch regardless of the amount of planning that went into the day. Lately I’ve been enjoying unstructured time around the house with my daughter the most. She has been playing with trains, playing preschool with her dollies, doing puzzles, and (most recently) painting with minimal intervention from me. Sooooo much more relaxing that going to the F-ing Academy one more time.

  6. Sometimes I struggle because I feel like I really need some down time at home, but the 3 kids drive me nuts when there is nothing planned. I have better weekends when I plan outings as well. We do a lot of play dates with other kids. I take a turn, and then the next weekend I can send my kid to their house. This helps me have a little time to just putter around.

  7. i definitely prefer the planned approach, although simple activities are great (play date at a playground). for me i think what helps the most is being social with other parents, AND being somewhere enjoyable for the toddler. (and infant, but mine is too young to care yet and thinks everything is enjoyable 🙂 )

  8. Hangin gout at home with my 6 & 3 year-old boys is hell for me. A worst recurring time is winter weekend afternoons, looking up, and it’s only 2:30 in the afternoon. Oh boy. Mine are not much into screens either, or at least not reliably so. Far more interested in active pursuits and (god forbid) interacting with me.

    Getting out and about is my default. I find it much easier to focus on them when I am not distracted by lots of other things I should be doing at home, we aren’t making a mess in our own home, and they are not as needy & they fight with each other a whole lot less.

    Luckily I have a high tolerance for doing things again and again, so a few local memberships means it is not too terribly expensive to get out A LOT.

  9. I have to ask — do your kids nap? I would have had to make a trip home for my 3-year-old so he could take his 2-4 hr nap. My younger two were/are big nappers till kindergarten, so whatever we do has to be such that naps are included, otherwise hell ensues.

    1. @xykademiqz – wow, 2-4 hours? No, we don’t have big nappers around here. The 2-year-old sometimes takes it, but often not on weekends. If she takes one she’s definitely up until 9 p.m. The 4-year-old gave his up by 2.5 years old. My kids just don’t need much sleep. There are upsides and downsides to this. The upsides are being able to do things in the afternoons, or all-day trips. The downsides are obvious.

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