The energy equation

I knew, going in, that Saturday could be a rough day.

I had been in Seattle on Thursday and Friday, leaving on a Southwest itinerary (through Chicago Midway) that had me landing in PHL at 12:50 a.m. Saturday morning. We originally planned to do family photos at 8 a.m. Saturday, though that got canceled due to the rain.

However, it was still going to be an early morning, as it almost always is. I got home at 1:30 a.m. and was probably asleep by 1:45 a.m. I was up a little before 7, then got a bit of snoozing in over the next half hour or so. There were kid pick-ups (from a sleepover) and drop offs (a flag football game) and then my husband left at 9:45 a.m. to make a 10:40 a.m. flight to South Carolina, where he went to the Texas A&M football game with his brother and mother.

This meant I was on my own with the 4 kids. After running the 9-year-old to and from a birthday party at a rock climbing gym, and feeding the crew lunch, it was 1:45 p.m. and I was tired. Middle-of-the-afternoon tired, jet-lagged tired, 5 hours of sleep tired, etc.

The kids didn’t want to do much. I suppose I could have let them. The problem was that their not doing much seemed to involve fighting over the computer and fighting each other.

This is crazy-making, and in years of dealing with small kids, and thinking about my time and energy, I have learned two things.

First, it can be pretty hard to recharge at home when people are constantly demanding stuff, as little kids often do. If I could have taken a leisurely nap, or read a book without interruption, that would have been one thing. But those weren’t going to be happening. Hoping they would be options would just leave me frazzled.

Second, we often draw energy from meaningful, enjoyable things. In other words, in the strange calculus of the energy equation, doing something can be more recharging than trying to do nothing.

So I announced that we would all have 30 minutes of downtime, and then we would go to a mystery location. There was grumbling, but I loaded everyone into the minivan, and drove them to the Elmwood Park Zoo.

We wound up having such a good time. Walking around in the crisp fall air woke me up as well as another cup of coffee would have. It’s a very small zoo, but a kid-friendly one, with a playground, farm animals for petting, a tunnel you can crawl through in the prairie dog exhibit, plus a zip-line that we didn’t go on, but plan to in the future. We went into the tropical birds exhibit and got to hold up cups of food to feed the birds, which had all the kids grinning as they fluttered by and landed on our outstretched arms. Even the child who was whining most about the zoo got into a project where you could collect stamps at different stations. We collected all the stamps and got our badges.

The zoo closed at 5, so we were home by 5:30, at which point the kids were good and tired out. I was mostly able to sit and read the newspaper, get them dinner, and then get them to bed. Success. (And my husband was back by 8:30 a.m. Sunday morning, too.)

What do you do when your energy is flagging, but you need to get through the day?

Photo: Clowning around at the zoo


10 thoughts on “The energy equation

  1. I never thought about like this, but yes, sometimes doing nothing is WAY MORE exhausting than doing something! My MIL was regularly surprised at how much I did while on maternity leave with my second and aside from the fact I could actually participate in normal Mommy activities (story time! Moms group!) I figured if I was going to be tired and wandering in circles with a fussy baby, I might as well be out and about and make that something I could share with my older child or another adult or get something done like errands so I didn’t have to use my precious alone time. My older child was easily entertained on outings and we had some great bonding time and babywearing an infant at the park/grocery store doesn’t feel like nearly as much work as endless circles in the living room (when the couch you want to lie on is right there!) Of course you don’t always need to be “doing something” (in fact I just finished KJ’s book and she advocates for occasional “do nothing” time as a family) but when the do nothing is more exhausting than the doing, get out and do it!

  2. This is so true, and I’m grateful that my husband is better at it than I am. Given a choice, I would spend most of the weekend at home recovering from a busy week. But yesterday, after a draining morning at the local children’s museum for a birthday party, my husband insisted that we go to a local park for a short hike. I grumbled, but when we hit the trail, the weather was perfect and the leaves had started to fall. I felt completely recharged when we were done. And after all that activity, the kids were in bed by 8 pm. Definitely a win.

  3. This is such a good idea! I have experienced this as well but it had not established an easily reachable place in my prefrontal cortex yet. But we have a seasons family ticket to a nearby zoo similar to what you describe and it always makes for good and tiring (in a good way 🙂 for sleepy kids) outings.

  4. This may be a little different, but when I am really dragging I get a vitamin B injection. I have had sleep problems since about age 10, and often feel weak and sleepy. I also have trouble absorbing the vitamin. So I walk to the clinic near my office and get injected when I feel I need it. I highly recommend this over the cup of coffee—I get a mini break along with a boost of healthy energy.

  5. I think this extends to evening activities that involve television or internet. I feel more exhausted (and spiritually non-recharged or whatever you want to call it) when I mindlessly watch TV or scroll on my phone. If I convince myself to work on a project or just consciously get myself to do something (fun), I not only perceive time differently, I also feel more refreshed. But – still it’s hard to do, just like getting out to the zoo or a hike.

  6. We had a disappointing change of plans (we were supposed to see family and they couldn’t be bothered…) this weekend and think my husband would have used the terrible weather as a reason to stay at home and mope a bit. I cajoled him into braving the weather and we had a really special day – we went and ate pizza at a too cool for school pizzeria and then took our toddler to the imagination zone at the museum. I read somewhere that a change is often as good as a rest. And I’m convinced that fresh air is just as effective at clearing your head as caffeine is.

  7. Great post. I’ve learnt that lazy days at home are not good for me. Every day, I need to get out, especially long weekend days. I’ve never crystallised the thought that relaxing at home child-free and trying to relax at home with a child who isn’t going to let that happen are very different experiences! Great point!

  8. Such a timely post… when I read it, I was about to cancel a (kids-free) trip planned with my husband this weekend because I am feeling like I have reached the lowest of my lowest energy levels. And while I fully subscribe to your principle that doing something meaningful is a way more efficient way to recharge than doing nothing, the voices of my anticipating and present selves were too strong. Even fun stuff like looking for a nice place for brunch or Sunday or checking out possible exhibitions to visit seemed like chores to be done. But reading your post woke my remembering self up. I went through with the preps and I am sure that this weekend will be meaningful and that it will help me recharge to go through the next weeks. So thanks for the wake up call! 😉

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