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AustinMama offers up some Daddy props.

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, design a building, conn a ship, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve an equation, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.
- Robert A. Heinlein

Doing too much

There's a Russian proverb that says a thousand throats can be cut in one night by a running man. At least, that's what Pavel Chekhov (Walter Koenig) claims in a Star Trek episode I saw when I was about Keefe's age. Clearly, this had more psychological effect on me than I might have guessed, because today I often feel like that running man, with a comparably lengthy if bloodless to do list. When did we turn into such determined overachievers?

For over 90% of our species history, we were hunter-gatherers. Today, no more than 0.01% of the world's populace do so, a lifestyle the civilized world looks down upon as hopelessly backward. Still, despite their embarrassing lack of DVD players, the average work week in a hunter-gatherer culture is ten to fifteen hours. Advancements in our technology and theoretically in our culture are not making us more spare time: they are taking it away.

We are trying to cram more hours into every day at unprecedented levels. McDonalds starts serving at 6am or even earlier in some areas, newspapers shoot for 5:30 rather than 6:30 delivery now, and commuters attempting to circumvent rush hour traffic have just spread the congestion into two shifts. At the other end, everything from bars to grocery stores stay open later, and 24-hour business fuels internet expansion. As many as 50% of North Americans don't get enough sleep.

For my own part, I'm an involved stay-at-home attachment parent with a busy nearly-four-year-old who's often up 'till 11 pm or later, a maddening trait softened by the fact that he's pleasant company and fairly self-directed much of that time. You who are reading this likely know, in ways childless folk cannot comprehend, how draining active little folk can be. In true house-spouse fashion I prepare three daily meals, wash dishes, do laundry, clean, vacuum, care for pets and keep track of countless items' whereabouts. In trying to improve the household diet, and with an elder son who doesn't metabolize refined sugar well, I bake two or three times a week to provide more virtuous treats. On an ongoing basis we are repairing, renovating and redecorating our new house. I make time to meditate, exercise regularly, keep abreast of current events, study various things that Iím interested in, pursue spiritual practices and have a social life. Atop all of that, I am working hard to build my career as a writer, pursuing clients when I can shoehorn it into daytimes, and writing, normally between the hours of 1 and 4am. I figure Iíve been averaging less than five hours of sleep a night for more than five years.

This lunacy carries itself over into my sonsí lives as well. Nine-year-old Keefeís circle of friends is large enough that weíve got birthday parties back to back and sometimes overlapping on every weekend for months of the year. His school schedule is augmented by a surprising volume of nightly homework, karate classes three nights a week, guitar lessons, and more -- all exacerbated by the strenuous negotiations that are seemingly necessary to get that homework begun as often as not. Keefe also wants to do everything from horseback riding to breakdancing lessons, have much more time to play with his friends, finish a bunch of computer games and see every movie ever made -- particularly those that I suggest are still inappropriate for him but which schoolmates of his, whose parents are less regulatory than I, have already seen. Where does it end?

At least Iíve had enough experience living like this to have worked out something of a system, and experimented with some habits that do or do not help me function. I know what caffeine overload does to my metabolism and restrain myself to a single cup of coffee or tea four days a week. Of course, my favorite mug is one you could float a jet ski in, but I still only fill it once. On one of those days, Iíll make a second boat of rapturous coffee just before tucking children to bed, and settle in for a long night. Thatís usually Sunday, when trash and recycling have to be organized, the litter box and turtle tank get cleaned, and I enjoy some solitary time. Astonishingly, maximizing my sleep doesnít seem to be the best scenario for my well being. I find that I am much better company when I sacrifice some shut eye once a week or so just to make down time. A long soak in the tub, a good book, a walk, or the occasional game of pool allow me to reconnect with myself, enjoy a better sense of who I am as an individual beyond the to do list, and feed the inner part of who I was before life with children. Similarly, one night a week I always go to sleep shortly after the kids and get every second of rest I can. My body usually picks that night for me without discussing it with my brain, but when Hugh shakes me while Iím reading the bedtime story and says ďNo, daddy, say RIGHT words.Ē Itís a good indication my neurons are getting the hell out of the way.

Naps are nice. Albert Einstein reportedly got by on regular naps. A twenty or forty minute nap refreshes more than a two hour one. This is because itís long enough to permit your brain an entire sleep cycle, but insufficient to get all the way into deep sleep, which can leave you logy and stupid from the effort of swimming back up from those depths, like mental bends. As a self defense mechanism, my bodyís trained itself to lift my head up and look around for a couple of minutes after half an hour of passing out on the couch, so I can get two or three micro naps when Hugh cruises for a long one, and that adds up. But the biggest factor in keeping me alive and achieving without enough sleep is diet. In our household Iíve completely replaced cane sugar with fructose (which doesnít require insulin to metabolize, and so doesnít make you peak and crash as much), pasta or white rice or flour with brown and whole wheat varieties, cowís milk with goatís, and red meat with, well, whatever else comes to hand. I donít buy a lot of processed food, and cook things from scratch. I start each day with a yogurt shake full of spirulina pacifica, bran, fibrous fruits and vegetables. Itís truly amazing: in terms of my energy levels, I figure itís worth about an hour of slumber all by itself. I graze more, with snacks every couple of hours rather than three bigger meals or, worst of all, being so concerned with how well my children are eating that I forget to feed myself until discovering I am ravenous at dinner, a torture I seem finally to have stopped inflicting on myself. And I dutifully take extra B vitamins, iron, a honking-big multivitamin formulated for my age and gender, and more when it seems necessary. If Iím going to live a lifestyle that punishes my body one way Iím sure as heck going to be as careful with it in other ways as I can.

Ultimately, I know that living like this is an unsustainable practice, but with each day my offspring become incrementally less dependent and it gets easier to fit my day insideÖmy day. Although he grumbles, Keefe can pitch in with an occasional household chore now, and Hugh is not only making my day easier when he cooks or loads the washing machine with me, heís picking up some skills and habits that will serve him in later years. My multitasking skills have skyrocketed as a natural result of parenting anyway, and my prioritizing skills along with them: Iím at peace that a few novels have to wait a decade or more before I try to let them out, and Iím not going to take up blacksmithing until the boys are in college no matter how cool it might be. Maybe, just maybe, the neurons not yet damning me in their death throes as I write this at 2:17am will be enough to carry me through to the rest of a century of satisfying and moderately less hectic life with wit and dignity. And after it all, plenty of time for rest in the grave.

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Michael Nabert is a Canadian writer who loves to talk and sing, and writes mainly about parenting, the art of wooing and paleontology. Widely traveled, with an opinion about everything, his friends often describe him as having "a deplorable excess of character." He is currently stay-at-home dad to Hugh (3) and Keefe (9).  Send feedback for Michael to: poprocks@austinmama.com

 

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