Free Time? What Free Time?!

imageBy:Jessica Azar
Why on Earth does my son’s school think it’s a good idea to send home ONE tee-shirt for a child to wear EVERYDAY for an entire week? Have any of your kids’ schools done this? The last week of school, they celebrated “Cultural Week”, and previous Friday the school sent home a Cultural Day Tee for him to wear. He informed me that they “get to” wear it everyday for the next week to school! Yippee! Now if I were a kid forced to wear a school uniform every day, I’d probably be pumped to wear a tee shirt of any kind, too. But I’m not the kid, I’m the mom of a typically messy first-grade boy which means I’m supposed to find time to wash this shirt every freaking night for a week. I DO NOT HAVE TIME FOR THIS. I do threeish loads of laundry a day to keep up (when the stars align and I’m actually able to get things done around here), and being that this happened at the end of the school year, when schedule craziness abounds, it’s a crapshoot as to whether I will be able to wash then dry this shirt between the end of one school day before the next one begins.

The Monday night of Cultural Week, aka the last week of school, my oldest son had his last baseball game of the season at 6PM. The game was not over until 7:30, and then they the team party immediately followed that. All of us were out until 9, which is a catastrophe within itself. If my youngest daughter, age two, doesn’t get to bed on time (between 7:30 and 8) she becomes overtired. If she becomes overtired, she has trouble going to sleep and raises hell while trying to do so, then wakes up crying all night long, which forces me to deal with her. Being that I had three other kids to feed and homework to oversee BEFORE my son had to be at pre-game practice, the Cultural Shirt did not get washed… I guess that makes me a slacker mom. My “failure” led to my son initiating an epic power struggle via a before-school freak out. If the shirt hadn’t of had visible dirtiness on it, BELIEVE ME, I would’ve let him go ahead and wear it… as a mom of a bunch of kids, practicality has become my mantra… But, alas, it had junk all over it. I told him to wear one of his collared uniform shirts, and that I would wash it today so that he could wear it tomorrow… This of course was unacceptable in his mind, because he was positive that all of the other kids would be wearing the special shirt. This was when he chose to utter the thing he shouldn’t have said.

“Mom you had PLENTY of time to get this shirt ready for me!”, he snarled.
“Um no son, I didn’t… (I went through the litany of things we had done the night before) When would YOU suggest that I washed and dried this shirt for you?!” I asked, disgustedly. Get this.
He said, “In your free time. you weren’t doing anything after I went to bed last night” (which was around 9:30 after he showered).

In my free time?

In. My. Free. Time.

WHAT freaking free time?!

Oh, he must mean in the time where I actually sit down for 20 minutes with my husband and do NOTHING. And listen to my name NOT being called. Then SLEEP? Because, you know, even though I’m a mom, I still need sleep! Especially in light of my Bipolar Disorder…. If I don’t get decent amounts of sleep, it triggers my symptoms and the roller coaster cycle begins, which is hell on me and bad for everyone around me. I also must mention that he had the misfortune of saying this to me after I had been woken up all night by the overtired toddler.

In my FREE TIME. He’s about to learn about the value of FREE TIME.

“Son, when you come home from school, you get to play after you finish homework. You’re expected to keep your room straight, and if you don’t, THAT cuts into your Free Time, but that’s of you’re own doing. I don’t get that kind of FREE TIME… I constantly do extra work whether I mess something up or not, because I’m a Mom and because everyone else around here doesn’t do their assigned jobs. But here’s what you need to know, I may be a Mom, but I am also a person. I need time to unwind after moving nonstop all day and taking care of a busy household with four kids.” I stared at him without blinking, which usually kind of scares my kids. They know I’m at my limit when I get “the look”.

“Well maybe you need to work faster! I could’ve gotten it done and still had free time.” he said, steeling himself. He tried to look tough and confident as he sailed into the danger zone…. Writing checks with his words that his body couldn’t cash.
I could tell it unnerved him when I suddenly smiled…. A big Cheshire Cat grin… And said “You’re EXACTLY right! That’s the best idea I’ve ever heard!”.
He looked confused and said “What idea?”. I said, “That you can get my work done so much faster than I can! I’m so excited… Now you’re going to be doing ALL of the steps of your laundry… Because, you know, you’re better at it than I am… And it will give me FREE TIME! Since I don’t have any! And I think, since you’re so good at getting laundry done quickly, you can do mine as well! This is SO EXCITING!”.
He looked horrified and said “That’s not what I meant! That’s not FAIR!”.
I just smiled and said, “I know.” and left him raving in his room.

Maybe it wasn’t fair, but as we all know life isn’t either. I see this as a symbolic righting of wrongs for all of the Moms out there whose kids take them for granted. This is not merely an attempt to “get him back”… Although it is kind of gratifying… It’s also a learning experience for him to appreciate the hard work of others, and to be grateful for the things that just seem to magically get done, even if everything wasn’t just the way he desired it. Maybe now he will know how it feels to walk in the door from school, after working hard all day, and continue to work nonstop during HIS free time. He will straighten up his closet, do all of the laundry, and he will do things that other people ignored. Maybe he will see that this house is my office AND place to live. And while I imagine that he is actually grasping these perspective-altering concepts, I will play… And have FREE TIME.

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