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Off Duty Zones - Alone Together 24/7

Are you getting the alone time you need? Maybe that seems like a strange question after a year or more of isolation. But for me, now that we are vaccinated and are spending time once again with other vaccinated adults, I'm finding that I need more time to recharge after forays into the world than I did pre-pandemic. I've gotten used to isolation. In fact, I've joked with friends that I'm basically feral now (and I'm only half-joking). As a confirmed introvert, alone time has been on my mind this week a lot! But first, it's good to be back (I think). I took a long hiatus from blogging. With the events and changes of the past year, now feels as good a time as any to get back to it. This week we were able to see my bonus dad* for the first time in a long, long time. We took the plunge, made the drive, and had a wonderful time. After a few days together and a trip to the zoo, I travelled home solo so the boys could have some time with Papa all to themselves.

Scooter Surfs a Tortoise

And now, home with just my husband and our pets, I am feeling such a mix of emotions. Gratitude for Pops' presence in our lives, a vaccine, the means to travel. Anxiety about how my kids will do in a now-unfamiliar space after a year of near-total isolation. Overwhelm at the mountain of tasks I feel I could/should/must do given this child-free space of 72 hours. Grace to let myself not do any of it (or at least only do the things I can do with joyful energy.)

I really wanted to clean my floors and the opportunity to do it without interruption was too good to pass up. I have not swept and mopped so gleefully in a long time. And that got me thinking about all the other parents I know that are struggling to create a home when everyone is home…all the time. What has that transition been like for you? How are you doing with that huge shift? Even if you were a full-time homemaker before the pandemic, being a homemaker when your people are actually home all day is a different prospect altogether! And now that there is light at the end of the tunnel (thank you, science!), how are you feeling about the shift back into whatever our "new normal" looks like?

Change is hard for me. Is it for you? It was hard when Scooter, my oldest, went to school - but also wonderful because with Cheech, my youngest**, napping twice a day, I had time to do my homemaking tasks and have a little time to myself. When we brought Scooter home to homeschool, it was hard once again - and not just because I wasn't prepared for homeschooling. I lost all of that spaciousness for cleaning, laundry, cooking, and recharging my introvert batteries. My immediate solution was to just power through and keep doing things just about the same and just add homeschooling into the mix, but I soon learned that wasn't sustainable.

Eventually, I found my way, and up until COVID, we had a great rhythm going. I had enough ease in the day to get the things done that matter most to our family, school the kids, and take some time for my own pursuits, paid and otherwise. COVID changed all of that. All of the things I relied on to give us some space just weren't possible any more.

Once again, I had to find a new way of doing things (or double-down on some things that I had gotten more lax about) and I want to share some of them with you. I'll write a little about the first one today and the other two over the next couple of weeks. Maybe it will help you. Maybe it will give you creative ideas of your own. Maybe it's not really applicable to you, but it might be to a friend. Maybe it's just nice to hear that someone else is struggling, too. Who knows? But it's on my heart today, so that's what I write about!

A Gator Checks Out Cheech

The first essential for me is Off Duty Zones. For me, those zones are the bathroom, whenever I am behind my closed bedroom door, and whenever I am in my favorite chair curled up with the news and a cup of coffee. The kids know they need to solve their own problem - or go to their dad for help - when I am in one of these zones. They do need gentle reminders occasionally, but generally, it works really well. Of course, this didn't happen overnight.

The first Off Duty Zone I established was the bathroom. I told Scooter and Cheech, 5.5 and 2.5 at the time, that I would no longer be parenting from the bathroom. I would be going in alone, closing the door, and unless someone was bleeding, throwing up, or there was a fire, they would just have to wait until I came out. They loved this new idea. They hated this. The first week or so, they really tested this boundary - lots of banging on the door, testing the knob, throwing themselves down outside on the floor for a good tantrum. I even got a note passed under the door! I wondered if the three minutes it took me to pee and wash my hands was even worth it. But after repeating "Mommy doesn’t parent from the bathroom. I'll help you in a minute," about 97 times in the first week, they accepted it. Now 12 and 8, they never bother me in the bathroom - and no one has been injured, deathly ill, or on fire while I'm in there in the almost 6 years the policy has been in place.

As my kids have grown, I've been able to create additional zones and gain a little extra space. I can even go for a thirty minute run and leave them home to hold the fort! It's amazing and life-giving - and that week of banging, tantruming, and angry notes so long ago was absolutely worth it. And an unexpected benefit? My kids are learning how to ask for and find space for themselves.

During the pandemic, we've really put Off Duty Zones to work for the entire family. In the afternoons, we each find a spot - maybe in the same room, but our own spot - and listen to an audiobook together. The kids might build with LEGO, draw or color, or work on another project, but we are all in our own (shared) little worlds. It's made an amazing difference for everyone - even the kid who is an extrovert. He's learning to give space and that when he gives it, the introverts are better able to make shared space a cup-filling space for him later. These are life skills that will make my kids better friends, partners, parents, and workers and I am so proud of that!

Needing alone time is human and in this season of together-all-the-time, I think we need it more than ever. In fact, for introverts, as we emerge from this crazy year, we might need even MORE alone time than we did before. "Peopling" demands a good deal of energy for an introvert, and for me, the feral humanoid, it takes even more after a year of isolation. I'm going easy on myself and building Off Duty time into my life more than before.

Do you have any Off Duty spaces? How do you make them work? If you don't, what stands in your way? I'd love to hear about it.

*I have a bonus family - a lovely couple that informally adopted me in my early twenties. I lived with them for two years and they have acted as parents and grandparents for the last 20+ years. My bonus mom has passed, but my bonus dad is still going strong!

**Not their real names. I use pseudonyms to preserve some privacy.

Dueling Turtles at the Zoo

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