Friday, 10 September 2010

Normal Time

At the beginning of the summer, I read Michael Chabon's Manhood for Amateurs -- or rather, I gulped it down.  Chabon's meditations on parenthood elicited many moments of delighted recognition, but none more so than his description of Normal Time.  Normal Time, as Chabon defines it, is the yearning for "time to spare, of time in plenty." 

 Time not just for work and reflection and unhurried lovemaking but for all kinds of fine and tiny things.

One of the things that Chabon is going to do in the coming of Normal Time is "print out the digital photos and reorganize the albums."  (I couldn't help wonder how many people have that resolution.)  Certainly I have been resolving and planning to organize my photographs since 1999 -- which is the last time I recall making a big push in that area.  Okay, yes, I've done the occasional album -- but still, there are stacks of photographs everywhere, and I need to do a serious cull of the digital files.

All summer long, when solitary moments have been as scarce as hen's teeth, I've thought longingly of that time when the children would return to school and routine would be re-established and there would Normal Time aplenty.  In August, I even got the photo albums out and started making ambitious plans for various collages:  of favorite holidays, of all the Christmas cards, of the girls when they were babies.  Oh yes, I had big, grand, retrospective plans.

On Sunday, we took our oldest daughter to boarding school; early Monday morning, my youngest daughter left for a week-long field trip and my husband went away on a business trip.  All of a sudden, after frantic weeks of preparing for these events, I was completely my own -- with loads of free, uncommitted time.  And here's the rub:  I've realized that there is a problem with Normal Time.  Time, with no children in it, just isn't normal to me.  For 16 years, my life has been dominated by mothering and that's the groove that I'm used to.  In fact, it's been approximately 16 years since I last remember feeling so uncomfortable with my own company.  Then, I was in a brand-new country (England) with a brand-new baby, and after two weeks of a full house, my family left and my husband went on a business trip . . . and rather suddenly, I was alone with a newborn.  I felt lonely and bewildered and distinctly uncomfortable with the new-mother routine.  No week was as bad as that first week, but it still took a while to reset the clock of my days.

I can only trust that I will get used to this new version of Normal Time -- and figure out something constructive to do with it.  This week I've been rather spendthrift:  I finally cleaned the utility room, but I also watched the entire third season of Mad Men.  I ironed a stack of shirts and sheets, I read The Group, I sent off some overdue packages and letters . . . but I definitely fell short on reflective activities, and I didn't even crack open those photo albums.  Maybe next week.

 Steering a new course
The last day of summer:  punting in Oxford


marja-leena said...

Lovely photos of such a grown up daughter! That book sounds very fascinating, perhaps a good read for both partners, thanks for the review. I'm considering a purchase.

I know you don't have an empty nest yet, but you seem to be feeling a hint of it. I didn't suffer from empty nest syndrome too much having had our third child ten years after the second one, and having each at various times move back home for a while, with youngest also back and still here. In fact, I've sometimes craved an empty nest with just my husband. Does that make me abnormal? Oh, I do love my family but nowadays in smaller doses of time I suppose as I feel more and more of a need for quiet time alone too.

Lisa said...

I think it takes time to adjust to not having kids around. Even when they aren't making demands of us or our time, their presence requires a certain loose focus.

I always make bigger plans that I'm able to fulfill when it comes to Normal Time. But I guess if I planned nothing at all, I'd probably not get out of bed.

I think you achieved quite a bit this week.

Meri said...

I love the steering a new course photo.

Kristen In London said...

Oh, how you echo my own thoughts! And sometimes I feel guilty because I long for her to come home from school, and then when she does, I find it very difficult to listen to her tales of school woes! I suppose life comes in stages and there is no way it will be smooth or simple to move from one to another... transition, how painful it is! And yet how lovely it can become.

Dumdad said...

I'm the same in terms of years - my son is 16. (I sometimes catch myself in semi-shock to think my baby/toddler boy is now a man with a deep voice and taller than me; it's normal, I know, but all the same).

Photo albums: I love my Pentax digital camera (used it today, so easy) but, like you, digital has ruined my photo album collection. Before, I used to take pictures, get them developed then choose the best to put in the album.

Occasionally, I open an album and it's lovely to see pix of my kids and holidays and marriages etc. It's not quite the same viewing the same pix on the computer.

I keep meaning to print out pix and put them in an album but . . .

oh well.

Bon weekend!

Bee said...

Marja-leena - No, I don't think it's odd at all to crave an empty nest. I guess that's what I'm trying to express, really. I thought that I would be THRILLED to have time to myself, but now that I do, I'm not quite used to it yet.

Lisa - Yes, you are so right about the "loose focus." Just cooking for them is a focus, of sorts. I'm making a roast chicken right now, and it's the first proper meal I've made all week!

spudballoo said...

Hey you...I'm just relishing a little alone time this week. But it's all been so topsy turvey with school starting, birthday party, then the actual birthday tomorrow that I've had plenty to keep me busy. Plus I'm adapting to the schoolrun and all that jazz.

I'm sure you'll get in to a new groove soon enough. Enjoy some solo time, you've certainly earned it! x

elizabethm said...

I remember so vividly that yearning for normal time when my children were small and I was working. Now that they have well and truly left the nest and I have recklessly thrown up my job I have more normal time than I have ever had and it still isn't enough! I think it is because it is not "normal" at all. It is time for that quiet ordering and polishing of your life that happens in your head but in daily life is always squeezed out by functional daily stuff and the demands of other people!

Elizabeth said...

How I long for space and time
and how carelessly I use it
I often feel a bit rudderless when not at others' beck and call.
However, the future will bring you more space I think
and then slowly you'll get used to being purposeful.
I haven't read the group for several centuries....I'm enjoying The Hare with Amber Eyes.
Expecting friends for dinner so am in vague cooking mode....
apple sauce
peach crumble....

much love

steven said...

bee - what a splendid post! i have been lost in that very reflection - without naming it so well - the quest for "normal time". i am thoroughly and joyously immersed in being a dad to two teens, a hi=usband to a woman with a full life, and a teacher . . . oh and a son. but somewhere - well in my mind in seven or so years - i am retired and then i will be able to do all that i ave been banking. i think that's wishful to be truthful but it makes sense when i stop and dream about it!! steven

Tracy Golightly-Garcia said...

Hello Bee

Beautiful pictures! Summers are great, but for me "Normal Time" is hard when my daughter goes back to school and I am having to rethink how to spend my time when it's just me.

Tracy :)

catmint said...

I love reading and thinking about time and its meanings and how it is experienced. I will definitely search out that book. It seems to me that there is usually a choice of activities and one has to continually prioritize and make decisions. Is a day just spent pottering with nothing to show for it a waste of time???

Just a Plane Ride Away said...

You know, when you told me Oldest Daughter was going away for school, I don't think it really hit me that she went AWAY away.

I know you will adjust to your new Normal, dear Bee. {{hugs}}

kristina said...

Just finished Season 3 of Mad Men here, too.

And on the subject of digital photos, my mum and I just made our first photo book on Shutterfly, and it was fab. We were skeptical, but the quality was amazing.

Back in London now, so just let me know if you need any help filling your Normal Time!

K x

Sarah Laurence said...

You are reminding me that I should read something by Chabon. I like his definition of normal time and the realization that it is fantasy. I love how you’ve worked off of his quotation in this post. It sounds like you made good use of your time alone as I’m sure you needed down time more than chores.

What is it about 1999 and photos? That’s when I stopped making photo albums too. Speaking of pictures, those punting ones of your youngest daughter make me miss Oxford. They serve as good imagery for launching your oldest daughter. Perhaps your blog has replaced the family albums in a good way.

beccaaaa said...

Yo it's Becca. Your daughter in case you've haven't forgotten me. Was just gonna say two things. Firstly I was totally gonna report abuse on your blog cos it would have been hilarious but then realized it wouldn't have been that funny if your blog got shut down. Hahaha. Also Meels is wearing my shoes in that picture. Not acceptable. She is a devil.

Marcheline said...

I hope that I can take some small credit for inspiring you to watch Mad Men...


If not, glad you're a co-fan anyway!

I never had kids, but I can totally relate to the way free time doesn't turn into what you had planned for it.

Once that Mad Men contest was over, I was going to start doing yoga again, and exercising.

Pass the chips, will you?

Relyn said...

Bee, I love your thoughtful approach to life and living and motherhood. I'm hoping that you settle in to your not-so Normal Time and find new ways to enjoy it. It may not be normal, but I do love those chunks of time that are gifts. I had one of those days yesterday. I didn't accomplish much, but I sure enjoyed it. I watched Criminal Minds and got all caught up on the ironing and laundry. I straightened the house and ate a piece of cheesecake and wrote a blog post. Not a bad day. Not sure if I'll ever get to those photos though...