If I could put time in a bottle…

If you’re wondering why we haven’t been posting much on the bathroom renovation project (or, it’s been so long since we last did that you’ve forgotten all about it and are wondering what bathroom renovation project?), the answer is quite simple.

We haven’t written about it because we haven’t gotten much done.

In fact, that wall right there is pretty much it since we got the plumbing done–which was almost a month ago. And even getting that done was a source of some trauma.

As a result of the trauma, we’ve been having some conversations around here about workflow–and about how work flows into the larger river of our life.

As we’ve talked, we’ve realized some things we thought might be helpful to others, especially anyone who’s ever felt like there’s just no way to tackle big projects (or even the many small projects screaming for attention.)

The river of our life

Some people, we think, have a life that is more like an ocean than a river:  Tides come in and tides go out, but there is an overwhelming constancy to it.  Others might even have a life more like a pond–generally calm, contained, and smooth.

Our life with our kids feels more like a river to us, constantly moving and in continuous flux.

Some days there are two of us here and some days there are five of us–and, depending on the day, it might be three or four of us.

The upcoming week is a typical one for us. Today, Will and Ella return to their other parents, and Grace stays here for the week (except for Wednesday, which she spends with her dad). Ella is here for Wednesday night. Both Will and Grace are here for Thursday night. We technically don’t have the kids for the weekend–but we’ll have Grace Friday night (and will need to get her to her dad’s sometime on Saturday) and we’ll have Ella during the day on Saturday. It will be just Cane and me on Saturday night and Sunday.  On Monday, both Will and Grace will be back with us for the following week (in which Wednesday and Thursday will look the same as the previous week), and we’ll have all three kids for that whole weekend.

I say “typical,” but it feels like typical rarely happens.  Our regular schedule is frequently disrupted by holidays, birthdays, sick days, teacher work days, school activities, etc. Throw in special occasions, weather events, and random small disasters, and continuity is a rare thing.

How home projects flow into the river

While our still-married-with-kids friends sometimes express some envy of us–You get regular time with no kids!–we realized last weekend that when it comes to time for home projects, there just isn’t that much.

Scratch that:  We know that all of us have the same amount of time.

What we realized is that there isn’t much time we’re willing to give to our home projects.

The weekends we have the kids, we need and want to devote most of our time to them. Maybe it would be different if we all lived here together all of the time, but that’s not how it is. We get two weekends a month to pack in most of our leisure-time-as-a-family.

Even if that weren’t a factor–and it always is–there’s the blended-family factor. Ella wants and needs time with her dad.  Mine want and need time with me. So, it doesn’t work so much for one of us to get tied up in a project for hours while the other parent takes the kids. We both need to be available to the kids.

We’re realizing, too, that just because our kids are older (11 and 14), it doesn’t mean they need less from us. In some ways, it seems like they need  more.

They might spend more time with friends than they used to and convey that we are boring old parents they don’t really want around, but they’re happier when we keep them close.

When we don’t take the lead in planning activities for us to do together, all three kids want to spend their time on screens–something we feel we’re constantly fighting (in spite of our Screen Time Manifesto). While it would be easy to find project time by letting the kids lose themselves in video games and surfing, that’s not something we’d feel good about.

While we can (and do) take some small chunks of time to work on home projects, we’re realizing that about two hours on any given weekend day with them is about the limit.

And it’s not just about the kids…

There’s also us.

We know our relationship is the foundation of this household. When things aren’t right with us, nothing’s really right. And we know (from hard experience) that keeping us right takes attention, effort, and time.

In our earlier days, we had lots of whole weekends without any kids.

That rarely happens now.  What we can mostly count on is Saturday night and Sunday, twice a month. And we don’t want to spend all of those Sundays working on the house.

While we enjoy working on home projects together, we’re finding that it’s not always truly “together” time. Cane has the parts of the project he does, and I have my parts. Sometimes we work together (such as the time we wrestled the new tub into its very tight space), but we’re finding it’s not the kind of time we need to truly re-charge and re-connect.

To do that, we need time to talk. To relax. To have fun as a couple.

While we know that all couples have these needs, we think it’s even more crucial for us to make time for this than it might be for others. We love our blended family, but we’re not going to lie: It presents difficulties we never encountered in our respective marriages.

We understand why more second marriages fail than first marriages: Juggling the needs of yours and mine is a lot more tricky than doing it for ours.

Are you doing the math?

If you are, you’re realizing what only became apparent to us the weekend before last:

In the regular scheme of things, we don’t have big chunks of time to devote to our projects. Ever. (It is different for us during school holidays, which is when we tend to make big kinds of progress.)

peeling wallpaper off kitchen wall

It became apparent because that weekend our competing wants and needs collided. Cane had had a heavier-than-usual week at work. I had discovered that I really, truly need to be gluten-free, and I was crashing into all kinds of feelings about that. By Friday, our tanks were empty and we coasted into the weekend on fumes.

We thought it was all going to be good, though. We had all three kids on Friday night, but they were all going to be with their other parents by 11:00 on Saturday. We had a rare opportunity to both do some in-depth work and have some grown-up fun time on Sunday.

But it just didn’t go that way.

Saturday afternoon Cane worked on getting that last wall of cement board in place and I worked on trying to figure out what to do with the tile, but there was no joy in it for us. We were tired from the week and feeling disconnected from each other, and it quickly became apparent that working on the bathroom wasn’t what either of us really wanted to do. We did it anyway.

We pushed through because…well, because we started the dang project in January. And we want our bathroom back. We wanted to reserve all day Sunday for some relaxed fun, so we didn’t want to put the work off. We felt we had to take advantage of the chance to work uninterrupted for more than two hours.

Wrong choice

By the end of the day, we were both seriously out of sorts. Not conducive to relationship-building.  (Well, not the enjoyable kind anyway.)

Our feel-bad carried over into Sunday, and we didn’t get what we wanted from that day, either. We went to some of our usual places to have fun, but we couldn’t get to our fun place.

We ended our kid-free weekend –typically our time to refuel so that we can give those kids all they need through the coming week–feeling frustrated, depleted, and more disconnected than ever.

It sucked. As always, suckiness is a learning opportunity. Once we started talking about what happened, we realized a few things.

What we learned

Lesson 1:  We need to be realistic and clear about our time and our priorities.

We’ve got to accept that on our kid-weekends, we just aren’t going to get a whole lot of anything done. We aren’t going to change how much time we have or our priorities about how to use it.

The house is not more important than the kids or us. It just isn’t.

We want to improve the house–and we will–but it’s mostly going to happen in small increments of time. Baby steps will get us where we want to go, eventually.

Lesson 2:  We can prioritize our family over our house because the house does everything we need it to do right now, just the way it is.

ella playing a table-top piano keyboard

Would we like our bathroom back?  Would we like to stop looking at the wallpaper border we hate? Would we like to do every single project on our house tour punch list yesterday?

Corner of room with dresser and bed

Of course we would.

Do we need those things to enjoy our home and each other?  Of course not.

Really important truth to remember.

Lesson #3:  Small projects in the midst of larger ones can satisfy our desire for progress.

Some parts of our big bathroom project need those larger chunks of time. We can’t tackle the tiling in an hour here and 30 minutes there.  Until we can get that kind of time, though, there are smaller things we can do to make our house more of the home we want.

While we had the kids this past weekend and didn’t make any progress on the bathroom, Cane did work on a project we’re excited to share with you on Wednesday and I made progress on our paint-one-wall-at-a-time living room painting project. Those were things we could do in the small chunks of time we carved out.

Lesson #4:  Our life needs to shape our work–not the other way around

Part of us would love to be the kind of people who begin a project and work steadily through it until its completion. There is an order and neatness to that we find really appealing. And it makes for much better blogging.

But we aren’t going to be that kind of people. (At least, not while we are in the thick of parenting.)

We are start-and-stop people. We are take-a-break-to-play-a-game-with-the-kids people. We are the kind of people who, if it has to be a choice between happy and messy, choose messy.  Every time.

So, it may be a while before we’re able to share the big reveal of our finished bathroom. Life for anyone who’s raising a family is a constant balancing act. We feel a little more steady now that we’ve given ourselves permission to go more slowly, so that we don’t lose sight of our reason for wanting a comfortable home in the first place.

How do you do it?

How do you find time to give everyone (including yourself) what they need? What does your balancing act look like?  We’d love to hear from you–and our comments are working again! (Thanks to Karianne and Kirby for alerting us to the problem.)

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