different ways of being lazy

I’ve always been the sort of person who prefers the easy way of doing things. When I was living and working in London, with access to Oxford Street and all its shops every lunchtime, that meant buying things: ready-made meals for one, ready-made desserts in individual portions, even bags of prepared vegetables, peeled and sliced carrot batons, broccoli florets, shelled peas, mixtures of veg that were ready to just go in the microwave and accompany the ready-made individual-sized pie which I’d stick in the oven when I got home from work – ok, partly this was because I actually didn’t know how to cook… but partly this was the lifestyle I was living: rushing to work every day, always feeling short of time, and being surrounded by shops selling any kind of luxury, so basically I bought time, I paid money so that someone else would save me having to spend time on peeling carrots.

About a decade ago I left London and said goodbye to the rat race, and went to live with friends who run a small retreat house in a tiny little town in North Wales. One day my friend Maggie took me to visit her sister, who lived further out in the sticks, and her sister welcomed us with tea and scones. Home-made scones. “But, Babs, you don’t bake,” Maggie exclaimed in surprise. Her sister, who had some long-term health issues, explained that yes, she normally doesn’t, but she wasn’t feeling all that brilliant and wasn’t up to going all the way to the shops, so she decided to be lazy and make her own.
As someone who had recently arrived from London (and even before London, had always lived where there are shops within walking distance) this just cracked me up laughing. This is the difference, I thought, between town and country life – out in the sticks, where the shops are far away, the lazy option is to make your own.
Why am I suddenly thinking about this? Because last night I sat here and made a card to give my husband for our wedding anniversary. And I’m not generally a person who makes cards. I’m not naturally inclined towards that type of creativity – I’ve always been a words person, not a cut & paste or draw or paint person. But I’m not living in a place with lots of great shops within walking distance – no, we’re not out in the country, we live in a sprawly kind of town and the particular bit we’re in just isn’t brilliant on the shopping front. The town centre is about 10 minutes away by car, but then there’s the question of parking, which is very expensive, unless you’re willing to park far away from the shops and then walk for miles carrying your shopping back to the car. And I have a lot less energy than I did back in my London days. There is stuff that seems so easy when you’re in your thirties, but when you’re 49 it feels a bit of a chore.
So last night, like my friend’s sister back then who made her own scones, I chose the easy option and made my own greeting card.

some thoughts on work, rest and play

I read an interesting article in yesterday’s paper about some recent research suggesting that mothers who go out to work have 30 hours free time per week, to which the reactions from mumsnetters were obviously along the lines of: you’ve got to be joking…

Not being in that category myself, I can’t say much more than that about the lives of working mothers, but what grabbed my attention was the method used to reach this conclusion.

First, here’s the part that I think makes sense:

Rather than ask people to estimate how much time they spend on certain activities per day or per week, those taking part in this research were asked to keep time diaries, logging in detail all the stuff they were doing during a 24-hour period, so that later the researchers could allocate the activities to the appropriate categories and arrive at a real total of how many minutes the person actually devoted to e.g. housework, childcare, work at whatever their job is, shopping, cooking, watching TV, commuting, etc. I think this makes much more sense than asking people for an estimate, because it’s unlikely that a person will have a good objective idea of how much time they spend on each of these things.

But where I think their method is lacking is in the either/or attitude to the use of time. The article gave a list of activities that this sociologist files under “leisure activities” and others that are filed under “non-leisure activities”, and these lists include stuff like:

Shopping – under non-leisure, no matter what kind of shopping you’re doing. which is ridiculous considering that so many women do regard shopping as a fun and enjoyable pastime, something they do just to cheer themselves up a bit. (No, I’m not talking about wheeling your trolley round a supermarket, I’m talking about treating yourself to new clothes or makeup or a handbag or whatever – or, if you are me, letting yourself loose in a stationery shop…)

Personal grooming – again, they place it in the non-leisure category. Can you honestly tell me that for the average busy working mother, having a manicure or a facial is not a wonderful bit of me-time snatched in between her errands?

On the other hand, volunteering is placed in the leisure section. Huh?

And keeping fit is in the leisure section, even if you hate exercise.

At least with reading they show a bit more discernment, and say reading is under “leisure” but not if you’re reading work stuff.

But with childcare, they lump everything you do with your kids under “non-leisure”, even if you’re having loads of fun, even if you’re just taking them along to something you enjoy doing, or using them as an excuse to play…

And commuting is placed clearly under non-leisure, but from what I remember from my commuting days, it was a mixed bag – though some of it was certainly stressful (London Underground in the morning rush hour), some of it was a great chance to unwind on your way home after a day’s work, reading the newspaper or a book and basically not having to do anything from the moment you got on the train and sat down to the moment you got up at the end of the journey.

I think if you want a real picture of how people use their time, you need to allow for certain time slots to go under more than one category. The trouble is, of course, you’d end up with a total of more than 24 hours per day… But seriously, I’ve always had a problem with these sorts of approaches to recording use of time – they’re fine when you’re doing a clear-cut job, when you’re focused on a specific task at each given moment, but trying to apply that to women at home… sorry, how do you record those minutes when you’re talking to a friend on the cordless phone whilst cooking a meal?

not to mention that some activities are restful/relaxing/recharging for one person, and a chore for another. if your husband loves tennis and insists you go play every weekend, does this count as leisure time for you? if you have an annoying neighbour who keeps popping round for a cup of tea and a chat, do you have to file that under “leisure” because you are sitting down and having a cuppa and socialising? and then, on the other hand, say you actually have a job that involves doing the stuff you love doing – is that strictly work time?

I don’t find life is quite so black and white.

Take your kids to the park, and leave them there

I must have looked like a nodding dog while I was reading this article – it makes so much sense! It just can’t be healthy for children’s development to keep them so closely supervised all the time. And, as the article says, people tend to forget the statistics which say the vast majority of crimes against children are not committed by strangers – I think it’s just so much easier to focus on the “stranger danger” issues, because that’s something you can actually do something about, you can teach your kids not to take sweets from strangers, you can mollycoddle them and supervise them in the playground, so you get a sense of control. One of the quotes from British parents in response to this “take your children to the park… and leave them there” idea was from a dad who said that he’s not willing to take this kind of risk because he needs to know his kids are safe. But hey, can you ever really know that? Is there such a thing as complete and total safety in this world? All you can really have is an illusion that your kids are safe.

And if you wrap them up in cotton wool, you’re taking different risks – you’re risking your kids growing up without having a clue how to make decisions for themselves, how to make good judgements about risk-taking. You’re risking your kids growing up to be over-anxious adults.

And yes, I know, it’s easy for me to say – I haven’t got kids to worry about. But I’m pretty sure that if I did, I wouldn’t want to raise them on the fear & anxiety diet that my own mum brought me up on.

For more about this stuff go to Free-Range Kids – How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children