Before law school I read and wrote a lot. That stopped after graduation. Between practicing law and having kids, years passed during which I read very little. I did manage to limp my novel along, writing when I found a moment here and there. When I left my full-time job almost a year ago I thought more free time would be the panacea to my reading and writing deficits, yet I still struggled to find the time. Or so I thought. After a week(ish) without alcohol and television, I discovered that it’s not the lack of time so much as the lack of energy and intention that prevents me from reading and writing as much as I would like. In short, I am distracted.
Here are the lessons I learned during my brief hiatus from television and alcohol:
1. Honesty: We usually have more time than we think. Be honest about what you’re actually doing and clear in your commitment to what you’d like to be doing. In other words, if I want to be a reader and a writer, I should prioritize those things over what I actually do in the potential free time, which often is drink wine and watch all the television.
2. Journal: Journaling for a week is a valuable exercise. I had never been interested in it, but this week has converted me. The practice allowed me to understand how I spend my time. The days blur by into a week, and journaling helped me to reflect on the comings and goings and see the little things form into a whole.
3. Inputs: We are affected by the inputs all around us — even ones we do not recognize as inputs. Television, food, images, social media and people all affect us. Be vigilant about what you consume.
4. Path of Least Resistance: The path of least resistance has a seductive call. Take note of the patterns, associations and repetition in your life and observe how they serve you, or don’t. For example, without television and booze, I noticed how much I check in with social media. That Instagram can be huge time suck was not lost on me before this experiment, but consciously observing myself scrolling through my feed over and over allowed me to see something closer to the true extent of my preoccupation.
5. Extremity: Being extreme for extremity’s sake can be taxing, and sometimes it just proves nothing.
6. Show Don’t Tell: Kids tend to do what you do despite what you say. As in writing, showing is better than telling.
7. Head Injuries: Kids are really prone to head injuries. You can’t protect them from everything, but watching them closely can help.
Keep reading below for my journal of a week without television and alcohol.
I wake up groggy from the weekend and need coffee. I try five minutes of sun salutations because I read somewhere that it’s good for you. The kids throw a tantrum and already I’m reconsidering forgoing wine. I feel like a cold might be coming on. Curse all the wine.
The babysitter arrives. I write some and then finish reading The Superhuman Mind by Berit Brogaard and Kristian Marlow. Babysitter leaves.
I play with my two-year-old Isabelle — no thoughts of Netflix. Or Wine. Isabelle recognizes letters — think maybe she’s a genius. Or perhaps she has synesthesia, something I just learned about in my pop psychology book.
It starts to rain, and we drive to school pick up rather than walk. I discover a very strange smell in the car. Find a hard-boiled egg yolk in the back seat, which has likely been there since our trip to the Bronx zoo over spring break. It was 80 degrees that day….
My four-year-old Eloise demands snacks. Says she’s tired and doesn’t want to go to ballet class. Her sister is already napping. I fear the rotten smell in the car has caused her to pass out. God, I can’t wait to fall onto the couch and watch… No, Netflix, NO.
I make a grocery store pit stop on the way home from ballet because it’s cold and raining and I want to make Bolognese for dinner. Kids run laps around the aisles and I fear momentarily I’ve lost them. Nope, they’re still here.
At home, the drum beat for dinner starts as soon as we walk in the door. I make macaroni and cheese for the kids and defrost some veggies. I chop the onions, carrots and celery for my Bolognese. Usually I have a nice glass of red when I do this. I am soon interrupted by the accusations and recriminations of tiny humans fighting over the same toy, even though they have all the toys. Maybe I could have just a small glass of red — it’s pretty much science that it’s heart healthy. Not to mention the retinol and antiaging benefits . . . . Door opens — Husband’s home early!
Children fed, bathed and in bed. Bolognese still simmering. I release stream of consciousness on husband. The urge for wine has passed. Desire to lay on couch and watch House Hunters in full effect.
Feel extremely anxious. Clean up the kitchen, take some magnesium and get into bed with Stephen King’s On Writing. Tell my husband that Stephen King is amazing. For reasons unknown to me, he responds, “YEAH. You’re really smart, but Stephen King is a genius!” Objection, relevance (I used to practice law). Read 74 pages and feel better. King says, “the key to writing good dialogue is honesty.”
Lights out at 10:30 pm.
Wake up somewhat refreshed at 6:30 am. Pleasantly surprised to see Eloise curled up next to me. I have a sore throat. Slam probiotics, a multivitamin and extra B12. More sun salutations. Do they count when you’re yelling at your kids to be quiet? Suppress urge to turn on Sesame Street. Everyone must suffer through this experiment with me.
It’s raining again. I check Instagram. The internet has collectively decided to do Whole 30. I spiralize some zucchini and slop my Bolognese on top for breakfast.
Babysitter comes: clean house, shower, write, keep reading Stephen King. Babysitter leaves.
Friend who pledged a sober Monday checks in. No wine, but half an Ativan. Is that on the wagon? Sure! Right? I think so. Informs me that the restaurant down the street is starting Tequila Tuesdays. The kids do love tacos….NO. No Tequila Tuesday. Or any day. This week.
Husband out late for an office-bonding basket ball game. Not entirely convinced this could be a thing.
Settle in to read more On Writing. Stephen King is saying one inspirational thing after another:
“Sometimes you have to go on when you don’t feel like it, and somethings you’re doing good work when it feels like all you’re managing is to shovel shit from a sitting position”
— and —
“You must not come lightly to the blank page.”
King discloses he reads 70–80 books a year. Try to calculate how many hours of Netflix that is before falling asleep at 10:30.
Both kids in the bed. Husband complaining of pain in entire body after last night’s strenuous basketball game. Sore throat fading. Are Sun Salutations becoming a thing? I think, yes!
Kids eat their Cheerios and head out with the sitter. Today is therapy day. In Brooklyn. In the rain. God, is this necessary? Yes. The anniversary of my brother’s death is approaching and I’m a mess. I meditate. I blab. I cry in shaking heaves like I haven’t in months. My brain is numb and I feel like sleeping for twelve hours straight, but I keep reading Stephen King on the train home. I finish the book and pick up Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird just before Isabelle returns. Her smile soothes me.
We leave in the rain to pick up Eloise. She’s hungry. I swear I feed her. I give them croissants because it’s hump day. I only think of wine for a split second.
We attend a play date with three other kids. Two of the little girls won’t play with Eloise, and Isabelle walks around with a set of plastic golf clubs, a monster truck and a blonde Barbie hanging out of a stroller, oblivious to her sister’s plight. Suppress urge to tell offending four-year-olds to stop being such assholes. One of the nannies mentions that there is free wine and cheese in the lobby of my building tonight. Of course.
By the end of the playdate, Eloise is back in the clique and screams at me that she doesn’t want to leave. Outside she throws herself on the pavement and assumes a snow angel position. “Do you know doggies pee pee right there?” I ask her. She jumps up and scrambles into the stroller. A middle-aged woman in scrubs walks by and says something I don’t understand: “That’s one way to do it. There are other ways, too.” I feel like I should be mad but I just can’t understand what she is actually saying. We roll forward in the rain and I think of the free red wine waiting in the lobby. Crap.
Dinner, bath, and bed for the kiddos. Dad is out late again. Pick up Lamott and do not like what I read:
“And then I tell my students that the odds of their getting published and of it bringing them financial security, peace of mind, and even joy are probably not that great. Ruin, hysteria, bad skin, unsightly tics, ugly financial problems, maybe; but probably not peace of mind.”
A text from my Monday sober-ish friend: “Um NY Waterway is having a cocktail party in your lobby.” Damn it!
Husband calls. He’s got great job news. And he wants to take six weeks off. Well, Anne Lamott says we can’t count on financial security through my writing, I tell him.
“That was not part of my calculus,” he says. OK WE GET IT.
I keep reading.
“Do your yoga nidra every night,” my therapist had said. I listen to a twenty-minute session and then read some more.
Husband gets in late. “I’m exhausted from basketball,” he says.
Uh huh. “How many drinks did you have?”
“I don’t know, like five?”
“No, just five.”
Lights out at 11.
Isabelle sleeps in her bed all night. Eloise is wedged between my husband and me. He is too exhausted from basketball and the five-to-seven drinks to work out, which is nice because he’s still in the bed.
Saluted the sun and then instituted a fifteen-minute period of everyone-read-to-themselves. It seems to be working. During breakfast Eloise requests This Land Is Your Land, so I play her some Woody Guthrie. After I play Bruce Springsteen’s version of the song, too. Soon the girls are dancing to Born in the USA. We are very late for preschool today.
Isabelle and I buy plants at the plant store and then everything else at Target. It’s funny how consumption can feel like accomplishment sometimes. After lunch she helps me pot the new snake plants and succulents. Out on the deck she dumps the entire contents of two bubble wands and then asks for more bubbles. Dirt is everywhere. I want to turn on Sesame Street, but instead I talk to her while I drill our shitty Ikea floating shelves into our bedroom wall. Looks pretty damn good with all the plants up there.
The apartment is a disaster and again I think of Sesame Street. It’s such a capable babysitter. Great references and always punctual. But, I think, we are committed to this. And I try to clean the house anyway. Isabelle has run into my room. A few minutes later I hear from the kitchen, “Poopy,” and my stomach drops. She has indeed shit her pants. And taken off her diaper while laying on our long-haired faux fur blanket.
Isabelle falls asleep in the double stroller on our way to pick up Eloise. I see that lady who may or may not have been rude to me yesterday. Her granddaughter goes to Eloise’s school.
An intense heat sets in as I slog across Jersey City for more ballet. We get ice cream afterward and play the “Guess What Animal I Am” game on a slower walk home. Husband calls — another early arrival surprise. I step it out to get home to clean up at least something. I am tired.
While cleaning up I smell shit. I fear that somehow the faux fur blanket jumped out of the trash bag and ran laps around the apartment. I discover that Eloise has managed to cover her rainboot and ballet slipper in dog shit. I’m honestly not sure how.
We feed the girls and then order burgers. I want a beer. Husband looks at work email while I clean the dishes and no one is watching Isabelle. She falls backwards from her booster seat, smack onto the back of her head. I scream, “Fuck!” This will come back to haunt me, I just know it.
I want my husband to put the kids in bed. We get them ready together, and then he brings it across the finish line with story time and cuddles. My body is pulsing with fatigue, from what I am not sure. I want to watch tv. Instead I listen to a twenty minute yoga nidra meditation on the floor of our bedroom. Half-way through Husband barges through the door and is out just as quickly as he came in once he hears the yoga nidra guy’s funny voice.
I take a shower. The girls are out cold and I sit down to write. Husband watches playoff hockey. I want to watch, too. Maybe it’s because I’m full from the burgers, but I do not want booze.
My college roommates call me, and I talk with them for about thirty minutes. One says her parents are upset she’s moving in with her boyfriend (She’s a thirty-three-year-old doctor who can save lives but cannot escape the 1950s). The other, a prosecutor, tells us how she’s swimming in felony rape cases. I think of how hard I cried during therapy yesterday and stay quiet.
I read Lamott for a bit and I already feel smarter: “Life is not like formula fiction. The villain has a heart, and the hero has great flaws.” Ain’t that the truth.
Wake up with a headache. Fog has eaten the greater New York City region. Eloise and Isabelle are next to me again. Isabelle keeps sleeping while Eloise bounds out of bed to get changed. We drink our morning drinks — coffee for me, warm milk for her, and read on the couch. Sun salutations were not on the agenda this morning.
Isabelle insists on pushing her doll stroller next to the double stroller. Her Elmo doll hangs out the side but at least he’s wearing a diaper. It takes us roughly two hours to get to preschool.
We drop off Eloise and run into a friend who has three kids. We have an impromptu breakfast together, which has happened exactly once during my stay-at-home-parent endeavor. I love it. We are enjoying talking so much, but the two-year-olds start to climb the walls. And empty all the salt and pepper shakers and dump sugar packets on the floor. We feel each other out on the electronic babysitter and quickly agree that it is ok. Isabelle and her mate sit for another 15 minutes while we finish our coffee. Thank you, Daniel Tiger.
I drag Isabelle to the frame shop and then the gym. I forget my headphones so I turn on the treadmill’s TV and watch thirteen minutes and thirty seconds of Hoarders: Buried Alive until I realize that I’m watching TV. I turn it off. TV is a sneaky SOB.
The fog is lifting and a hot sun is burning through the haze. Isabelle watches me hang up a picture in the apartment, and then we’re off to pick up Eloise. Isabelle wants to take her scooter, but she’s too damn dangerous on the thing and can’t be trusted on the streets. So I bribe her with cookies to get her into the stroller. She keeps her helmet on though, and makes sure the diapered Elmo rides shotgun.
I let the girls run loose with the bubble wand in our building’s court yard. For a while it’s just us; soon other families appear. I talk with two moms, one of whom is an attorney at a firm across from my old firm. The other is in finance. Or was in finance. She just quit today.
Husband gets home early and meets us in the courtyard. His parents are coming into town tonight, and he makes a dinner reservation. I seriously consider having a drink. The weather is beautiful. And, as I mentioned, my in-laws will be here.
Eloise runs around the back end of the courtyard, smack into a wooden beam. She screams, and blood pours down her face, into her mouth. I hold her and demand to go the hospital. Husband tells me to calm down. Eloise starts screaming that she doesn’t want to go to the hospital. The last time she went there she got stitches. We put ice on her head and her nose stops bleeding. The pediatrician tells me what to watch out for, and we head to dinner. Eloise acts as if nothing happened. I have just started breathing again.
I text my sober-ish friend that I want a drink.
She writes back: “Stay sober for the month! Ha! Also give up sugar, carbs and meat 😊 Lol None of it proves anything! LOL” She might have a point.
We sit outside and order the kids dinner. Husband’s parents are delayed a few hours. I order a beer and mussels and enjoy every minute of it.
Originally published at medium.com