Me Time

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A few years ago, I managed an employee. The YWCA where I worked had a complex daily cash reconciliation process and a bazillion weekly bills. Unable to plow through the work on my own, I hired Ken for twenty hours per week. He made the deposits and kept on top of accounts payable. We were oil and water. He’s right leaning, I’m left. He loves watching and talking about sports, I watch none. He’s opinionated, I’m opinionated. Deep conversation turned to argument. We kept our discussions at the surface level. A common topic: Any plans this weekend?

Every Friday, Ken and I had the exact same conversation. “So Jeff, any plans for the weekend?”

“Well tomorrow, I’m going running.”

Every single week. Eventually, it occurred to me that to Ken, my weekends probably seemed lame. And I suppose they were. Early to bed on Friday. Up at five on Saturday morning. Out the door, running by six. I’d limp back in around nine-thirty or so. I reserved the rest of the day for recovery. Saturday night, I was useless. A yawning evening on the couch.

My life has a line. A before and after. A change so marked that I truly became a different person. In September of 2016, I began to take a medication for Tourette Syndrome. It works, sort of. My tics, the involuntary movements and sounds that signify Tourette, are diminished, but not gone. What really changed is my Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. I suddenly no longer needed to run to absolute exhaustion every Saturday morning. I moderated. And after medication, I began to see that my obsessions stole an unfair block of time from my family. In my example, pretty much all day Saturday.

Running is just one of many obsessions. A few examples: Months writing, editing and self-publishing my first book (this period is referenced by Susan as one of the low points in our marriage). Weeks spent creating a trail through the woods behind my house connecting to an existing trail network on the adjacent national park (this one was stopped by police intervention). Every free second for over eight days rebuilding a 1970s Schwinn into a fixed gear bike. Many of these projects, along with the running, happened simultaneously. An embarrassment of Me Time.

The notion of husbands/dads being selfish with their time is hardly a unique idea. Just look beyond your local golf course, and you’re sure to find a woman left to pick up the loose ends of parenting and chores. I’ve always held golfers in disdain. “If I’m going to spend all day Saturday on myself, I’m going to be in the woods.” But really, I was no different from the golfers. I spent the whole day in the woods.

This is past tense. Now I try to spend my free time with my family. Except this weekend, family time brought back some old feelings of selfishness. Every Saturday morning, Susan and I make a list of what we hope to achieve over the weekend. Everything. Some items are huge—paint the porch. Some items are tiny—feed the snake. Some are mundane—go grocery shopping. They all need to get done and the satisfaction of crossing crap off the list is one of the highlights of the weekend. Sometimes we add stuff after the fact just so we can cross it off.

Every weekend, I include go running on my list. It’s necessary for me to have a period of solitude and meditation. It centers me. My runs aren’t the four-hour monsters they used to be, but sometimes I drive to a trailhead, and it’s not impossible that I’ll be gone for two hours or so. A big chunk of time, but my only chunk of time for the weekend.

On Saturday, Eli had a couple of things on his list—mountain biking and fishing. These are a couple of activities I enjoy as well, and in this era of social distancing, I’m the only one who can do these with Eli. Here’s the deal: even though I’m spending time with my son, and he’s doing outdoor activities we want him to do, it feels like I’m skipping out on my responsibilities. While Eli and I went mountain biking, Susan painted the porch. While Eli and I went fishing, Susan shopped for groceries. And then on Sunday, I went for that run. Susan dug a garden bed.

Something I learned this weekend. I can’t use myself up mountain biking on Saturday and expect to run well on Sunday. My run, starting at a trailhead twenty-five minutes from home, was all hills. Steep hills. My route began with an uphill mile climbing to the top of a mountain. After that it repeatedly loses and gains elevation until I return to my car. Just over the first hill, I lost control on a muddy downhill, and I flew head first into a thorn bush. My neck made an unpleasant crunching noise that I knew would feel stiff the next day. Because my vision is so terrible, it took me a couple of minutes to find my glasses. The rest of the run was more of a hike. I had nothing left for the uphills, and I was scared to let loose on the downs. My one hour run stretched out an extra forty minutes.

I need to get my head around this. With the mountain biking season starting in July, Eli and his dad/coach need to get in shape. We should be riding at least weekly, and including the drive to a trailhead, that’s a three-hour time commitment. And I’m not ready to give up the one thing I truly do for myself each weekend—a long run.

Susan is encouraging so far. She sees the importance of mountain biking (fathering) and also running (solitude). But taken together it seems like an unfair grab of Me Time. It reminds me of the days when I thought only about myself. When my personal obsessions used up all my time.

Photo by Evan Wise on Unsplash

34 thoughts on “Me Time

  1. I totally get this. But your wife knows how you tick, and if she gives you this time, take it and enjoy it and don’t feel guilty! You’re at least no longer doing the pseudo-ultra-training you were doing before. And she gets a happy/sane hubs on your return. Win win.

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    • Probably your right I’ll no doubt be writing about this again once the season starts. Then I’ll be riding Tuesday and Thursday night plus Saturday morning. Will I even have anything left to run with?

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  2. Maybe you and Eli could bike on a weekday afternoon?? After work & school? The days are getting longer.
    You must continue to do the thing that’s for you. Otherwise you’ll resent the loss of that time, on top of not having the good benefits. Double whammy bad.
    You and your family are intelligent people. You’ll find the right balance, together.

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  3. What a quandary, Jeff. It is so difficult to find balance sometimes, isn’t it. But to be able to reflect on such things shows clearly that you are working through them. Great post.

    ‘I’ve always held golfers in disdain’ – is a great album!

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  4. Hey, you’re cognizant of what is happening and that is huge. When we had a thousand kids games and then a home Eagles game and then back to work weeks – or just a thousand kids games where we were running around – I would get perturbed. Or when the kids were younger and I was just babysitting. It still happens but I guess realizing it is happening to do something about it – well, that’s huge.

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  5. It can be difficult to find the right balance, but at the same time, you shouldn’t feel guilty about taking some ‘me time’. We all need some! It makes us better spouse/parents/friends. 🙂

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    • My neck is pretty stiff and I seem to have some thorns embedded under my skin. This was only the second time I ever fell on a trail run. I’m lucky I didn’t brain myself against a tree.

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  6. Ouch. That sudden detour sounds painful. I imagine those long runs will always be important for you to maintain some sense of solitude. The give and take of relationships is especially challenging right now. We all need our Me Time. In my case, swimming laps does the trick.

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  7. I think the challenge is finding that sweet spot where “me time” means better “family time” because you’ve found the balance that allows your best you to be present. And that sweet spot is a moving target, changing year-to-year as family dynamics and demands change as well as your own needs and abilities. I used to need those 3-6 hours long runs every weekend, but now I’m quite content with 1-3 hours, and at a much slower pace. Funny how time and age grant us new perspectives. You’ll work it out.

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  8. “Feed the snake.” That sounds like my wife putting “shower” on her list. Yeah, this makes me reflect on how much I leave to my wife, too. But me time is so precious and important for our mental health. I’m about to take mine now, with a short morning walk to our neighborhood lake…alone. Thanks for sharing Jeff. Mind this “downs,” yikes!

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    • In our defense, we only feed the snake once a week and I can’t tell you how often we forget. If it wasn’t on the list, she’d never eat. She’s not very good at letting us know we forgot. She needs to learn how to bark.

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  9. Jeff, I don’t think mountain biking is “Me Time” at all. You are doing it for your son. You only get a finite amount of time with them before they are gone, maybe living across the country, and you will only get to see them a few times a year. If your son wants to mountain bike with you, I say, go for it! It’s not like your kids are toddlers who need constant attention.

    When my boys were younger, they all took up golfing. Bill used to golf. On the weekends (and sometimes on weeknights) the 4 of them would go golfing. I felt like I won the lottery! 4 or 5 hours of alone-time to do what I wanted? If I wanted to get things done (like paint the porch), I could; if I wanted to go for a run or go looking for birds, I could. I loved it and they got some male-bonding time. Win-win!

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  10. When my kids were little, “me time” meant being able to go the bathroom alone. Now that I am a crone and they are edging up to middle aged and we are all in quarantine mode, “me time” feels a bit oppressive since it is most of the time. It’s a cliche, but like all cliches, true, that the time with your son and daughter will pass before you know it. You are making memories with him and for him. Think of something equivalent to do with your daughter!

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  11. This is one of those moments where you make me appreciate being a listless almost 30 year old. Lol. I just started running recently (it is not my favorite but for some reason I always like to try) and I want to balance it out with my mountain biking this year. Let me know if you find a rhythm that works for you.

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    • Do you have places to trail run and would you feel safe? Whereas road running feels like exercise (which can be good in it’s own right) trail running feels like an adventure. One of our common mountain bike routes has a long moderate climb up some tight single track. Every time I ride it I feel like I’m running. It’s my favorite part of the trail. Incidentally, it’s Eli’s least favorite part (he likes down), so it’s always “Wait for me at the top.”

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      • Theres a nice conservation area about five minutes from my house that I’ve been running at. It’s the only way I’ve been able to convince myself to go out. My biggest deterrent is I worked up some foot pain and I’m not sure if I should wait it out and for how long. A friend said it’s my shoes (I have a pair of merrels that I think are called Bare, they have no real sole) but I’ve always preferred more pliable shoes so now I’m a bit on the fence if I should just stick with riding.

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      • Variety, muscle balance, cross-training, blah blah blah. You probably already know all the arguments. As an added bonus for me, the trail behind my house is ‘no bikes’ so running is a must.

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      • I know but I needed the reminder. This is something I want to stick with. I think I just need to do more research on it and I’ll be able to manage the foot pain. Was that picture from a trail near you?

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      • No, I was being lazy so I grabbed that picture off of unsplash. It’s sort of a shame because I took a nice one on my run but I didn’t want to take the time to upload it from my phone. Pennsylvania woods are a lot junkier looking than that.

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      • When I drove from Erie to NC last year I was genuinely amazed that Pennsylvania even had woods. I’ve spent most of my life imagining the whole state was as flat as that small piece of it.

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      • Quick google search. PA is 55% covered in forest. Also the Appalachian mountains cut right through the state, so we have mountains (although much smaller than the Rockies). My town is in the foothills of the mountains, and getting out to a remote forested mountainous terrain takes about 30 minutes. Before I moved here, I never really thought of PA as being like this. I thought of big farms.

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