I was alone for several hours yesterday at home with Monroe, who's two-and-a-half, and contemplating my plans for next year in the backdrop of a book I have been reading, the fascinating and inspiriting Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture by Shannon Hayes. Truman was out on an errand with daddy and I was finding it impossible (as usual) to do any writing. Monroe, needing attention in the absence of his brotherly playmate, wanted to sit on my lap and punch keys on my keyboard. My choices: give him the iPod touch with its monkey games, put on a TV show, or do something with him.
I've made it my personal mission not to use screen time unless I'm truly desperate, and I wasn't, so we went outside and planted more peas and some lettuce and kohlrabi. He dug in the dirt and helped me sprinkle kelp meal until he got bored of it and decided it was time to go for a walk. As close to traffic as possible. Inside again then! I spent the rest of my "free" time making us a snack, wondering, how will I ever manage to entertain this child and get just a little bit of writing in each day, next year with Truman in kindergarten? And the next? Truman has always been the sort of child who can play by himself for hours, without heading for the street, and this littlest man in our family is demanding enormous levels of interaction.
Enter the radical homemakers, those who, according to Hayes, "are pursuing homemaking as a vocation for saving family, community, and the planet." I'd just been in the part in Chapter Five where Hayes describes the way these radical homemakers "redefine wealth and poverty," in her section beginning, "Child care is not a fixed cost." In other words, how can you redefine the way your home economy works so that you do not need to pay another person to care for your child? I was tracking -- this is exactly what I've tried to do with my own family, freelance writing from home when it became clear that, more than anything else, my kids needed me, a lot. One of her interviewees had her daughter in day care for a while and she says, "I noticed that in day care, what she learned was to be entertained. Out of day care, she had boredom. And when she had boredom, she got creative and she thought of things to do, and went outside and climbed the tree..." In contrast, all the activities and scheduling at day care had her wired on the expectation that someone else was supposed to give her that play structure she needed. "I don't think that's necessarily a good thing," the mother concludes.
This gives me hope: it occurred to me that the expectation of a sibling to play with could be a balm that, once it was less of a sure thing, Monroe could learn to work around. I'd love to hear stories from those of you who aspire to a simple and less structured life: once all the older siblings were in school, did your youngest adapt to life just with you -- and let you get a little bit of time to focus on whatever else you and your household needed?