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Family Zone - It Just So Happens
by Cheryl Butler

StorkNet.com > Columns > Family Zone - It Just So Happens

The Missing Gift
© Cheryl Butler

Cheryl ButlerHelp! I've misplaced something extremely valuable to me, and I honestly have no idea where it vanished to. The holidays are coming so I must find it immediately. In September I vowed that I would guard this priceless gift with my life, yet the first time I was alone with it, what did I do--I completely ignored it!

I suppose I have no one to blame but myself, after all, I didn't have the good sense to take better care of it while it was in my possession. Now I'm franticly searching high and low for it so it can assist me when I begin decking the halls and dreaming of a white Christmas just like the ones I try to know each year.

And to think this gift was entrusted to me after waiting 15 long years for it-that makes my carelessness even harder to fathom. You see, I'm an empty nester now-well, sort of. Since my youngest child is now attending nursery school for a few half days a week, I in turn am now the sole owner of six free hours to call my own each and every week during the school year.

This may seem like no big shakes to some but to a woman who for most of her parental life has had to hide behind the shower curtain to secretly unwrap a stick of gum or make an uninterrupted phone call, thoughts of six delicious hours to be spent any way I chose was like winning the lottery. Do you know I purchased my 2009 calendar a year in advance just so that I could stare at the crisp, empty blocks of unscheduled time and daydream about the possibilities that lie ahead? There was now a flickering light at the end of my overscheduled tunnel.

Those six hours were going to be a fresh new start for not only me but also my adoring family, especially during the holiday season. With an extra 360 minutes each week I could definitely give the 12 days of Christmas new meaning. With this kind of time on my hands not only would our home be sparkling clean, each and every room (bathrooms included) would be decorated with department store glitz, gifts would be creative, purchased and wrapped weeks in advance, this year's gingerbread house would be a triple-decker and at least one of our three Christmas trees would have a theme! Easy, stress-free and this in just one of those six-hour time slots!

Selfishly, I wasn't going to forget about my own needs either-a fifteen year wait certainly warrants a little "me" time, right? Now that Christmas was well under control, there would be plenty of leftover time to catch up on my reading, complete 8 new scrapbooks for my kids, write a book, walk 10 miles instead of five, (oh what the heck, maybe train for a marathon), design next year's flowerbeds and of course take up yoga and learn how to meditate (not medicate!) properly. Oh, I can still feel the peace and love now.

Then just last week the unthinkable happened. I was asked a simple question that left me completely devastated-"What are you doing with all your free time now that everyone is in school," asked my dear friend who lives out in Colorado-mother of four, including triplets. I'm sure she didn't mean to snicker as she stuttered the words, but it was clear she already knew what she was about to hear-my long, empty silence.

In the 12 or so weeks since school had started I couldn't account for a single thing I had accomplished or simply indulged in during those sacred few hours I had added to my week, yet I felt more haggard than ever before. In fact, I realized something even more upsetting, not only were my six silly hours missing in action, I had actually taken on several new projects that had turned my six plus hours into a 12 hour deficit. This couldn't be happening.

As I listened to the peppy tune of "Have a Holly Jolly Christmas" bellowing through the house, I bravely grabbed my 2009 calendar that seemed to know more about my commitments than I did and quickly flipped it open. January was still wide open as was the rest of the New Year ahead-if I could just protect some of this empty space throughout the coming months, the next time I'm asked how I'm spending my free time I might actually have a good answer.

Now that I have all that figured out, I can at least take better care of the remaining few free slots I have left during this holiday season. Guess that means the theme tree and Gingerbread condo will not be part of my priorities, though maybe I'll try and string a few lights in just one bathroom. Instead, I will focus on appreciating how I spend my precious time, which will be the best gift I can give to myself and my family this Christmas.

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