The realization hit me before Christmas. While searching for a Bubble Guppies episode for Teyla, I happened across a promo for an Ina Garten Christmas special on the Food Network. And I thought, "My goodness, last year I watched all those Food Network holiday shows. How is it that I didn't even know they were on this year?"
Then I started to notice the creep in other areas. Last year? I read blogs. I set aside time every day to plow through my reader. This year? I mostly read posts that blogging friends link to via Twitter and Facebook. I haven't touched my reader in weeks. (And now I'm too scared to pull it up, because 1000+ unread posts terrifies me.)
Last year, I shopped for Christmas presents for my immediate family AND my extended family. I shipped packages. I baked cookies for a cookie exchange. I made homemade bread for the kids' teachers. This year? I shopped for my immediate family only - and that took all my energy. And while I did bake cookies, I did it on December 23, and I only made five kinds. The kids' teachers got gift cards. (Which is probably preferred anyway. But it felt slightly cop-out-ish to me.)
So what's changed? I had four kids last year. I have four kids this year. One husband. One house. One dog. Multiple personalities, but that's hardly new.
But then I started comparing deeper: I might still have four kids, but last year, one of them was a baby. He nursed. (Which is when I watched TV and read blogs.) He didn't dismantle the Christmas tree every time I turned around and he didn't out-eat his older siblings at most meals and he didn't want to fence with me with every stick in the house. ("Ah-ya Mah-mee! Ah-ya!" he yells at me every five minutes while holding out a wooden spoon/plastic screwdriver/chopstick. Which is his way of saying, "En guard! Take your weapon, woman, and prepare to be skewered.")
And last year, my kids were younger and, somehow, less hungry. They didn't eat ALL THE LIVE LONG DAY. I didn't go to the grocery store twice a week. Or (hold me) even three times a week. (Because Trader Joe's requires its own trip.) I didn't have to make a mid-morning snack or an after-school snack and then, sometimes, a bedtime snack. Which, admittedly, is just a banana, because that's all that's allowed after dinner. But come on, people. When did I open my own Hometown Buffet?
And maybe last year, I had more energy. I will be 40 next week. I no longer have the stamina to herd the cats 16 hours a day. So instead of making plans outside the house almost every day - to visit the library or the indoor playground or Bible study or MOPS - I content myself with staying home and playing Polly Pockets and puzzles and Ah-ya.
But you know what? I might have lost my free time. And a few of my marbles.
But I feel like I've gained something too. Wisdom. Peace. Focus. I am less distracted, more content with saying no, better able to choose the important over the urgent.
Plus, I'm a formidable opponent in Ah-ya.
It's almost like losing my free time has helped me find something I never knew I lost.
There's freedom in the the stripping away.