Second Shift

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Walk This Way, Ottawa, May 2015

Walk This Way, Ottawa, May 2015

When I’m tired, my brain goes on overdrive. Details that shouldn’t matter suddenly bother me—why is it so dusty under the couch? I should vacuum here or better, move the furniture, change the vacuum’s belt and maybe the filter too. We need to buy a new carpet anyway. Fuck, I have a zit on my chin. And I need to pluck my eyebrows. And wax my legs.

What? It’s 10 p.m.? Yeah, I know, and…?

The logical thing would be to shrug off my brilliant ideas—or at least shelve them for later—and rest, but I’m obsessed with fixing stuff and clearing my plate. I’m the kind of person who needs a real sense of completion to finally relax. My clients love me because I tend to deliver projects way before the deadline. The issue is, there is always something to do.

So I’m constantly doing stuff.

“Aren’t you busy today?” I ask Feng, who is watching TV.

“Yeah,” he sighs. “Tons of work. But I’m tired. I need to rest.”

This attitude drives me crazy… mostly because I’m envious. He isn’t a slacker. He knows how to manage his workload and time. If he is tired, he rests and he will be more productive later.

Wise.

I’m not.

I read an article recently about the “5 things you shouldn’t do when you are tired”. It was 6 p.m., we were at Chapters and Mark was jamming Thomas the Train into the tunnel. I was very open to suggestions—I was sipping my second cup of black coffee of the day. The tips? Don’t tackle work projects, take a break from your kids and don’t do social media (presumably because you may end up sharing something silly and regret it later).

Ah. Well, let me tell you, without Mark and without work, I wouldn’t be as tired. Unfortunately, pausing life isn’t as easy as it seems.

Now that Mark is in daycare, I have been introduced to the concept of “second shift”. For the first part of the day, Mark is at school and I work, run errands or do whatever needs to be done. Then, when we pick Mark up, another shift starts—playtime, snack, dinner, laundry, lunch box for the next day, bath time, the endless bedtime routine. This intense part of the day is the scene of much drama because Mark is tired and so am I.

I multitask, like millions of parents around the world. I take the garbage out while the eggs are cooking, I go up the stairs with Mark’s dirty clothes and come down with the basket of laundry, I cut my nails while Mark is in the bathtub, I plug my phone to the charger and fuck, an email from work—Mark, how about you eat a chocolate egg while mommy is working for a second? No, I’m not unwrapping the foil, you do it, yes, slowly, I really have to reply to this email.

Part of it is my fault. Yes, I tend to do too much. I’m not humble-bragging—I actually wish I could let it go more and relax. I’m slowly learning to pick my battles but Mark is still in the “need a lot of attention” phase and freelancing means embracing short deadlines and heavy workload at times.

I relax best once items on my to-do list are ticked off. It’s just the way it is.

It’s also true that I hate emptiness. It scares me. I enjoy down time but even then, I’m doing something—reading while sipping coffee, listening to podcasts, drafting articles in my head, polishing my nails or making lists. Let’s just say that I was never really good at savasana in yoga, where you can’t let your mind wander and have to pause your thoughts. Usually, I was thinking of what I was going to do after the class, which totally defies the purpose of the exercise and yes, I was feeling bad about it as if the instructor could read my thoughts (which she wouldn’t have done because presumably, she was enjoy complete relaxation).

“I’m tired!” I whine—this is my French side, Feng claims, I complain instead of finding a solution.

“Rest, then.”

Right. That.

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About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.

8 Comments

  1. There is an old tale where I come from, not so famous though but very true. It goes, an old man asked a child “how many colors does the world have?” and the child replied “I don’t know”. Years later, when the child had grown into middle age, the old man asked him again “how many colors does the world have?” and this the younger man replies “I didn’t notice” 🙂

    I really get this story.

    I really hope you don’t ask me why I shared this story.

    • I’m not going to ask because I absolutely love it! It’s so true. Kids have a unique way of seeing the world and interpreting it. Sounds like a cliché (here is a real French word for you!) but it’s true.

  2. I used to be exactly the same (School, High School, University, Work and never ever stopping) until I burnt myself out… It all culminated after I had been working 5 months straight with no days off (most days were 6am-midnight) and when I wanted to take a break more things got pushed in front of me. I was getting close to my point when I was told I couldn’t take a week off which had been planned for months. The next day I resigned. Since then I have travelled, relaxed and spent all my savings! But apart from perhaps the last few months when boredom is really kicking in, I wouldn’t change my decision.

    • Wow… Do you know why you felt you had to do it all? Were you pressured to do so or were you setting your standards too high? How did you feel right after quitting? Relieved or anxious?

      • I have always been like that, first child syndrome?! Always tried to get the best grades, be the best etc. It started to unravel when I was doing a PhD because it is hard to be the best. When I was working I had no choice, I was working alone and had a lot of pressure on me to get results… even though we had so many hurdles everyday which meant that things were moving at a slow pace. Management were located in a different country so I think they couldn’t really realise how tough things were.

        I felf relieved after quitting and great for about 6 months when I just chilled out and enjoyed summer/travelling etc. But now it has almost been 1 year since I have been unemployed and now I am anxious as the job market in my profession is very slow and my educational and work background is not so consistent!! I have jumped all over the place in different areas of this science, so I don’t have a solid skill. But, I am busy applying for jobs and hoping I get lucky soon!

        • Well, I’M sending good karma wave your way! I forgot you did a PhD… yes, a competitive program by nature. I can’t even imagine the pressure, and academia is a strange environment too.

  3. I’m the same way – I seem actually physically unable to relax. Just sitting on the couch watching TV is even too hard – I have to have a magazine beside me to skim while “watching”, or I’ll be doing baking or answering emails while “watching.” My husband is always telling me to take a break, to slow down and relax, but I think I have forgotten how. Do you think we will remember again when the kids are grown and we’re retired? 🙂

    • I’m trying to figure out if I was like this before Mark… and yes, I think I was because I clearly remember stressing out about not having enough time. And now, of course, I have even less time. Oh the irony!

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