Thursday, May 10, 2012

When Life Gets in the Way of Living

I had a relatively simple childhood. My days were spent playing on my own—in the warm months, creating magical gardens and befriending neighborhood cats, running amok in our backyard, playing with dirt; with sticks; collecting leaves and always promising myself that I’d dry them and keep them in a book (I never did). In the colder months, I spent my time imagining worlds for my Barbie dolls to live in, I read, and I played with my older sister.

There were no such things as dance classes, gymnastics, swimming, or karate for me. We never went on play dates, and my mom never had any other “mom friends” over. That said, I had a stress free, easy-going, blissful childhood. I never worried about being anywhere besides school—I never had a weekly schedule with anything on it other than homework. And I have no complaints.

Oh, how times have changed. As my kids get older and more active, I find myself trying to come up with ways to occupy their time. Don’t get me wrong—we have plenty of fun on our own. But, there are only so many ways we can dress up, only so many books we can read, puzzles we can make, crafts we can create, cupcakes and cookies we can bake; canvases we can paint; play dough we can concoct. We watch TV, but I dislike simply sticking my kids in front of it for the duration of the cold months; and they, and I, need social interaction.

So, we take classes. Lots and lots of classes. Art, guitar, and baseball for my son; dance, animal/nature, art and piano for my daughter. I swore I would never become one of those “We have to go to _____ class today” moms, but I have (oh, and by the way, I could write a book listing all the things I said I or my kids would “never” do).

My husband and I agreed that if any of our kids showed an interest or any affinity for something, we would jump right on it and encourage them in every way possible. We’ve stuck to that, and I’m so happy and grateful that we’ve been able to hone in on my son’s interests and have figured out what makes him “tick” to some extent. He is so happy with art and music; and his dad is coaching him in baseball, which is such an amazing opportunity for the two of them. My daughter is pretty easygoing when it comes to activities, but her interests are clear and she absolutely adores being out and about and enjoys each of her classes. We’ve tried out activities that have turned out to be duds now and again, but I definitely feel that each instance has taught us something.

I do, however, find this way of life somewhat challenging—more accurately, I find keeping the balance between work and play to be a constant worry, and something I have to be acutely conscious of. Being this busy is a slippery slope, and one can quickly forget to stop and smell the roses, watch the leaves turn, watch the snow fall. To take pleasure in simply being—in each day, in each breath. To not let life get in the way of living.

Do I want the type of life where I drive my minivan frantically from place to place, dropping off one kid here and one there? There will come a time when my kids’ day is structured and scheduled to the hour. There will be days when they want to play but will have to do homework instead (in fact, as the weather gets warmer, those days are rapidly approaching). There will be a day when, no matter how much my son loves Little League, he will want to sleep in instead of waking up for 7 a.m. practice on a Saturday. There are days already when my daughter wakes up grumpy, yet we still drag ourselves to music class because we’ve committed to it.

A few months ago I lightened the load of responsibilities that were causing me stress and anxiety but were bringing me little, if any, pleasure. I re-evaluated much of what I was doing with my family and decided we had to get rid of whatever was not making us truly happy. I enjoy being engaged and active in my life; but as they say, life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans—and I don’t want to let mine pass me by.

If living my life is causing me grief, if the day-to-day activities with my children stress me out to the point where I lose my mind, don’t I need to step back and re-evaluate? And do I really want my kids harried and stressed out over missing a class, a playdate, or being late? My sweetest daydreams of spending time with my family include cozy mornings making waffles; hot cocoa by the tree on Christmas day; stopping to jump into a pile of fall leaves while walking through the park; playing catch with the dog; sleeping in; and not doing anything at all.

And yet, I also see myself being buried under sports/music/art equipment. We do schedule activities and go to games, recitals, and exhibitions—and they are a joy. I do see my kids in sports uniforms, holding clarinets, covered in paint. I want our children to do what they love, and love what they do. I them to feel happy, safe, and secure, and know that their home is their haven, the place they can always come back to. I also want them to cultivate their interests, live a full life, and make the most of each day.

Nowhere in my daydreams do I see myself running ragged for anything; being so stressed out over the amount of items on my calendar that I lose my mind. However, despite my best intentions, I do run ragged, run late, and feel like a hamster in a wheel at times. Those are the times that I have taught myself to step back, breathe deep, and evaluate. Whatever is not truly important gets purged.

What difference does it make if my calendar is full but I’m so busy I don’t know what day of the week it is? And if I fill the little boxes in with constant activities, where is the space for fun, for exploration, for time just spent together? What’s the point of “getting everything done” if I’ve lost my temper and yelled at my kids and my spouse?

Years ago, I used to look at my life from the outside—like a picture, I wanted it to look perfect, pretty, and well organized. Now, I remind myself to live my life on the inside—realizing that the picture many not always look perfect, but knowing that what I fill the blanks in with is important.

So far, my boxes are full of the things we enjoy, while leaving space for us to breathe, have fun, and simply live. And I’ve discovered that what may look empty from the outside is more fulfilling than any pretty picture. 


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