Recently I posted this quote from Sammiches & Psych Meds on my Facebook page.
For the first 9 years of having kids, I operated from the second perspective. Then beginning a year and a half ago, I felt some pressure to enroll my kids in a few extra-curricular activities. It started out innocently enough. A ballet class over the summer for Katie to try it out. A few piano lessons to guide the big boys in their music abilities. A private strings lesson every now and then for Joseph and Andrew so they’d feel comfortable when orchestra started in the fall. Everyone else was doing it. Why not us?
Summer ended and all had gone well. Katie loved ballet. Joseph and William loved piano. Strings lessons were lovely. So now we began to add things to the schedule in true passionate style. If we were already going to be at orchestra for strings and guitar lessons, why not enroll in choir as well? Ballet once a week…no, let’s make it twice! And, of course, we had our CM co-op that we had joined the previous year, with Shakespeare class first followed by all the riches (nature study, composer and artist study, folk songs). I continued meeting with my book club and my herb group and my mom’s group, all of which met once a month.
In the fall, we piled on the Nature Challenge and couldn’t resist committing ourselves to completing as many as possible. Then midwinter, we added in Youth Odyssey for Joseph. Spring brought the Handicraft fair and nature study days with the CM group.
It didn’t seem like that much. And ALL of it was good. Maybe not great, but good.
But a funny thing happened when we committed ourselves to so many good things. Seeing as how our time didn’t multiply, other things had to be cut. We kissed days of lazily lounging in the sun with a good book good-bye. Play dates (the kind where us moms sit and chat while the kids run wild and free) were cut…and I rationalized that with all the activities, they had plenty of social time. Both of my blogs took direct hits. Even my evenings out with other moms began to feel more like work than play.
Suddenly every.little.thing began to feel like work. I needed downtime. Not time in the car toting us to the next activity. Not time shoved in a waiting room making small talk with other moms while waiting for the kids to finish up. Not time stuck in the car trying to manage tired kids and their unruly behavior while waiting for the other siblings to finish their activity.
We all began to suffer.
Andrew was the first to descend with a downward dive. By Christmas, his enthusiasm for orchestra waned (which was a multi-fold situation…the private lessons he took over the summer put him ahead and he found himself bored; his ADHD tendencies reared their ugly head when he was forced to sit quietly and bored through a 50 minute class every week) and he quickly lost steam. Co-op became a method of torture for him as he had to sit quietly first through an hour of Shakespeare (in which he was too young to participate) and then another two hours of co-op time in which his little mind wandered and he obsessed about being quiet to the point that he took nothing away from the lessons except hatred, the byproduct of being forced to sit and be quiet for so long. I suffered watching him. The joy of nature lessons left. The joy of playing an instrument was gone. The joy of playing joyfully with other children was a distant memory. In one fell swoop, I had managed to forget that he isn’t me; nor is he Joseph or William or Katie. I had forgotten that my little ADHD introvert didn’t operate in this world the same as us. (I did pull Andrew out of orchestra by March in an effort to not completely kill a love for music; I strongly feel that music should be an outlet for stress, not a cause for stress.)
Then William began complaining of headaches every Monday during his orchestra lessons. Then he began complaining of headaches every time we met for co-op. He did fine at his private lessons. He did fine during his school lessons. He did fine at play dates. My only guess is that the whole group setting was causing a little stress. The bigger the group, the more I noticed his stress level went up (I totally get him…big groups have always stressed me out, too).
But I am not one to quit. Nor do I want to send the message to my kids that quitting is okay. We were so close to the finish line so we dug in and plowed through. By April, I found myself burnt out, not even responding to text messages in a timely manner. I almost forgot what my dear mother’s voice sounded like.
At the end of the year, I looked back and I saw what our toil had reaped. I had two boys that could play piano as well as a strings instrument. Katie knew the proper name for many different ballet positions and danced beautifully in front of hundreds of people at her spring recital. Joseph made friends of his own, apart from the rest of us, in Youth Odyssey and had kayaked with his group to a little island, proving to himself that he can do amazing things without me. The kids had been exposed to beautiful art and folk songs through co-op, learned a multitude of nature related things and had succeeded in falling in love with two more of Shakespeare’s plays. Oh and all of my children had lovingly set their hearts to making beautiful handicrafts for the fair.
I, on the other hand, had spent my year talking. Between the moms at ballet in the waiting room and the moms suffering through long hours at orchestra with me to the moms in the front yard of the piano teacher’s home, I managed to expel a lot of words out of my desperate extroverted soul. But even I got tired of talking. I missed reading. I missed blogging. I missed the sound of my kids just playing.
I collapsed into June with the promise to never make so many commitments again. While I saw all the beauty of our commitments, I greatly grieved for the time we sacrificed to make those things happen. I really, really missed inviting Jessica and the boys over to just play while Jessica and I chatted. I really, really missed long afternoons in the spring sunshine clacking away at a blog while my kids ran about and discovered lovely little spring bloomings. I really, really missed long conversations with Lori and Leslie and Mom. I really, really missed elaborate sidewalk sketchings and walks through our neighborhood. I really missed that Masterly Inactivity that Charlotte Mason implores each of us to offer to our children.
Of course, August soon came around and I re-evaluated. A break from co-op was in order. No more orchestra. We dropped Youth Odyssey. I let go of my book club and changed my herb meetings to quarterly (but I still clung desperately to the monthly mom’s group for the support).
The fall came and we tentatively stepped back into our routines, preserving two days a week to have free afternoons with absolutely NO COMMITMENTS. The children still play music (all four are now in piano), Katie still takes ballet, Joseph now sings with the Youth Choir and for a brief bit of the fall, William took an adventure in baseball (that’s a whole different story that was drastically altered by heavy amounts of rain). I started a small group for PE one afternoon a week. All of it feels good. And fruitful. But not too filling.
It’s hard to learn to say no to the good to make room for the great, but it must be done. It must be done to preserve our children’s childhoods, to give them time to run and play and be bored. It must be done to preserve our own sanity as mamas because we, too, need downtime. It must be done because we are all only human and there is only so much time in our days…we must learn to carve a space for the great, leave time for the necessary, and relish the time in between…we don’t get a second chance at this.