Thursday, May 24, 2012

Take Time to Smell the Roses

Take Time to Smell the Roses - ParentUnplugged - Stacy Snyder
Just with the responsibilities of parenting, wage earning, and housekeeping, it’s easy to get caught up in the daily grind and not take time to appreciate, much less enjoy, a single minute of your time.  Add to your commitments family and social obligations, and maybe a hobby or organization that requires time, and you can find yourself in complete obligation overload, with no time to be grateful for the first flower bud popping out after the cold winter or the developing vibrancy of your child’s personality.  If you don’t slow down and pay attention to the little treasures we tend to bypass every day, you deny yourself the opportunity for balance and harmony.

I am the worst offender of trying to fit in more tasks in one daypart than humanly possible.  Have an extra forty-five minutes on my hands?  I’m going to make it to Costco for household items, fill up the car with gas, and deposit that check at the bank I’ve been carrying around for 2 weeks.  Four hours to myself while the kids are at school?  I can do a 45-minute workout, make a new music playlist, do the laundry, work a few hours for my job, and sew on the button that fell off of my new pants, all with 5 minutes to spare before pickup.  When I used to work full-time, I used to pride myself on how much stuff I could get done in short periods of time.  It’s called efficiency and I thrive on it.

I find, though, that the more efficiently I function now as a stay-at-home mom, the more opportunities I miss.  The more stuff I'm able to accomplish, the less I'm able to enjoy, because I'm constantly running so fast.  Who cares that I got the garage cleaned and the flowers watered before pick-up time, when it was at the expense of turning down an invitation for coffee with a friend?  So what that I finished the online preschool applications before the rest of the neighborhood, when I traded in an hour of my actual preschooler “reading” to me?  No one gave me a high five because I finished the weekly shopping and cleaned the house in the time that I could have rested my body and soul with an afternoon catnap in the sun after reading a few chapters of a juicy book.  I feel like as a society, we have a tendency these days to go so fast and furious that we often times don’t even know what we’re doing, must less why we’re performing it so quickly.  Our priorities get lost and our time gets sucked away.  We miss the little things:  the rainbow after a downpour, the new puppy pawing at your ankle, and the fact that the neighbor who you see every day is somehow now six months pregnant without you having ever noticed!

As parents, we can’t help but struggle with prioritizing our time, as we’re pulled in many different directions, which is simply the nature of the job.  How often do we think about the ramifications of our decisions on priorities, though?  Not often enough.  While it may not seem like a big deal that you’re texting a friend or emailing a client while your child is telling you about his day, all in the name of multi-tasking, it actually registers loud and clear.  It’s great that you’ve spent a full year obsessively decorating your house to perfection, but does it really matter if you have no friends to come enjoy it with you because you’ve blown them off for twelve months?  The kids most certainly don’t give a shit about the final living room arrangement, but they definitely learned to realize in that year that its importance trumps time spent with them while you were out shopping for that last perfect piece to pull the room together. 

It’s bad enough that some of us have an unnatural need to fill every spare minute with a productive activity.  It’s even worse when we apply that need to our children’s lives.  I’m all for learning the value of the whole with a team sport, practicing the discipline required to learn to play an instrument, or whatever interest your child may pursue.  But there’s such a thing as too much of a good thing.  By running them from soccer to gymnastics to chess club to violin lessons and then through the drive-through before evening homework, we’re setting them up for never properly developing the art of experiencing life as it comes to them.  Heck, they can’t even see life coming at them as they’re moving so fast!  You may have conversations while you cart them around, but everyone’s attention is split with at least one other thing, like driving or preparing for the next activity.  Missed is the opportunity to discuss today’s science experiment with their friend or teacher on the corner on their way home from school, because we’re rushing them home for a snack before baseball.  Gone are the days of playing outside all day, using creativity to keep themselves occupied, and collecting and studying lightning bugs after dusk.  There’s no time for any of that.  We’re too busy getting to Little Gym and Drama Club.  We’re caught up in cutting people off when they talk to us because we don’t have time to listen.  We’ve got to be somewhere, dammit!  It takes more than one hand of fingers for me to count how many times I’ve actually broken into a run in the last week alone on the way to pick someone up, drop someone off, or get myself somewhere.

It’s funny because my kids have never displayed the want to constantly run at warped speed to places and things.  They’d much prefer hanging out at home, playing outside drawing on the sidewalks and scootering to the neighbor kid’s house to say hello.  I always promised myself I would let my children’s personalities dictate the pace of their activities.  I started off strong when my eldest was small.  I favored talking a walk around the neighborhood to see the turtles pop their heads up from the lake to the organized Wiggle Worms kids’ music classes.  I didn’t fall prey to the 3-year-old cheer program, but instead opted for building things out of pots and pans on the kitchen floor.  Somehow I fell off the wagon, though, as my family got larger, my kids older, and my time less my own.  I guess subconsciously I started to reclaim time for myself by booking up my kids’ time.  It started small with a park district cIass here and a Preschool hour there.  I’d then book my new-found hour with other tasks and priorities instead of just enjoying the peace and quiet.  It kept growing until I found myself this last semester completely unable to keep up with just the weekly schedule of my kids’ activities, coupled with my own.  Between leading talent show practices, morning workouts, and moms’ night out, I fit in dinner parties, date-nights, writing every day, and a part-time job.  While I love all of those things, combined it was completely insane and counterproductive, because I started resenting, instead of enjoying, each normally fun activity.  I was not only overbooking my own time with activities that weren’t the highest priorities in our lives, but also overbooking my kids’ time with activities.

For a kid whose favorite thing in the world to do is relax and read a book without a single plan on the horizon, I sent my eldest daughter over the edge with weekly piano lessons, tennis lessons, Brownies, and twice-weekly dance practice.  I had booked her for so many activities that I had to hire a babysitter to watch my toddler so as to get her to the places she need to go.  Half-way through the semester, a twice-weekly running program started at school that she wanted to participate in as well, so I encouraged her to join that too.  Pretty soon she was overscheduled beyond comprehension, with at least one activity every day after school and more times than not, a social or family obligation over the weekend.  She had no downtime, no time to play, and rarely a moment to reflect.  She revolted by being cranky and snarky in the mornings, taking twice as long on homework after school, and asking if it was okay to turn down birthday party invitations.  She squawked at any mention of a family activity outside the home on the weekends and started a habit of crying when I spent time with both girls, complaining that she never got any alone time with her moms.

The mountain of obligation I had created for my family became crystal clear over Spring Break.  We traveled to Lake Geneva with another family, where we spent five days in an unoccupied home on the lake, with not a single activity planned.  My family unwound by rolling in the grass, reading books in front of the fireplace,  walking the trails around the lake, and playing long games of hacky sack.  The laid-back friends we vacationed with brought with them two pairs of binoculars, and the girls took turns watching birds and learning to recognize the different types.  My girls thrived in the relaxing environment where they were able to just exist and unhurriedly experience whatever came their way.  They were happier than I remember seeing them in ages.  Months later they still talk about the bugs they saw in Wisconsin, the horse named Maddie they petted in the town square, and at least every other day they excitedly poke me or whisper to me to check out the female robin they just spotted. 

Once again, I have vowed to follow the natural pace of my own children when it comes to scheduling and activities.  We’ve almost finished our obligations for the school year, and we’re reveling in playing at the park after school and taking random bike rides and walks around the neighborhood just because, not to actually get anywhere.  I’m still me, so I torture myself daily with considering booking a free hour with a playdate or an organized trip to a destination, but the good news is it usually doesn’t get past the consideration phase as I reel myself back in and try to surround myself with other like-minded parents  that keep me in check.  For now it seems to be working, as when I asked my eldest daughter about her Best Part and Worst Part of last weekend, she said her Best Part was having the whole weekend to relax without having to do anything specific and she said she actually didn’t have a Worst Part.  Score. 

My kids’ utter enjoyment and amazement at the little things they encounter every day by just paying attention has started to rub off on me too.  When confronted with a workday that ended short this week, instead of packing in the usual tasks I could accomplish in two hours time, I opted for reading a newspaper in the back yard in the sun and instead of practicing the kickbox routine for the class I teach once a week, I took a three-hour walk through my old neighborhood, stopping to talk to people and see things.  The sky didn't fall because the laundry piled up, my kids didn't suffer because we had to eat out one night instead of cook, and no one even noticed that the floor has accumulated dust.  What they did noticed was that their mom asked them more questions about their day at school and let them choose and make their own dinner.  They noticed that piano lesson was forgotten, skipped, and not remembered until the following week, when they rolled on the floor and laughed in hysterics at the pace of their lives.  They noticed that they can breathe easier when their parents can breathe easier.

Once again I run up against the misnomer I’ve followed for years that I’m here to teach my kids lessons.  My kids teach me more every single day than I could teach them in a lifetime!  Most kids are born with a curiosity for those things around them….nature, people, and things built by man.  Instinctively they know when to take time to enjoy the view.  Follow their lead and listen to you own natural instinct to take a minute to enjoy the powerful scent of the rose.  The office, the clients, the writing, the projects, the exercising, the housecleaning, and the chores aren’t going anywhere…they’ll be right there waiting for you, none the wiser.  Odds are, you’ll be better able to accommodate their demands if you take a minute for yourself to appreciate the little things beforehand.