I’ve often heard Mums complaining about ‘the juggle’ – trying to stay on top of a thousand weekly activities for their kids, meeting the demands of work and/or household, and being there physically and emotionally for everyone in the family.
Juggling, it seems, is a ‘must do’ activity for mothers everywhere. There even seems to be a sense of competition between parents when it comes to how many activities we can squeeze into each week; some mothers seem to derive great satisfaction from being up with the crows to get their sons to hockey and being on the go, with multiple demands and diverse directions for all of their activities, until Girl Guides/soccer/baseball finishes last thing at night. But here’s the thing: Juggling is a circus act. And I’m not in the circus (the zoo, maybe, but definitely not the circus). I can admire juggling and those who are capable of managing it, as I would any spectator sport – but I’m not jumping into the ring to try my hand at it. I’m out.
My reasons for not being willing to engage in this most stressful of feats are many. For starters, my grip on sanity is tenuous at best – add a whole lot of ‘where/when/how’ factors and a rowdy bunch of little boys to ferry hither and thither, and I’m likely to end up in a padded room with one way doors (tempting, at times, if they’d offer room service and some good reads…). I get crazy – and I mean certifiably, jabberingly, jitteringly loonie – when I have to rush and dash from place to place. Yeah, it’s going to be a smooth transition to senility for me; but I’m not about to engage in something that’ll accelerate the whole process.
Here’s one of the great benefits of having ‘too many kids’: it’s just impossible, financially and practically, to give them ‘every opportunity’ that comes along. This means that, each term, we figure out what’s most important to the boys and we try to do those things. Sometimes we have to miss out on stuff – if it’s a parent-participation thing and I’ve got the baby and the other boys and it clashes with my Mum’s schedule (as she’s my gracious and willing helper many weekdays), then we just can’t make it happen. If we can’t fit at least a couple of the boys into any particular activity, in general, we don’t do it.
Of course, where possible, we do create opportunities for our guys to have experiences that they are especially keen on: B. is really interested in art, so he got to go to a studio for some drawing sessions one term; C. loves swimming, so we found him an evening class one semester when the others were desperate for a break from their lessons (swimming’s a life skill in my book, so that’s one thing that is usually on the agenda – not that it does much good, because A. has been doing lessons since he was in nappies and he is still only about one level above drowning).
I do enjoy the break from being in the house when we have things on in the afternoons, though, particularly if the weather is cold or wet – and I’ll admit that it lends a certain rhythm to the week to have some things on the agenda. So I’m not trying to set myself up as some sort of poster child for Activity-Free Parenting or something. It’s just that I really value our home-time, as masochistic as that may sound for any of you who have actually seen me at home with my kids.
As you’ll have deduced from my last post, it’s not as if I’m anxious for time at home in order to accomplish all my housework. But there are benefits to being at home, even for us. When we’re at home, I have the chance to observe the interactions between my boys and thus to offer helpful pointers towards better socialization, such as ‘Hug more, bite less,’ ‘Ask, don’t grab,’ and my personal favourite, ‘Keep your tongue to yourself.’ It’s only by being at home that we really get to work on the interpersonal stuff between family members. And if we find ourselves with a yawning void between 3 pm and 5:30 (when Westley makes the long commute upstairs from work), I am forced to come up with some boredom-busters or encourage the boys to get creative – which, although I am reluctant to admit it, is another plus to not being a juggler.
By having some time at home, we can just manage to stay on top of A.’s meagre homework requirements and the recommended reading time for B. (and C.). And the baby gets to nap when he needs to nap – a miracle considering the cacophony of background noises that is the usual soundtrack to his day-sleeps! I get to have the odd cup of tea (nuked once or twice in the microwave between gulps, because it’s only a treat if it’s hot), the boys get to play with their toys and each other – in short, all is right with the world.
Life is a balance – and parenting young kids involves a constant balancing act. I’m not saying I’ve got it right yet – I do admire people who find the energy to get out and ferry their kids to all sorts of fun activities (especially if those activities bring them joy and balance in their own family lives). I’d love to be better at just getting the boys outside more and being more willing to organize on-the-fly playdates (I have a rule that they can’t ask on the day they want the playdate – but realistically it usually takes me a good week to sort myself out to acquiesce, even if I’m not hosting)… But balance can be achieved, and of course I believe it to be more likely that I’ll periodically find and maintain balance if I’m not also trying to keep a whole lot of balls in the air. Juggling, you see, is a circus act.
And I’m just not interested in joining the circus.
The irony, of course, is that in order to find some time and create some headspace to finish this post, I had to grab West by the collar and order him to Just. Take. Them. Out. this afternoon. Consider this full-disclosure.