Saturday, June 28, 2008

Anti-Extreme

(Genevieve, amid a non-extreme summer day.)

Yesterday, despite having company over for several hours in the middle of the day, I finished every last task on my giant to-do list--that list that had grown so unwieldy because I had neglected all my tasks for the previous two days. It took me 14 hours to get it all done--I got out of bed at 6:30 a.m. and crossed off my last task at 8:30 at night--but I did it. Which is why this morning, after we took Genevieve for her first haircut (so cute! so sweet!), I was able to enjoy a quiet hour with a coffee and a book while Christopher took the girls to the grocery store. Ah, sweet reward.

When my friend Toni was here yesterday, we talked about the challenging, exhausting work of 24-hour-a-day mothering, and about the stress of living paycheck to paycheck so you can stay home full-time with your children when they're young. She told me stories--ones I've heard before but always love to hear again--about when she was a young mom 20-some years ago, home full-time with two children under five, living in an old farmhouse with an unfinished dirt-floor basement, no extra money, barely scraping by, because being with her babes when they were small was more important to her than the income she could earn with her master's degree. She reminded me that I'm doing the hardest work there is, but the most rewarding and admirable too, and that's always nice to hear, isn't it?

Then today I read my friend Jordan's post about "extreme living," and I was so grateful and happy to realize that while my life is depleting and tiring and absolutely chaotic much of the time (how can life with a four-year-old and a nearly-two-year-old not be?), and though most days you might find me silently praying for the patience and strength to get through one more hour of Genevieve's tantrums or come up with one more new idea for something to do until dinner, well---you would never say that I live an extreme life. And that's a good thing. (Read her post, and you'll understand.) The hardest thing I've ever done? Definitely. But extreme? No. Which is exactly why I'm doing it.

When I decided to give up my work to stay home full-time with my children, it was precisely because I knew that a life with "no margins"--no empty space, no slow time--would be terrible for me and our family. I knew instinctively that attempting to juggle work, parenting, household management, exercise, social relationships, and hobbies would be disastrous for us. That it would mean living in an "extreme" way, one that would leave no time for truly living the moments of my girls' early childhoods, and one that would breed guilt over not spending enough time with them and about whether or not whoever else was spending all that time with them really loved them enough and was good to them. I knew I'd never be able to do it. I knew I'd be a total stress-case, and that my girls would feel it, and probably become miniature stress-cases themselves.

My current life is a lot of things--at the present time, CHALLENGING is chief among them--but despite my often-harried demeanor, the circles under my eyes and my coffee habit (which--wait a minute--perhaps could be called extreme), it truly is chock-full of the kind of time that is the very antithesis of extreme living. Hanging out on the patio with the sand table and the sidewalk chalk time. Blowing bubbles in the breeze time. Every single day a homemade, sit-down family dinner time. The Bookmobile, the playground, a walk around the block time. Nothing but time. And surely you've heard that quote, about how when you're home alone full-time with very young children, the days are long but the years are short? So this time, it's priceless to me. Even when I'm near tears from frustration because I can't get Genevieve to stop screaming. Even when I'm sick to death of cooking dinner. Even when Julia whines every five minutes that there's nothing to do, and why can't she watch PBSKids, and why can't she have snack yet, and what is there to do, again? Even then.

You know, I couldn't care less what other people do with their kids or about their work; I've never been one to bother myself--believe it or not--with other mothers' choices about staying home or doing the daycare/nanny/babysitter thing while they return to work. Why should I? It's not me; it's not my family. But for myself and my own babies, it's never even been a question. And I'm so, so glad that my conversation with my friend Toni yesterday, and my reading of Jordan's post today, reminded me why I've chosen this road.

5 comments:

Christopher Tassava said...

I'm a day late, but this post is what I'm grateful for this week, and the poster is what I'm grateful for every day.

Mnmom said...

Kids, and all adults, need time to just watch the paint peel. Most adults have forgotten this and that's sad. That's when you can listen to the divine, whatever that may be. That's when you can work out problems in your own head. That's when you can breathe deeply and just BE.

Shan said...

Amen to that! And you're so right--adults need that kind of time too, and how many of us actually give ourselves that?

donna said...

No matter your lifestyle choices, it's easy to feel overwhelmed. (remember feeling overwhelmed before you had kids and now look back and think "that was nothing!"?). It's always good to be reminded of what you have and why you're doing it.

Thanks for pointing me to Jordan's post. I loved it!

Shan said...

Boy, Donna, you have a good point about how we all thought our lives were busy BEFORE kids! Ha! We knew NOTHING! (And it's a good thing we didn't, either, or we never would have had kids, right?!) Ah, the old days....when our most pressing concern was what to do on a Saturday: brunch, movie, or the coffeehouse/bookstore? (Not really, but that's how it seems now!)