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Breathing Room

  • Leslie J. Wyatt
  • 2003 5 Nov
Breathing Room

I scan my hastily scrawled schedule as I wait at a red light. 1:50--drop Emily at Madeline's house to give a piano lesson. Get stamps at Post Office. Stop by Brown's Shoe Store. 2:20 pick up Emily; drop her and Joe at Central Band for lessons. Take back (overdue) library books. Go to Aldi. Go to Wal-mart? 3:30--Pick up Em and Joe, Drop Emily at her piano lesson, drop Allison at violin lesson, wait in car (feed the little ones chips to keep them quiet). 4:30--Allison comes out, go pick up Emily. Do any left over errands (like Wal-mart), which realistically can't be squeezed into a 20-minute time slot. Head home with a load of cranky kids. Gulp dinner. Dress everyone. Head out the door for a church meeting, where we will see Dad for the first time since 6:30 this morning.

Tomorrow I've just got to tackle the boys' closet before the repair man comes to fix the furnace in there and faints when he sees what lurks beside the furnace. Plus there's home schooling to do, soccer practice for two or three of the kids, and somewhere in there naps, dinner, and maybe nursing the baby have to happen. Help!

I realize this may not sound familiar to some, but others might relate. I hate to admit how many of my days are consumed by such tyranny. I call it tyranny, because somewhere along the way it ceased to be fun and became something to be endured, something that takes a tremendous amount of energy just to keep the merry-go-round going. I don't know about anyone else, but I want to get off.

Like those guys who spin plates on long poles, my husband and I have found ourselves juggling more and more factors. Since we are currently groping through these issues ourselves, I'll throw out some thoughts we're exploring.

Communication. We know it is essential. Every book on husband and wife relations extols it. But sometimes we just don't do it at a meaningful level. With the whirlwind pace of life, we can become like the proverbial ships passing in the night--taking care of the basics but not really communicating about what is going on inside. We can lose touch with each other while still living in the same house. It's easy to forget that we're a team. But two really are better than one when it comes to getting a bigger perspective on our lifestyle and the changes we may need to make. Besides, it works much better if we both decide and agree on issues, rather than one of us trying to single-handedly slow this merry-go-round to a halt.

Because my husband, Dave, is usually working away from the family home, I hold down the fort, run the errands, do the bulk of home schooling, chauffeur the kids, etc. Thus I can be more in touch with the state of affairs at home--but often too close to the problem. I tend to get high-centered on immediate details, whereas Dave often sees the long-term and can come up with creative suggestions like… "We need to simplify. "

When he said that to me, I felt like saying, "I know, I know--just tell me how! " So far we haven't found any pat answers, but this much we know--we want some more room to breathe--to smell the roses, to enjoy the journey, and be able to gaze into each other's eyes like we used to when life was slower. Dr. Richard A. Swenson calls this breathing room "margin ".

It's weird. We value having good, uplifting relationships, but here we are feeling driven by things and activities that crowd out that very thing. I have to admit there is a certain exhilaration to a busy life. When I only had three kids and energy, I could still pretty much handle "warp " speed and keep all the pieces together. But as year has followed year, I now have less conquer-the-world energy and more kids. So I find that with all the busyness, the things we consider most important can be neglected.

How did we get so much going on? Well, as I mentioned before, we had kids. Then they grew. Then we did the all-American thing--got them involved in music lessons, Spanish lessons, home school field trips, sports, you name it. If every kid has one, two or three extracurricular activities per week--I-yi-yi! Suddenly I'm running a chauffeuring business and a fast food kitchen. Things have gotten crammed, and I'm no longer exhilarated with the busyness.

How much of what we do is actually important to us? Do we really care if our kids get to be Harvard scholars, or the next Van Cliburn winners? Do we need our (home schooled) children to outshine everyone in academics to validate us, or have them involved in sports, church activities, etc., to somehow prove to skeptics that they are well "socialized "?

Do I care about a picture perfect yard or house and what people think, more than I value sitting on the porch watching the kids ride their bikes? Not really, but how often I miss those golden times while I slog it out in the laundry room.

Do I actually want to spend my morning straightening the boys' drawers while the kids grow up, or can I just give away about half the clothes that will end up on the floor the next time my four-year-old is searching for something? The worth of people always wins out over the value of things--but how often people get lost in the shuffle of an over-loaded life.

I find this a sobering thought: What if our activity-packed life may actually be fostering discontent in our children and feeding an appetite for activity? While we're trying so hard to enrich our children's lives, are we creating a vicious cycle in which they need more activities to feel happy, so we do more, so they need more, so we do more…?

As we know, each child has unique strengths and gifts. We, as parents, want to make opportunity for these to come out. But the more our family has grown, the wiser we need to be in how we accomplish that. Just because one son is great at soccer doesn't mean that the rest of the boys even care about playing it. Even if one child loves piano it doesn't necessarily mean the others need lessons too.

At the risk of sounding cliché, we also need to learn to say NO. No to activities we have no time, grace or energy for, and in our heart really don't want to do. No to things like those big bags of clothes people give us that we don't really need. No to others who invite or cajole us to join them on their merry-go-round. Just because they have a need doesn't mean we have to meet it. Even Jesus only met the needs His Father pointed out to Him. He could have healed everyone at the Pool of Bethesda. But He didn't. He just healed one, and completely pleased His Father. We need feel guilty only if we don't obey God.

That's what I hate--feeling guilty. Guilty for being so busy, guilty for being less than peaceful after a half-day of waiting in the car with the little ones on lesson days. Guilty for not spending enough "quality " time with the kids, or not doing the right things with them. Guilty for not measuring up to all the perfect people I read about who #1. Always have a clean house. #2. Whose kids never fight. #3. Who are never at a loss for wise answers to endless questions. #4. Who grind their own flour, bake their own bread, and sew their own clothes with one hand, while canning applesauce, putting cloth diapers on their baby and weeding their organic garden with the other.
But who sets the standards, anyway? I'm slowly realizing that it is usually my own expectations and perceptions that sabotage me here. I have certain pictures of what it means to do a good job as a parent and spouse, and I feel guilty when I don't fulfill these. What I need to do is find out which of these pictures match up with the Lord's picture of the perfect wife and mother.

So how are we trying to simplify our lives? First, we've both agreed we need to. Then we discuss our priorities, the aspects of life that are important to us as a family unit. Our friends or neighbors may have a different list, but this is us.

Next, we try to examine each area of over-busy-ness or stress, and ask ourselves these questions: First, what activities are we involved in that don't line up with our priorities? These we can eliminate.

Secondly, where can we re-work our schedule to give us room to breathe? Examples? Music and being able to play instruments is important in our house. We see value in this for our children, but lately all the lessons and focus on musical events has dominated our household too much. So we're in the process of modifying our calendar in order to have lessons every other week, and to cut back on extra performances and concert attendance.

One thing we love to do as a family is camp. Unfortunately, we've found that when our kids are in the annual soccer league, with its accompanying practices and games, camping is nearly impossible to squeeze in. So a recent decision we made was to opt out of the soccer league this season and concentrate on camping.

Seasons change. Children grow. Circumstances alter. Will we ever come up with a perfect schedule? It's comforting to me to realize that we don't have to. All we have to do is change what we can, then re-evaluate a few months down the road. Our changes don't have to be etched in stone. Because we don't do soccer this year doesn't mean we never will again. We'll just try it this way. Same with the music lesson schedule.

We'll give it some time to really start affecting our lives, say three or four months, then assess the results. We're not burning any bridges yet. Then we'll go through the evaluating process again. Knowing we'll reassess the situation down the road takes the pressure off of us as we're feeling our way to a saner pace of life.

So we're on a journey toward simplifying our lifestyle. By no means have we arrived and are therefore bestowing the title "EXPERTS " upon ourselves. We're somewhere in the process of trying to communicate, prioritize and simplify.

And, by the way. I don't grind my own wheat. But chances are good that if you stop by our house on a Saturday afternoon, you just might find me grinding espresso beans so Dave and I can sip a cup as we gaze into each other's eyes and enjoy our newly re-claimed room to breathe.


Leslie Wyatt has been married to her husband, Dave, for 20 years. They have six children, ranging in age from 4 to 18. They have been homeschooling for 14 years.
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