“Well, no, we can’t make our own fireworks and go berry picking and go to the museums in NJ and Rochester and visit your grandparents and watch ten episodes of Magic School Bus and find that missing book and paint your walls and make chocolate cake and climb a mountain and play with Amy today.”
“But we could paint some fireworks, research how to make something safer than regular fireworks but similar, go to the playground, make banana bread, even have a backyard Olympics!”
On my best days, that’s how I scale things down. I’m an early childhood educator so it comes naturally for me to accommodate my preschooler’s requests with equally exciting options. Even though my suggestions are initially responded to with protest, it doesn’t take long for him to agree that my alternatives sound pretty awesome too. (It should be noted that on my more realistic days I scale his bucket list down to: clean up the mess you made yesterday then we’ll talk.)
I understand my child’s desire to do everything in one day: travel and see the world, experience it all, play with loved ones, be in nature, solve the mystery of the missing books and toys once and for all, and watch some shows. Like so many other things my children feel, I can truly relate. Limits are hard. At bedtime my almost-four year old often says that he doesn’t want to go to sleep because he doesn’t get to do anything when he’s sleeping!
“The days are long but the years are short,” they say. “Live each day like today could be your last.” Well apparently my little ones got the memo. Both of my children are rarely okay with life happening without them and acutely aware that their life will eventually end. As my aforementioned almost-four-year-old-philosopher has been known to ask, “Is today the last day of all the days?”
I have always been the sort of person who doesn’t want to miss a thing. I want to experience life and be a part of all of the amazing groups full of incredible people. As a teenager, I joined every musical group, sports team, social gathering and volunteer activity that my parents allowed me to. I stayed up until 2 am doing homework but rarely felt exhausted. It finally caught up to me in college when I began my student teaching. I realized the hard way (I got very sick) that I would have to clear most activities off my schedule for a while to do student teaching justice. While I ultimately succeeded in graduating with a B.S. in Elementary Ed., English Ed., and Special Ed. (and unofficial minor in music) it took me a while to accept that being a teacher meant that I had to give up a lot of other activities.
So here I am in my 30s and back to the same old conundrum. How do I fit it all in? What do I get to keep and what do I have to let go? And why can’t I do everything? Heck, why can’t I just fit in a few more hours of teaching piano lessons? I love my current students and not only want to continue with them, but would love to take on more.
After fifteen years of teaching in schools, camp settings, and a childrens’ museum, I began a music studio about a year ago. I have had such a blast teaching music classes and piano lessons along with my job teaching music and art at a local preschool. I knew I would have to keep my business small because my husband works long and sometimes unpredictable hours, and my children are still young. After-school babysitters are hard to come by, and I already have another full time job you may be familiar with: mom and homemaker.
I rely on my husband to share in the parenting and chores, which he does with gusto, waking up before the sun rises to get in his run, wash some dishes, pay a bill or two and wipe the snow off the van, but during the school year he is off to work before the kids have had their breakfast. For the most part, the responsibilities of parenting and keeping house lie squarely on my shoulders from breakfast time until 4 and sometimes 6pm. This past school year felt very unbalanced, in that some days I didn’t get to be truly present to our children in the way that is important to me or them. Some days I didn’t get exercise or eat a proper dinner or get a shower. I accepted this kind of survival mode when the kids were babies, but I’m ready to meet my basic needs on more of a daily basis here!
Whenever I notice that our schedule seems unbalanced, I start the pro-con list: I list priorities and inevitably have to choose one thing over another.
This year, while my children are still young and want me around, I choose them. I choose making dinner together, going to their sports practices and teaching them piano. Oh, how I wish I could clone myself so that I could be the parent I want to be as well as simultaneously run a flourishing music studio, and provide opportunities for all kids to try all instruments, including an after school marimba band! What I would give be an elementary school music teacher and a children’s librarian and a summer camp counselor and a naturalist tour guide in the Adirondacks and the Florida Keys and even start a charter school. How I wish I could simply spare 3-5 hours a week to do my few piano students justice. But I won’t give up my family time, at least not all of it. I have learned that I just can’t do it all, at least not all at once. I’ve learned to appreciate my limits. I cannot do everything I’ve ever dreamed right now. I can hardly manage to get dinner made on the days that I teach in the afternoons.
Maybe I’ll find a way to continue teaching after-school piano lessons this year, maybe not. Maybe I’ll find a way to continue being co-director of the Syracuse Community Children’s choir, maybe not. It all depends on childcare and whether my 4 year old still needs his nap. It depends on whether I can keep life feeling balanced or not. I wish we could just tack on more hours of the day to do it all!
As a wise older woman at a multigenerational women’s retreat I attended once told me, women can do a lot, practically everything we want to do, just not all at once. To everything there is a season, and this is the season for me to be full time mom, “very”-part time teacher, and role model for my children of what a balanced life looks like. May you too find peace with the balancing act of motherhood, juggling what you can, when you can. And if you’re able, drop the ball once in a while. Or pass it to your partner…or your neighbor or babysitter down the road. It’s all part of being a juggler. Its all part of being a mom.