Thursday, April 21, 2016

Why Do We Do All That We Do?

This is school vacation week for my preschool-aged daughter, so I also made it vacation week for my homeschooled kindergarten-aged son. It's a relief for me in a way, because I get a break from planning homeschool lessons for a week, but it's not truly a vacation, because I still need to put on the "mom" hat and make sure my kids aren't just sitting in front of the TV/computer/Kindle screen all week long. If they're playing in the yard, I need to keep an eye on them now and then; if I have errands I need to run, I have to take them with me; I need to take them to the park or to spend time with friends or to do something outside the house. Plus of course I still need to plan and make meals and keep up with the laundry and scrape playdough off the kitchen floor now and then. And on top of that, I'm frantically sewing costumes for a show that opens in just a few weeks, along with requests on the table to help with costumes for two other shows that are opening soon and in desperate need of extra hands. And hovering in the background of all this is work for a Board that I sit on and a committee that I chair, as well as two other committees that I'm involved with.

I'm wearing a lot of different hats this week.

In some ways, it's a relief to switch from one hat to another: when my hands are tired from sewing, I can "take a break" by catching up on Board emails; when my brain is spinning from trying to straighten out some disagreement on a committee, I can "take a break" by supervising my kids riding their bikes; when I'm tired of researching some homeschool topic I want to cover, I can "take a break" by making out my grocery list and going shopping (with two kids in tow, of course).

But it's kind of like circuit-training at the gym: You give your legs a break while you work on your arms, then you give your arms a break while you work on your abs, etc. But when your workout is over, you're still tired. You still need a break.

That's the hardest thing about parenting - heck, that's the hardest thing about life. You never really get a complete break! Someone always needs to be fed, some kind of work always needs to be done, some kind of conflict always needs to be resolved. So how do we get through it without collapsing from exhaustion or totally losing our minds?

The best solution I've found so far is to take a few moments now and then to consciously sit back and enjoy the results of all the work I'm doing. When I'm tired of sewing, I pull up photos of costumes I've designed and think about how satisfying it is to see my creations come to life. I think about the look on an actor's face when he puts on a costume I've made and suddenly feels his character spring to life. When I'm frustrated by my son's lack of interest in a particular subject, I remind myself of his excitement and enthusiasm about another subject. I try to remember times when he was so excited about learning that he grabbed a book and continued studying on his own. When I'm annoyed by the politics and conflicts on one of my Boards or committees, I think back to some of the projects we've accomplished together, the problems that we did solve in the end, and the groups and individuals that we've helped over the years. I remind myself of why I do all these things.

It's too easy to get so wrapped up in the process of what we do that we forget the reason behind what we do. I don't serve on the theatre board just so I'll have something to write on my resume when I go back to work, I do it because I love theatre and I want to help the many groups in our area learn their craft even better, and share it with our community. I don't make costumes just because I like to sew, but because this is an artistic outlet that allows me to think creatively, to physically create images that exist inside my head, and to contribute to a greater artistic vision. I don't homeschool just because public school wasn't the best choice for my son this year, but because I want to encourage my son's creative thinking and curiosity and natural love of learning. I need to remember to focus on those outcomes and not just the annoyances and difficulties of reaching those outcomes.

So what's getting me through this week of shopping and sewing and supervising and emailing and resolving is that mental checklist of results: a full pantry and happy tummies, a vest that makes its wearer smile, laughing and thinking children, averted crises, and compromises that leave all parties satisfied.

And then, just maybe, I can throw on one more hat for a little while.

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