When we were spending three weeks in Elkins, WV this summer, living out of a single hotel room, Brent worked 12-14hour days. I was responsible for entertainment, education, recreation, and meals. Brent was pulling in extra income while we were there so I used that to supplement our time with activities and start filling in some material gaps.
It was so easy to say, “sure, I will sign you up for an origami class, and your two brothers.” It meant an hour of fun and what’s turned out to be months of inspiration. Then there was Girl Scout camp for one, plus transportation, tennis camp for three, sewing camp, a movie date, a few lunch dates with the husband, a stop for rainy day art supplies, the Saturday morning Farmer’s Market, where we tried to support every vendor at least once and threw cash into the guitar case of a very talent group of child musicians. We were bleeding cash, and to be honest, it felt wonderful. Without a care for what the balance was in our bank account we did what we needed to do and what we wanted to do. We certainly didn’t go all out, but we were doing more investing of our money into materials and activities in those three weeks then we had done in a couple of years back home. Besides two trips to Girl Scout camp, 10 miles away, we used our bicycles the whole time (in case you were wondering).
We went from mountain town to ocean side the following week, where we culled the spending in favor of meals with friends in the kitchen and digging in the sand on the beach. Then we came home.
We came home a week before school started and had eight days of not knowing what to do with ourselves. The short period of loading our schedules in Elkins and running an eat, beach, repeat routine in South Carolina left me feeling very lonely, very bored, and craving the external stimulus of a constantly changing scene.
Being on the road for two months wasn’t enough for me. My life was more simple while we were away. It was also more rich with friends and family. Being home in Huntington meant I had to do dishes multiple times a day and laundry all of the time. It meant, it means, the children do not need as much of me because they have their things and their friends.
We came home and I signed the children up for activities. Avery and Elliot joined the fall soccer rosters. London began violin lessons. Brent started back to the university and Oliver enrolled in a dance class. I wrote checks and swiped my card. Then I came home and filled in my calendar with where I needed to be and when. We were able to ride our bikes to everything except soccer. I knew games would be out on Route 2, some 9-13 mile away, depending on if you chose the interstate or the state route. I hoped we would get a team that practiced at Ritter park, 1 mile from home, which happened for one child, but not both.
Game day is madness. The YMCA Kennedy center is the town square on a soccer Saturday. Everyone is there. Someone should put in a farmers market and artisan center, as it would reap its weight in wealth. It is also a thirty minute drive and ten minute parking fiasco. Then you wait, because all the games are delayed. Then you have to wait more because your second (and for some, third and fourth) child is also playing at some point that morning. Then you have to file back to your car and inch your way out onto Route 2 and work your way back to Huntington. It makes my head spin.
It is not just the car thing. I am not opposed to driving, but I am opposed to chaos, and in this case, I signed us up for a whole season of it. Avery’s team practices at the Kennedy center one night a week. On those nights it means a rushed after school routine, half a dinner before and half a dinner after and a later bedtime. This week, it also meant we didn’t get homework done, because I also decided that because we were driving out that way, we might as well make a few other stops.
Do you do this? When you know you are going somewhere ‘far,’ you think, might as well drop this off and pick that up while I am at it? With gas at $4/gallon, it just makes economic sense. For things that are close, I usually just think, we can run out and get that anytime.
So some of us were dropped at the grocery while the others went to practice. After practice we were reunited and made stops at the big shopping plaza for a couple Target items and some supplies at Home Depot.
We are over-scheduled for activities that are too far from home during a time that we shouldn’t be activity hopping. We should be home. The children have plenty of chores and homework to balance between four o’clock and bedtime. Oliver and I have plenty of time to get groceries during the day and pick up socks and soccer balls downtown. Why didn’t we?
We spent the week doing other things instead. We made central downtown stops and never went east or west toward the grocers. We made a choice and in the back of my mind I knew we could lump some errands together on soccer night, when we would take the van. It turns out to have made everything more complicated. It took up too much time. It made me miserable.
It wasn’t just me. Everyone was dragging the next morning too. There was still homework to be completed and lunches to be pack (which usually get assembled the night before).
Where’s the simple? It might be suffocating in a cabinet somewhere around here. I am looking for the habits I had developed and let get away from. It was a really good pace for us in Elkins, WV. Bringing the pace into the school year, into a town where things are twice as far away from our doorstep, is not working.
What shall I do about it? The first thing I am doing, is not doing more. I am not adding anything else to our calendar. I said no to basketball. Not now to archery. Sorry Charlie to scouts.
Second, I am monitoring the daily schedule. We have a posted routine for school mornings, after school and evenings. I have used this modified schedule for nearly five years. In a fit of rage last year, one of the children tore it off the wall and I let go of it. The children certainly had more free range, but I was more miserable. I was more disorganized, more taxed on chores, meals, and daily prep. I had lost control of time and my family. This doesn’t work for everyone, but that schedule kept me balanced. The effort I have to put into enforcing it is time well spent.
It was difficult for me to pin point where and how I lost interest in parenting and homemaking, but it happened. I just didn’t care to cook for a group of people who didn’t want to eat any of it. I wasn’t going to pick up a room full of toys, books and knocked over laundry for it to sit on dresser tops, pushed under beds and stuffed into crannies moments after they all walked in and spread out a new buffet of stuff. Keeping a clean table seemed futile when no one would come to join me for projects or homework time or dinner. They just went their own ways and did their own things. Any attempt to ask for help was met with anger and rudeness and then I retorted with defeat, that it just wasn’t worth the misery we were all displaying. I let all those Ds and Fs add up and I didn’t do a whole lot to bring out the best manners in any of them.
This was wrong. Very very wrong. My turn the cheek, look the other way, model what I wanted to see, redirect their language approach wasn’t working for anyone. I wasn’t invested in their homework, their friends, their daily lives. I had checked out. I knew it then too. In an email reply with a friend I wrote:
I don’t keep [the children] happy. Nor is everything, including them, clean, rested and fed. I have been better in the past but I lost sight of my parenting focus this school year and I think I have found a few of the culprits.
One culprit was the routine.
The other was a detachment to myself. I stopped cultivating me. I stopped investing in my own growth and enrichment. So much of my time was spent caring for the needs of others and I was harboring some resentment. I felt like I was sacrificing my desires for some elusive idea of putting service first. The service suffered too. My desire for my community out weighed my abilities and pulled me thin. In reviewing these statements it sounds like I volunteer a lot or care for the homeless, sick and elderly. I don’t. I was just volunteering a full time equivalent and thinking about volunteering the rest of the time. I was working on this blog, a lot, which is voluntary. It was certainly a personal reflection, but it was, in my mind, a way to show the rest of the world and the good people of Huntington, that this town is not all the media has made it to be, nor is it all they may think.
Five years of living here had me convinced that I needed to leave. There was figuratively nothing here I wanted for myself or my family, so I set out to be the change I wanted to see. I organized social events I wanted to participate in and started a local Kidical Mass ride for the children. I plunged myself into Create Huntington. I visited the local shops and met my neighbors. It was all a veiled effort to make things better for the gander, and this goose. I wasn’t growing my mind and spirit.
This is complicated to explain, even to myself.
My spirit wanted to be somewhere else. It wanted to meet all those great people I was interacting with online (local and worldwide) and have at its fingertips all those resources it appeared others were enjoying. My mind wanted to learn something new. It wanted to be challenged to grow. It wanted to be back in school (did you know I have attended seven colleges and universities in four states?). My spirit wanted to soar with people who were interested in going the same types of places and getting there on a bicycle, with their children in tow, while offering me new perspectives. As much as I tried to find these families here in Huntington, their schedules didn’t align with ours (or align as often as I’d have liked), as they all had full time jobs, and I had a full time empty space (and a full time babysitting gig in the spring).
With the money we saved by not driving, we took a long trip. We set out to find these families and meet these people and reconnect with our family (the six of us, and our other relatives). It was glorious. My soul was being nurtured. My mind was being opened to new concepts and resources. We reconnected as a family, and I was able to see where I had checked out of caring for my brood.
We came home and I printed up a new daily routine. I cooked. I cleaned and I sorted out some material needs. The children had what they needed and in some cases a little of what they wanted. I enrolled in a class. I started attending events where I might meet new people. I finally planned that blockparty I had thought about for the six years since buying this house. I emailed my children’s teachers before classes began and I check in with them often about our academic, behavioral and social struggles. We do homework around the table.
While I certainly went overboard with our extra curricular schedule, I think I found a healthy groove for nurturing my family and my needs side by side. I found some things to look forward to and found the inspiration to chase after a few ambitions. My volunteer work is more diversified, which has helped me to stay focused and excited, instead of burned out and feeling under appreciated (perceived, not actual).
While the laundry still gets knocked over, and the children remain on a plain pasta and apple slice diet, I have the clarity to see their growth and encourage them. I am putting in the time and effort to lead them and help them through their day. I am reinvested because I can see there is something ahead of me and a very bright future for us all.
In a summary that makes sense to me… a transition to bicycling, meant more savings, to spend traveling, exploring and investing, which nurtured the soul, that was then able to see, that keeping things simple at home, is the very thing we need.