Beware the barrenness of a busy life. ~Socrates
Lately I feel especially squeezed for time. I am no different from anyone else but this time rut has me feeling stressed, resentful, fatigued and overwhelmed. My job as a literacy specialist is always, always overly busy. Teaching is easy; it is the vast amounts of paperwork, scholarly articles that need to be read, data to track, lessons to plan, committee obligations and assessments to complete that are killing me! It is a fact that I will never catch up. I work at maintaining a balance between my personal and professional life. Most days I stay very late in order not to bring my job home. And yet, the demands of work lately have outweighed the demands of home. Of course, it helps that my children are young adults. Still, my personal life is not only busy and fulfilling but extremely important to me. I want to spend the weekend with my fiance’ without thinking or feeling guilty about the work that I have to do.
I often wonder, though, is my generation somewhat responsible for the way we are living today? I became a young woman in the era of “You Can Have It All.” Some of us bought into the myth that work, marriage, a healthy sex life, kids and maintaining our youthful looks were easily mastered. Then reality bit us in the behind! Today there is the idea and very real fact that two incomes are necessary in order to make ends meet. But let’s get even more real: for all working class people two incomes have always been necessary to feed their families, pay bills and keep a roof over their heads. For generations, men worked two jobs (my father being one of them) or women worked a second shift in order to be home with the kids. Moreover, many families today simply cannot afford to pay for day care. At best, some break even. In fact, just a few days ago, I ran into a complete stranger who was lamenting this very thing. Her husband is a firefighter and she works as a school counselor. They are parents to a 1 and a 4 year old. Her income goes to child care but if she doesn’t work she will lose her certification. It was quite obvious that she was in a serious dilemma: stay at her job in order not to start all over again in a few years and throw away income or stay home with the kids to save money.
And another reality for most women is that they still bear the brunt of domestic chores, grocery shopping, meal preparation and child care logistics. I know! I know! There are a great many men who are equitable and respectful partners. But I am well aware of friends of mine who, if they don’t hire a cleaning company or have groceries delivered, are cleaning their houses at midnight. There are few of us who have high-powered, high income careers that allow for a nanny, cook and cleaning services AND flexibility- which would free us up for time with family and friends without emptying our wallets.
I was able to stay at home for ten years with my sons. The time spent with them helped me to appreciate the simple moments in life and laid the foundation for lasting memories with them. In some ways it was a challenge to fight the new cultural norm of going back to work. But this was not what I wanted for my sons. Sure, many kids they knew were plied with material things and bigger houses and lavish vacations. But what these kids did not get was sustained attention from their parents. How many parents do you see today walking with their kid holding onto one hand and the cell phone in the other? And believe me, they are not conversing with their child! How many vehicles today are equipped with a dvd player? How many kids when asked what they did after school or over the weekend will say: ” I played on my Wii.” Fresh air and getting dirty are at best rare occurrences and at worst foreign concepts to lots of children.
I am in no way advocating for a return to the kitchen for women. I am too much of a feminist and a realist for that. But I do wonder in this quest for material gain that we have stolen childhood from our children. Kids no longer play but have “play dates” . (This concept still cracks me up-when I first heard it, it sounded mismatched-playing on a date?). They have scheduled, organized activities many times per week and over the weekend. How can our children have the time to discover who they are and their life’s passion(s) if we don’t allow them to just be and be God forbid-bored?
As I write this, I still have loads of work ahead of me for the week. Somehow I will make the penguin steps necessary to get things done. If I chose work over family and fiance’, however, I would have missed out on much more. My man and I enjoyed a snowstorm, a long run in its slushy aftermath, a few delicious meals and much-needed private conversation. Sunday dinner with my sons and their girlfriends was relaxing and rambunctious. My youngest son is assuming the role of cook ( he got cookbooks for his birthday) and is seriously committed to making a good meal. I love being a tutor for him in the kitchen! These are the things that sustain all of us. Live simply and extraordinary things can happen.
Each day, awakening, are we asked to paint the sky blue? Need we coax the sun to rise or flowers to bloom? Need we teach birds to sing, or children to laugh, or lovers to kiss? No, though we think the world imperfect, it surrounds us each day with its perfections. We are asked only to appreciate them, and to show appreciation by living in peaceful harmony amidst them. The Creator does not ask that we create a perfect world; He asks that we celebrate it. ~Robert Brault