27 March 2014

Banning "Busy"

Sunday evening Matt commented that it had been a very Isaac-centric weekend.  Soccer game Friday night, (Matt) taking Isaac fishing Saturday morning, Isaac's talent show Saturday evening, a meeting after church on Sunday about a camp for Isaac, meeting up with scouts at the Children's Museum in Winston-Salem Sunday afternoon.

Before Isaac was born, I said that we would limit the activities that he became involved in so that he was not doing too many things at once,  I understood that it is not good to have kids over extended and stressed out in elementary school.  I was intent on not becoming "that" parent.  But there have been weeks recently when it feels like I have forgotten that pledge.  When Isaac started playing sports through the YMCA each fall and spring I allowed him to drop tae kwon do because I knew that doing both would be too much.  But last Thursday we were running from school, to a drum lesson, to soccer practice, to a scout meeting, and that was a simpler version of the evening since I opted out of a school event that same night.  And that does not factor in Wednesdays, when we have to be at church for Isaac to practice tone chimes and attend choir rehearsal or Mondays and Fridays when we have soccer practice and games.  Yet I know that we are much less busy than other families whose kids are involved in multiple sports, or who have multiple kids they are running around.  I don't feel as frazzled as some women, but I know that I could be doing better.

I recently read Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time by Brigid Schulte.  After hearing two interviews with the author in one day I was intrigued enough to buy it from Amazon and recommend it to a friend. The author's message of feeling like there is never enough time to get it all done resonated with me as I often feel that way myself, along with most mothers I know.  I found enough free time over the past week to finish the book, though -- I guess I am not as overwhelmed as I thought.

A couple of years ago, a friend shared an article about how "busy" was a self-imposed social construct created to make people seem more valuable or important than their friends or co-workers.  Being busy had become a virtue.  In one of my favorite lines in the article, the author states that "if your job wasn’t performed by a cat or a boa constrictor in a Richard Scarry book I’m not sure I believe it’s necessary."  I was thankful that my job, teacher or librarian, take your pick, appeared in those books.  But I also tried to take to heart the author's message that idleness is not for the weak.  That my value did not lie in how much I accomplished in a given day, but in how fully I lived.  

That article has been cited and shared by friends and co-workers more than once since it was written and I thought of it when I heard Schulte interviewed about her book.  She started her exploration with a time study and examining her own life through the lens of the time crunch that many women, in America in particular, feel.  She found many factors at play, ranging from the still inequitable division of labor in the home between men and women, the inequity that still exists in the workplace, and how little our society values play or leisure time.  She portrays her own struggles to overcome outdated expectations and the work that is being done to overcome them in the workplace.  In the end, her argument is that, if we are to live full lives, then our ideals need to change and the focus cannot just be on the role of women and making mother's lives easier, but on restructuring the workplace in addition to realigning our society's expectations for women and men.

In the three areas that Schulte outlines in her book, I feel like Matt and I are on the right track for the most part, but it is hard to ignore all of the external forces.

Matt and I have never been caught up in the "ideal worker" mystique that Schulte describes in her book.  Neither of us want or expect to be stars in our fields.  We have both chosen professions that focus on serving the community and are quite happy being worker bees to our supervisors' queens.  We both work hard and try to leave work at work.  Matt's situation makes it easier for him to do this than me, but I am attempting to limit when and where I will allow my work to enter into my personal life.  Neither of us are the ideal worker who is always on call, always checking email, always working.  But I still find it hard not to try to live up to extreme expectations.  There is the adage that 20% of the people do 80% of the work.  I don't want to be seen as part of the 80% who slack off and allow others to carry the load, so I do more -- if I am involved in multiple aspects of the school then I will be indispensable, right?  And then there is the tool by which my job is evaluated.  In my position I cannot be given highest marks unless I am a leader outside my school, preferably on a state or national level.  So I have to decide if I am going to put in the extra time and effort, outside of the time I am paid, to be "Distinguished" or if I can accept being merely "Accomplished."

Matt and I do a pretty good job, I think, of sharing parenting responsibilities.  That weekend that Matt described as Isaac-centric, I had spent less time with him than Matt had.  After Isaac was born, I nursed, but I also made sure I was able to go out to the gym or to dinner with friends while Matt stayed home.  He has taken Isaac to doctor's appointments, been the drop-off parent for daycare and school, is the stricter disciplinarian, and helps with homework.  I never wanted to be or felt I had to be a stay-at-home mom and we both knew that parenting was going to be a partnership.  But I have not escaped the guilt that Schulte says comes from an expectation of the "ideal mother."  I feel bad that I am not crafty or that I don't bake Isaac's birthday cakes or that I haven't started fun traditions around every little holiday or make creative snacks so that he won't be a picky eater.  I shrug on the outside and say that's just not me, but on the inside I feel like I should have done more to make life fun for Isaac.  And, yet, even as I write this I know that that feeling is ridiculous.

One thing Matt and I do not do well, is share housework.  And I am mostly to blame for this.  In many aspects of my life I live by the rule that if you want something done right, do it yourself.  I am a bit of a control-freak.  I do the grocery shopping because I can stay on a budget better than Matt, I think.  I do the cleaning because I will pay more attention to detail, I think.  I do the cooking because I am the pickier eater and I will not like what Matt cooks -- this one has actually been proven true many times.  The other things? Matt is perfectly capable of doing all of them and offers to.  But when he asks what he can do to help or what needs to get done, I usually pass.  I am not willing to lower my standards, standards that I learned growing up, mainly from my grandmother who was a homemaker.  Logically, I know that my house does not have to be perfectly clean, but I still get frantic that it be spotless (at least the visible parts) before friends come over, which stresses everyone else in the house out, too.  I know that the house does have to be clean before we leave for vacation, but I get tense thinking about coming home to a mess.  I have relaxed some of my expectations and let go of some chores -- I don't worry about the bed getting made, no one will see it.  We all do our own laundry, even Isaac, and if our clothes sit in the laundry basket until we need it for the next load, so be it.  I have been committed to cooking more, so often the cleaning schedule that hangs on my bathroom mirror gets ignored.  Isaac now makes his own lunch, though sometimes that feels like more of a hassle than just doing it myself, to be honest.  My obsessive control of the housework affects our time to play.

While reading about the ideal worker and the ideal mother and how our society values productivity over leisure, I deliberately took time to read rather than cleaning the bathroom, or mopping the floors, or putting the dishes away.  I also took a couple of walks, started getting my containers ready so when this interminable winter ends I can plant herbs, and wrote a couple of posts for this blog.  Matt and I are starting to plan our summer vacation and, rather than plan a week that will keep Isaac entertained, we are going to take a few days to ourselves while he stays with family.

At the end of Overwhelmed, Schulte advises her readers to really think about what they want and begin to structure their lives around that.  So these are some things I want:

I want to take more walks.
I want to sit on my porch and drink a glass of wine in the evenings (if this winter would ever end).
I want to enjoy lazy weekend afternoons napping on the couch.
I want to ban the word "busy" from my vocabulary and instead focus on the time we have spent playing.

Right now I want to watch the UF v. UCLA game.

1 comment:

  1. This is perfect. I need to check out that book :)