Searching For A New Balance On The Cusp of A New School Year

Photo by hdc., via Flickr

The summer of 2015, in our family, breaks down like this:

Phase 1 (up to July 4): Baseball and summer school.

Phase 2 (July 4-Aug. 17): Major travel and recovery.

The past several years I’ve structured the summer around weekly field trips, but this year we didn’t do a single one. Even now I’m not quite sure how that happened. Just like every year, I had a list of trips scribbled on the first Sunday of June—but we never seemed able to get out of town.

The past several years, I’ve also cut back on work assignments in the summer, knowing I would need to be more present to the kids. But this year even my low expectations kept being undercut, to the point where I felt like I was accomplishing nothing at all.

I was in a foul mood for all of Phase 1 this summer, and I dreaded being asked “How’s your summer going?” (I’m kind of bad at those social white lies. When people asked me that question, they usually got an epistle for an answer. Not OK, Kate. Not OK.)

With the big trip to Grand Rapids, the summer took a turn for the better: more productive, less harried, more enjoyable. But I had a short list of kid projects that I wanted to accomplish: 1. move the kids into new rooms and 2. get Nicholas off his training wheels.

We finished the first of those…yesterday. And only because Christian devoted a major portion of the last two weekends to it.

The second? Haven’t even started.

Clearly, our family life is changing. I don’t understand why this year is troublesome for field trips and summer projects. We’ve been doing baseball for five years now, and swim lessons just as long. We ought to be freer in our scheduling now that Michael is older. Yet something about the kids growing has flipped us into a new stage, and I haven’t figured out how to balance all the pieces yet.

It’s not just the family schedule that needs balance, either. It’s me. I’m finding myself reactive, not just with the kids, but to the structures that dictate their lives. Taking offense at circumstances. Angry with unreasonable requirements and inconveniences. Wanting to pick fights and go on crusades to overhaul institutions that I never before thought had any need for it.

I don’t want to be That Parent. Always before, I’ve reserved that title for people who think their kids walk on water and are never in the wrong. But now I see the potential for me to become a different kind of That Parent: one who, well, goes picking fights and undertaking questionable crusades to overhaul institutions, whether or not they need it. I mean, everybody’s inconvenienced by the requirements surrounding schools and sports teams. Where do you draw the line between “this needs to change, and I happen to have the cojones to undertake the fight” and “this is just the way it is; deal with it”?

I’m in need of a new balance in my life. The balance of the past several years is no longer viable, and I don’t want to be incapable of joy in the moment because I’m too busy grousing about the incidentals. I want to do as people are constantly telling me, and enjoy my kids. Which means enjoying everything that surrounds having kids, too.

I have a feeling this soul searching is going to define the next several months, and perhaps years, of my life.