Friday, April 3, 2009

How I Lost My Balance; and How I Found it Again

Imagine you are a juggler in a circus act. You start out with one ball, then work your way to two, then three. You get so efficient that you are able to juggle twelve at once! Then someone ties one arm behind your back and you are expected to keep doing it. You wind up dropping half and struggle to keep up the other six. Then someone ties your other arm behind your back. In dismay, you look to the ground. How could they possibly expect the impossible? Then you realize you are just a side show that no one is really paying attention to, and you walk away unnoticed, kicking the balls to the side, and ask someone to help you untie your hands. Once your hands are free, you fail to resume the juggling. You go back and pick up your favorite ball and carry it home.

This is what I see when I think of my younger mommy self, circa five years ago. I was homeschooling three children, teaching religion at our church, teaching a Little Flowers group, leading a homeschooling field trip group of one hundred families, running an ebay store, notarizing and bookkeeping for my husband’s business, and bending over backwards to please my friends. I was NOT writing, or even reading. Every pocket of time was filled with activity. People told me I was doing too much, but I didn’t listen. I felt like if I COULD do it, I SHOULD do it.

Most days I was able to manage well, and was proud of all I was able to accomplish. I kept lists to show my husband all I had done around the house each day. I think I still felt like I had to prove I was doing my share, since we had mutually decided I should stay home with the children. This was all in my own head, having been employed for ten years before going cold turkey.

His response was, “What do you want, a medal?” He was not being unappreciative. He was trying to say I didn’t need to do all I was doing to impress him. All I had to DO was BE - Mommy and Wife and Me.

On my birthday, I always sit down and write resolutions, approximately ten, of what I want to accomplish in the next year. I remember when I turned thirty I wrote that I wanted to BE instead of DO. I changed my attitude toward activity in my life, but not my behavior. Soon thereafter I oversaw the installation of a dormer. I decreased the demands on my schedule so I could be home for the workers. When it was done, I painted the entire thing, inside and out.

The day I finished the painting, we conceived our fourth child, and everything changed. That January (she was born in July) I was so fatigued that I felt like I wasn’t fulfilling any of my roles properly. I was a terrible friend – or so I thought - I was too tired to even talk on the phone. I was a terrible teacher to my kids – I had a terrible cough, which was bringing on early contractions, and spent many days dictating from the couch. I wasn’t able to go on field trips because long drives would bring on contractions, and the group wound up folding. I was a terrible housekeeper – needless to say the cleaning was going by the wayside.

But I knew I was being the best mommy I could be to my children. I knew that by staying on the couch I was ensuring that I would not wind up in the hospital for an extended stay or go into early labor. I enrolled my children to help in whatever chores they could around the house.

I was able to put together my daughter’s First Communion, putting every last drop of energy into the preparations, and putting aside some money to hire someone to clean my house. I was able to finish off the year of religious education, giving notice that I would not be returning the next year. I was able to get the kids to all their ball games that spring, with their help carrying all their own stuff as well as my comfy chair across the fields so I could sit through them. I was able to finish off the school year, although it took me until August to complete our lesson plans; and they were enrolled into Catholic school.

The Little Flowers group folded because most of the families had to move away, due to the economic and social climate being hostile to larger families on Long Island. The homeschoolers founded another group to provide their field trip needs. The director of religious education found another teacher to fill my role for the next year. (As my Dad, a former businessman, says, “No one is irreplaceable, although they’d like to think they are.”) My kids were assigned great teachers at their new school. My true friends forgave me for having ignored them for a few months. My house got clean again.

I had my precious newborn baby, whom I had longed for, and I had the time to hold her, and nurse her, and stare at her for hours on end. She was colicky and had to be held and nursed nonstop. I really didn’t know how I would have been able to handle it if I still had all those other commitments. She got through that after the second month, and I felt like I could breathe again. When I cleaned, I could take the time to do the chore correctly, and actually relish it. When I cooked, I could put love and creativity into it.

I also found my new calling, in pro-life ministry. I kept bumping into people who were active in pro-life ministry, and making friends with them, not even knowing that is what they were involved in. It turned out they all knew each other, in different degrees. Little by little I kept doing more, as time allowed, and brought my daughters on board as well. I know I would not have found the time to fit this into my old life.

And I am writing now, more than ever! The time may come, when my youngest is in school, that I am able to take on more commitments. No more senseless juggling for me. Not that I regret a single activity that we partook in during those years – they were all valuable in their own ways. But I love my new life, and the new me, who is happy to actually be bored sometimes, because it is so very peaceful.

If you enjoyed this post, you might enjoy a series my friend Loren Christie is doing called Balance Revisited, in which she explores the ways to find balance in her busy and productive life while raising three young children.


Loren Christie said...

Thank you Elizabeth, for being so honest and for linking to my post. A lot of what you did is suggested in that book. To Kevin I say yes, you DO deserve a medal for your proficiency at Scrabble, for starters. :)

Elizabeth Kathryn Gerold-Miller said...

Thank you Loren. We used to play Scrabble constantly while I was in graduate school. We were super competitive! Once we had kids we stopped playing games against each other. Couples game nights are much more fun.