Buddha once said, “There is no path to underscheduling; overscheduling, and then a fortuitous series of screw ups, is the path.”
OK, I’m lying, Buddha never said that, but he did know something about being in the present moment. When I’m at my most frenzied, between gulps of coffee and mad dashes from one ball field to the next piano lesson and an end run through the library to get books for a kid’s project, I try to think about something Zen to calm me down. That is before someone cranks up the radio, starts in on his or her sibling, or asks me what I’m making for dinner, knowing full well that the only thing in the fridge is a sad sack bag of lettuce and a quarter loaf of stale bread. Good thing there’s always a Trader Joe’s in spitting distance from any of the aforementioned activities.
That was then, this is now.
Through total happenstance, we are suddenly the one activity family.
It’s shocking, especially since we never set our intention to anything other than sheer insanity. We cling to our overscheduled world like so many other desperate folks do these days; in a panic that if someone drops out of one activity, the intricate house of cards we build to our children’s future as well-trained, top o’ the heap human specimens may collapse. And we can’t have that, can we?
Or can we?
We dealt ourselves a jam-packed hand of cards for this fall, where two kids were to play three sports, attend religious school, play piano, and still have enough time left over for a few hours of homework each night. On top of it all, Coach Hubby had offered to help all three teams, and I had already signed on to be Team Mom in a semi-conscious offer that was at once genuine and also somewhat self-loathing. I’d also volunteered to serve on a school committee and was bouncing around in my pea brain the idea of a new fundraiser for middle school. Why not add one more thing? There’s always the few minutes I spend in the bathroom each day that was totally up for grabs, if only I’d be willing to don some Depends or wear a self-applied catheter.
The wind-up was complete, and now all we had to do was let ’er rip.
The first week went smoothly as planned. That my husband fell asleep saying goodnight to my daughter each night, and I logged in two migraines didn’t mean anything. The kids were back in their routine, something that they’d been taught to embrace ever since the days of morning nap, mommy and me music class, lunchtime, parktime, naptime, dinnertime, bed time. Down to the minute, they’ve always known where to, next. On time and as scheduled.
But in the second week, a small, still voice spoke up from the back seat as we booked it from an orthodontist appointment to the field.
“I don’t wanna go to practice.”
I opened my mouth to say, “you have to …” but I realized I didn’t wanna go to practice, either. And I had no good reason to push my daughter. Upon closer inspection, it wasn’t just that particular day that she didn’t want to play — it was the entire season. She dug her heels in, and refused to go on.
Sure there was the team, the girls whom she adored and would perhaps let down, the coach that had drafted her, and of course the all important “keep your toe in the water” mentality that either lets people know that you’re still afloat, or alternatively is the first step toward drowning.
The truth was soccer sign-ups had been almost a year earlier, before the softball team had a hugely successful summer. Our conscious minds knew that two teams would be too much, but our unconscious desires to see her excel in everything shoved that consciousness aside and unconsciously, she ended up signed up for two sports. My son was in a similar boat, wanting to be able to just come home and do homework, but we thought if he let baseball sit for a season, it might just be the death-knell of his post-little league career. Buddha would laugh and rub his big belly at this fool’s logic.
And so to my daughter’s request, I said simply, “OK.” I came home and called my husband, and by regularly scheduled bedtime, he’d broken the news to the softball coach, got a refund on fall baseball, and done a decent job keeping his fears of our children falling behind at bay.
The next day dawned as every other normally did, except for one big difference. When school let out, nobody had anywhere they had to be. In a strange coincidence, neither one of my kids had much homework. Someone asked if they could watch the end of a TV show they’d wanted to watch for a week but hadn’t had time to finish yet, and I said yes.
For the first time in a really long time, I made an elaborate dinner that involved a lot of chopping and sauce simmering and concentration, as it was a new recipe. I poured myself a glass of wine because I didn’t have to drive anywhere to pick someone up. And I had a very conscious moment of gratitude that my daughter can speak her mind when too much is actually too much. This is something I pray she is always able to do, because that’s how I know she will be okay in the wide crazy world.
Being the one activity family is pretty kick ass, I gotta say. Last weekend, my friend got into a fender bender early on a Saturday morning, just as my daughter was finishing her one-hour 8:00 a.m. soccer game — our only scheduled activity of the weekend. Since we didn’t have any plans for the rest of the day, I packed my kids up, we picked up a feel better burrito for my friend, and then the three of us headed over to her place. We laughed, we talked, we ate lunch, and afterwards took a long, leisurely dip in her pool. Later we baked chocolate chip cookies and I introduced my kids to the joys of a really bad Lifetime movie — “television for (demented) women.”
That we had time to comfort a friend, cool down in the extreme heat, and do everything at a leisurely pace was amazing. And although we are far from unscheduled, we have come a long way. We are on the path, and that’s the point of the journey.
So if you see me planting some flowers as you zoom by on your way to the field, consider pulling over to take a whiff. Time’s all we’ve got, if only we take it.