It was the swimming lessons that did me in. After rushing four kids to the rec center at 4:30 p.m. on a Monday, I spent 30 minutes wrangling a curious 1-year-old who wanted to climb and crawl on everything in sight, and a busy 2 1/2-year-old who had a habit of bolting the second I turned my back, which is just great at a pool.
After the lesson, the six of us were crammed in a small changing room while I barked at my then-5-year-old twins to hurry up and change. By the time we got to the car, I was frazzled, the babies were tired, and my kids were grumpy because Mom had basically been nagging at them since the second they walked in the door from school. I’d had it. There was no way we could do this anymore.
That was the year my husband and I became foster parents and so, in addition to our twins, we now had two more young children, and a calendar full of activities that were suddenly a lot more challenging to manage. There were the aforementioned weekly swimming lessons. We had tee-ball, where I carried a 7-month-old baby in a carrier and then tried to stop her from eating grass while my son played behind me and my daughter tried to keep herself entertained. We had gymnastics for my daughter, which required an early morning drop-off for one of our foster babies, rushing over to the gym, and then hurrying back to the house so my son could make his Saturday afternoon field hockey.
Busyness is the hallmark of these years, especially for families who have multiple children. It’s a given that we’ll be carpooling and juggling start times and end times, shoving food in their faces as we run out the door, planning coffee dates with friends six weeks in advance. We want our kids to be involved, to explore their interests, to be active. All of these things are important, and no one could fault any family for trying to give their kids every opportunity imaginable.
But it was that one Monday afternoon, sometime in late fall, as I buckled all the kids into car seats after those godforsaken swimming lessons, that I began to wonder if our lives needed to look like this. My husband and I sat down and talked it over, and decided that we had to make a change before we all went crazy.
So at the end of that session, we pulled out of everything, took a season off from any extracurricular activities or sports, and let ourselves breathe. There was nowhere to go after school. Our weekends were free. I’m pretty sure I physically felt stress leaving my body. Our family had taken on the huge responsibility of foster parenting, but we hadn’t done anything to adjust to our new lifestyle, and we’d paid for it. The difference we all felt that winter was confirmation enough for me.
When spring rolled around, the kids each chose one activity that required no more than a once a week commitment, and if it was on a Saturday, even better. My husband and I had decided that if we were going to be running around, we’d rather do it on the weekend when one of us could stay home with the kids who didn’t need to be anywhere. My daughter chose cheerleading, my son chose soccer, and we registered them for swimming. And that was it. We had one weekday commitment, two activities scheduled on the weekend, and nothing else. And we’ve kept to that for the last three years.
It’s not perfect, and it’s not the life for everyone, but it works for us. This isn’t about guilt; it’s about reminding parents that we have choices. We can decide how we want our lives to look, how we want our children’s lives to look (for a little while anyway). If busy weeks energize and excite you, go for it! But if you feel like we did, I want to let you know that busyness doesn’t have to be what defines your family.
Our kids are active, social, and happy, and we’re only out one night per week. Our evenings are slower now, with time for my husband to go to the gym or play basketball, for the kids to play after dinner, for them to do chores around the house or have an impromptu playdate. There are probably some skills they’re not learning, and they might wish I’d chosen differently years from now, but when they think back on these years, I want them to remember time. Time with us and with each other. I want them to remember the freedom of a weekend stretched out before them, the relief of coming home after school and knowing you don’t have anywhere else to be.
I want them to be able to bring their friends back here, for us to be able to spontaneously decide to go for dinner, see a movie, or play cards at the kitchen table. I want these years, the ones before they’re filling their own schedules with friends and homework and their own extracurriculars to be the ones that ground them here, with us, to this home, to this family.
There’s so much time for busy. Why not slow down while we can?