I know today is Word to Your Motha, and I was going to do it, but then I read a piece by Smocky from School of Smock on an interesting book, Maxed Out: American Moms on the Brink, which lead me to write a comment, and the comment was so long I said, “Hey, this should be a blog post,” and so now I’m writing the blog post. Which I think you may like more than just a word.
I’m really thinking I should take all my comments on other blogs (or what I would comment) and just make posts out of them instead. I gotta economize people. This blogging thing is getting out of control, which brings me back to my point. On the brink.
While I feel perpetually maxed out, I’ve gotten accustomed to it so I don’t think I’m on the brink anymore. Not today, anyway. It changes daily like the weather. Every day is like a new, exciting surprise, and you never know what to expect. So maybe I am on the brink, but I have been for so long that I don’t even realize it. It’s become normal.
I’m sure you understand.
The thing is I know I’m lucky so I find it hard to complain. I live in a nice (albeit freezing) house (with no heat in the kitchen and faulty electricity); my husband has a good job (albeit one that requires an overwhelming passion for the business and traveling Rock, Paper, Scissor tourneys as mandatory meetings); my kids are healthy (and not yet failing out of school), and, really, you can’t ask for more than that.
But I will. Because no matter how hard I’ve tried, I’ve still never been able to manage the daily, continuous barrage of never-ending work and responsibilities of parenting today or, what I call, Modern Motherhood. And I’ve been trying for 12 years. You’d think I’d get it right eventually. But honestly, it seems like more than any one person can handle. So when I read the post I had a lot to say. And I will try to do so here only slightly more coherently.
Since my first was born, I’ve been waiting for the ceaseless marathon to stop, but it never has. Even after the crazy, dizzying days of early motherhood, the load never seemed to lighten. Not when you expected it would. Not when, technically, it should. Turns out as you shed the tremendous responsibility of caring for a completely dependent little person and the kid grows more independent and heads off to school, your former responsibilities are simply replaced by a whole set of new ones. And a lot of it, quite frankly, seems unnecessary (see The Never Ending Elementary School Graduation Celebration).
Although this new book is about a whole lot more than the focus of this little blog post, and it as well as Smocky calls for societal and governmental change, which I’m all about, I also think the other missing and needed component is cultural change.
As the kids get older and the load theoretically should be somewhat alleviated, sports and activities and homework and ballet and band and CCD or other religious classes move in to take over the time I think, historically, was devoted to sanity. The list of additional commitments and responsibilities continues to increase, rising eventually to unsustainable levels, at which point the moms collapse.
I don’t believe in over-scheduling my kids (hell, I don’t even want to schedule them) because, firstly, I believe they need some down time, and, secondly and most importantly, I’m not running my arse around. But I do want them to develop interests and hobbies and feel good about themselves outside of academic performance. And, I’ve learned the hard way too much down time only leads to Minecraft sit-ins. But two kids times two activities each plus CCD equals a lot of extra crap to manage. And the management of all this extra crap is a cultural phenomenon.
I can’t help but feel parents, and the school to a certain extent, have made everything 10,000 times more complicated than it has to be. Activities or sports for fun and exercise is great, but why does everything have to be a super-serious, ultra-competitive, completely dedicated, high stakes game? That said, my kids do love having their Atlanta Tennis Lessons, they’re really fun and great for their health!
The kids 10. Or 8. Or 12. Let’s put a little perspective on it.
And, the schedules for all these activities never stay the same. Everything is a moving target. Practice is on Monday, Wednesday and Friday except when it’s not, which is every week, but we won’t tell you which day and time and field until five minutes before you’re due to arrive. And, as a parent, you’re supposed to snap to and deliver with every last minute change and somehow keep track of it all, which of course I’m never able to do. Never mind any other kids you might have or any other obligations like work or preparing dinner you need to fulfill. I actually think I might be able to do it all, if everyone could just commit to one set schedule so I knew what I was supposed to be doing when and where. That would be a such a huge help.
Then you’ve got the extra junk the school piles on. A recent example of this is the email I got from the choir teacher addressing all parents involved about how important it is to be on time (practice starts before school at 7:30 a.m.), so if your kid’s unable to make every practice, then maybe he or she should think about forgoing this year. They can always sign up again next year when their schedule allows.
I just have to say one thing. It’s choir.
I can understand encouraging everyone to be on time. Punctuality is only polite. And I can understand making your best effort to attend because you did make a commitment, but a lengthy note home to the parents on the 4th week of school? How about we sing a couple of songs and move on with our day? Or here’s an idea. Talk to the handful of kids who are problematic. Our middle school isn’t performing in the Macy’s Day Parade (although I’m sure they aspire to), and the music teacher isn’t instructing a whole riser full of Beyonces. I just might have slightly more pressing things on my plate than choir. My apologies.
The funny thing is my daughter pursued choir after dropping out of band because band was too high pressure and cut throat. This was in the fifth grade when she was 10 and in the first year of middle school and beginning her second year of playing an instrument. Practice was three times a week before classes, starting on the very first day in a new, big middle school, and don’t even think about being late. It was a great way to slowly ease kids into their new, larger environment and help them adjust to all the changes, challenges and stress that come with the move to middle school.
Kids were also pulled out of classes weekly for extra practice. I might be mistaken, but I thought the school’s focus was on academics. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for the arts in school – I believe it’s beneficial – but I think instruction should be incorporated into the school day, not gained at the expense of another subject.
Music’s great, but I’m not all that concerned about my kid’s musical career. I’m pretty sure she’s never going to be a famous trumpeter (Exhibit A: Oh Sh@#! My Kid has a Solo in the Holiday Show). She will, however, need to know math. And that’s kinda of hard to do when you’re missing math class to go to trumpet practice.
I had this discussion with the band instructor, but we were never able to see eye to eye. So after being stressed out, The Kid finally dropped out. I didn’t think the stress in her life should be coming from an optional, extracurricular activity that’s supposed to be enjoyable. So that’s over, and now I pay for private guitar lessons.
None of this even touches upon the amount of energy I put into reading and studying and helping my kids with their homework because as they’re both now in middle school, they both have five teachers a piece and so I have to constantly check 10 separate web pages of each individual teacher to know what’s going on and keep track of the 3 to 5 tests/quizzes a week they each have. Nor does it address the endless amount of forms or permission slips or candle sale fundraisers or funny hat days or juvenile diabetes fundraisers which require special outfits or extra-special school socials because the kids must have fun at all times or email communication with the teachers or special school window painting or Unicef collection boxes for trick-or-treating or any of the actual work I may have to do on any given day myself or any family or social responsibilities or commitments or any of the normal, everyday tasks that need to get done in order to live.
But, I suppose we have to have our priorities.
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