Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Balance Revisited

If I were a monster of the Jim Henson sort, I'd be Merlot red, (my favorite color), and I'd eat self-help books. I literally have this section of Barnes & Noble memorized. Do I need a lot of help? Maybe. I do not believe it's a crime to seek means of self-improvement. Tell that to the people browsing the Self Help section. I've sat on many a store leather couch and observed humans dodge in and out of this aisle, always appearing to have stumbled on it accidentally. Even I get self-conscious browsing this topic, wondering if the cashier will know what's bugging me this week based on my book purchase.

As a society, we have to get over this stigma. Self-improvement is positive. After all, home-improvement is in style. People brazenly enter Home Depot, not worrying if their purchase of a toilet or a gallon of paint might cause embarrassment. Everyone knows that an improved house is a good thing. Well, so is an improved self.

I contemplate this idea as I sit in Barnes & Noble with my latte reading The Balanced Mom: Raising your kids without losing yourself by life-coach Bria Simpson. I check out the back cover. Simpson has three kids who are close in age like mine. Automatically, in my mind, that qualifies her to give me some advice.

I really like this book. First Simpson discusses setting priorities.

"It takes conscious thought and discipline to create a balanced life that is firmly grounded in your values and highest priorities." (19)

Does it ever. I highlight that line. The next page give space to list your highest priorities. BOMBARDED. That's how I feel when it comes to social activities for the children. When I had only one child it was manageable, but now that I have three it's getting out of control. Birthday invitations are marching toward me, ready to seize every Saturday afternoon for the next six weeks. T-Ball is coming, and dance class recital falls on the weekend of my anniversary. (It's my 10th wedding anniversary, by the way.) Milk Man is not unaware of the HIGH significance of this day. He's been teasing me, I hope, telling me that in honor of a decade of marriage he plans to take me to McDonald's and order us both #10, SUPER-SIZED. I'm laughing and crying at this joke. Priorities: it is essential to set them, and keep them straight. Simpson says that if the activity does not fit into your list of high priorities, don't do it. This woman is a genius.

I also love the chapter about mommy guilt. Perfect motherhood does not exist. So, why do we women beat ourselves up mentally with unnecessary guilt? I see my friends do it too.

"...endless mothers chonically feel like they aren't good enough, because they are unable to obtain the unattainable."(27)

Simpson suggests that mothers are "liberated to be themselves." (27) So why do we hold so tightly onto old stereotypes? Mothers have to break this pattern of thinking, and accept that their best is good enough.

This morning the princess has dance class, and it has been a really healthy thing for her to be involved in. As I'm getting ready I'm playing through my head the ways I can prioritize my wedding anniversary this year even though there is a conflict with the recital. EVERY year some other commitment steps in the way, and my husband and I have to struggle to uphold the importance of this holiday. I find myself explaining and defending why I can't be present at other functions on this day, and it's the only time that I don't feel one ounce of guilt over putting myself first. In fact, I often feel defensive about it.

I struggle with this feeling today at the front desk in the dance studio while the princess is busy twirling around in the next room. I tell the director of the studio my conflict. She looks in her book and tells me the time and day of the princess' show. We discuss my options. A little voice is telling me that I should uphold the importance of our wedding anniversary.

"I could always let her think that the rehearsal is actually her show. She's only four." I share my thoughts aloud. The director frowns.

"Well, that's fine if you want to screw Miss W out of a student and leave a hole in her routine." She says.

I feel anger traveling up my neck like the fizz in an overpoured glass of soda. I picture that old show HULK where the man's sleeves start ripping and green flesh shows through.

I think: "Let's Eliminate Negative Thinking."

I say: "Give me a few minutes to think about it and I'll be back."
I walk away leading baby Bigfoot by the hand. I call Milk Man on the cell phone and vent. My conversation is even less poetic than the nasty words of the studio director. The other dance moms look up at me on the phone, pausing their conversation. It's always interesting when the quiet one starts cursing.

"Before you act in anger, think it through." says Milk Man. I have to admit he makes a much better Life coach than Lamaze coach. "We have other options." He says, then he lists some seriously nice ideas, and none of them involve the McDonald's menu.

I hang up feeling better. I think about the book and the chapter that discusses organizing priorities. Dance class is good for the princess socially and physically. Her self-esteem is stronger as a result of participating in this activity, she is learning to follow directions, and it is helping to define her little character. She is very proud of being a part of this group, and she takes it as seriously as a four year old can. Missing her recital would be a negative thing for her. She is a high priority in my life.

However, so is our marriage, and it's a decade milestone year. My husband and I want to do something special. We can celebrate with a trip of some kind on the weekend before or after the date. We can also still go out the night of our anniversary as well. I see a compromise I can be at peace with, and I feel much calmer.

I can't, however, let this woman's comment go. It was nasty, and I don't like getting verbally kicked. I take a deep breath and approach the desk again.

"Hi. My daughter will be at the recital. I talked to my husband and we can work it out and plan a trip on a different weekend. However, you need to know that it was not my selfish intention to "SCREW " the dance teacher by pulling my daughter out of the show last minute. I'm not that type of person, (although this is not the Rockettes Christmas Spectacular). It is my wedding anniversary we're taking about and it is more important than a four year old's extra curricular activity. My marriage is one of my highest priorities in life and it deserves to be honored. This year is number 10, and that's a VERY big deal to me. As a married woman, I'm sure you understand. What you said was not very kind."

The director looks surprised. Then she turns nice. She agrees that anniversaries are important but people pull kids out all the time from recitals without notice for weddings and every other commitment. She tries to explain herself.

I walk away feeling good that I stood up for myself. I found a way to be fair to my daughter and stay grounded in my values at the same time. It's one thing to list your highest priorities, but one has to also be flexible. This conflict is an example of this idea. After one sets priorities, one has to organize them in a way that is manageable and healthy. I'll bring up what Simpson says about organizing your time after you've set priorities as a parent next Tuesday, on Dude Where Am I?: Balance Revisited.


Elizabeth Kathryn Gerold-Miller said...

It sounds like this book hits alot of good points, necessary in this hectic world where we moms trade old-fashioned chores for organized activities. I think the challenge for parents of multiple children comes when what's good for the one might conflict with what's good for the family. It's a constant balance act! But if we can get rid of some of the extra balls it makes it a little easier.

Milk Man said...

Oh yeah, I have alot of balance in my life!

Koala Bear Writer said...

I'm feeling guilty for being the one who tiptoes into the aisle looking for self-help books and hoping no one is watching. Good for you for standing up for yourself and for the sanctity of marriage. :) Also neat to hear your thoughts on dance class for the princess; I've thought of putting Sunshine in dance classes when she gets old enough.

Kimberly Zook said...

I really like this post. Your writing is so real and speaks the truth so vividly. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on the book. I'll definitely check it out!

Loren Christie said...

Thank you for your great comments Kimberly, Elizabeth, and Koala.! Milk Man, don't fret, in three weeks I'll call you Dr. and we can have a dissertation barn fire.

Caity said...

Wow. First of all I can't believe the comment that woman made. I would have been extremely insulted, too! I can't believe she was acting like it was a huge production when it's a little kid's dance recital! I remember when my sister and I were in dance lessons my mother hated what a big deal they made out of it, too. One year my teacher was being so cruel and putting so much pressure on me that my mother just pulled me out of the recital (and I was more than happy). Moms always know the right thing to do.

I think you handled that woman beautifully. Your anniversary is important and I'm glad you were able to find something else to do while still fitting in the Princess' recital!

Loren Christie said...

Hi Caity,

Dear Internet Traveler,

Welcome to my writer's blog, started about six years ago for fun. Over time, the writing I have posted has ranged from personal reflection, to Long Island history research, to tall tales for my own amusement, to feature articles for local newspapers. As you can see from topics listed here, I travel in many mental directions in regard to interests. Click on the tabs and labels to explore my strange mind which senses that you may be having a criss-cross day. If so, perhaps this blog will distract you. However, please note that if you tell me my blog is beautiful just to get me to advertise rhinoplasty surgery and cheap drugs from Canada in your comment, I will ask the gods to give you a tail that cannot be concealed.


Loren Christie

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