“Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you.”–Carl Sandburg
As we begin the new year and pick up our lives in the exact spot we left them, somewhere between Thanksgiving and New Years, I can’t help but think of the question we are often asked when we see our co-workers and friends for the first time after the new year. It follows the obligatory “Happy New Year” and goes something like this. “So how were your holidays?” The answer is always the same…”Mine was great. How was yours?”
Every year, I along with most of the world, spout out the obligatory answer. My answer however, for the most part, is true. My holidays more often than not are great. I have an amazing family that doesn’t fight, talk politics, or rehash the past like it’s an awkward family member sitting at the dinner table with us. From the Macy’s Parade on Thanksgiving until the ball drops on New Years Eve, I seek to immerse myself in as much holiday revelry as possible with parades, Santa events, and Rudolph on the t.v. I love the holidays and spend my entire year looking forward to them. This year however, was not the fun I had hoped and asked for. This was the year that I found the holidays as an interrupter to my daily life that sent me on an emotional downward spiral. So when I was asked the unavoidable question of “How were your holidays,” I couldn’t help but blurt out, “Well damnit,…I got through it!”
Much of the stress and mess I found myself in was by my own design as a result of saying yes, when I should have said no. During the holidays everyone wants a piece of you. Your kids school has the Christmas play, your office has the Christmas party, and then your spouse has his. Then there are the end of year doctors and dentist appointments that we make in the vain attempt to show a good end of year college try that make us seem more organized and put together than we really are. So there I went…from work to Christmas parties, to school to Christmas shopping, to the Christmas play, back to work, to the dentist, back to school and so forth. Then there is the travel and the absurd amounts of money to spend on gifts and holiday cocktails. Through it all, I never really enjoyed myself. Busy had become my mantra as I even said yes to a couple of consulting gigs for work, when I should have said no. As I took the superwoman approach to afford the perfect Christmas morning for my seven year old, I started to realize in doing so, I wore myself thin and Christmas morning served as more of a sigh of relief. I wore myself so thin that I had a meltdown on Christmas Eve when I was asked to go and buy orange juice. Orange juice. That was the straw. Orange juice at the store which was 5 minutes away. I didn’t want one more thing to be added to my plate, when all I wanted to do was watch, “A Christmas Story” on t.v. My kid was getting for Christmas everything he had asked for and the only thing desired was to watch “A Christmas Story” all the way through…uninterrupted. TBS showed the movie for 24 hours straight and I never once got to see it in its entirety.
So it made me think about time and the best gift we can give a parent. We live in a world where more and more parents are in the workforce and many of those parents live in places without the help of family. When I was growing up, my parents worked full time jobs and had three kids. It took two parents, 4 grandparents, and several aunts to help raise us and get us from point A to point B. During one overbooked moment in December, I found myself dropping my son off at karate, while I went grocery shopping and stopping at the drug store to fill a prescription. I have one child and I find myself overbooked and overtired. I couldn’t imagine what it’s like for parents with more than one child or parents who find they are doing it by themselves. I found myself so exhausted that when I finally got much needed free time, all I could do was veg out in front of the t.v. watching reruns of Star Trek the Next Generation. My thoughts would wander from the t.v. show in front of me to the chores of the following day. I found wine to be the daily equalizer. When we started back in our daily routine after the holidays, my son had an appointment for speech therapy and the therapist asked me to get a copy of his latest physical from his doctor. It would require a 3 minute phone call and for the life of me, I didn’t want to make it. Seriously. In my mind I thought, “Are you kidding me? You want me to make a f****** phone call?” It was as if she was asking me to participate in manual labor on a chain gang somewhere in Alabama. I couldn’t add one more task to my life.
As parents, we get to the point where we can’t do anything else. Between the school work, extra-curricular’s, doctors appointments, work, and family it’s no wonder that marriages fall apart and friendships fizzle out. When I find that one precious moment that isn’t scheduled, I tend to only want the time to be mine and that the emotion for anyone else just doesn’t exist. Everything turns into “just another thing to add to my calendar” and that attitude can alienate friends, spouses and the ability to focus on your own personal dreams.
I’ve heard other parents talk. I know this is a common problem. I see it in their faces when I go to the school to talk to the teacher or at work when other parents come rushing in late, because of something that went awry somewhere between the morning routine and school drop off line. As a professional of youth development, I try to encourage those who work with kids to think before asking. Think about how much you are asking. Think about the cost. Think about the time. Try to put yourself in the shoes of the single mother or the parents of three kids. $10 for a field trip might not seem like a lot to one person, but could be a great deal to the parents of the children you serve. Want to schedule an extra baseball practice…tomorrow…at 4:30? How many of your parents will still be at work?
The parents I know are hard working, sensitive beings. They want the best for their children, the best for their careers, and the best for their friends and families, but are being told by society that they aren’t doing enough. They are being told that their kids are lazy and spoiled. They read Facebook posts from teachers lumping all parents into the category of apathetic and unconcerned. The phrase, parent engagement
, is the new buzzword that professionals actually go to conferences to learn the newest techniques in the “how” of engaging what seems to be a disengaged parent. I attended one of those conferences recently. They presented us with data and research that showed a room full of professionals the best way to engage a parent, but not once did these professionals acknowledge the struggle that is parenting. As engaged as I think I am, I sometimes cringe at the thought of another activity, another fundraiser, or another appointment. My lunch breaks are spent seeking out the best reading tutors and signing up for winter baseball. My bank account borders on zero and my career is stalled.
Most parents will tell you that they wouldn’t change a moment of their time and that the only regret is that they can’t do enough for their children. That’s the beauty of being a parent. We do it for love and for hope. The stay at home parent, working parent, single parent, grandparent raising grandchildren, foster parent, and everyone in between; it’s the gift of time we want in the new year. We want our time to be valued and recognized. Sometimes we want our time back. When it’s late at night and the kids have gone to bed, the homework is finished, the dishes are clean, the clothes are ironed, and we’ve made our list of chores for the following day, we grab our glass of wine and simply thank God that we made it through and in that, we say goodnight to another day in the life of a parent.