Not so simple

This week has been extra frenetic, which makes me reflect (even more than usual) on how I can simplify my life.

The truth is, I’m not happy being as busy as I am. I think there was a time when I thrived on busyness, or at least I thought I did, but not anymore. Now it just makes me feel tired. And beaten down. I hate when life gets hectic and there isn’t time for anything or anyone.

It’s easy to feel trapped in my circumstances, but the the truth is I have a lot of choice. I need to take ownership for all that I can change and avoid the siren song of declaring myself a hapless victim of the 21st century.

There are, of course, big choices I can make to change my life. I am looking into those. Investing in my Spanish abilities is definitely the most concrete step I’ve taken toward actually finding a different job because the reality is I wouldn’t feel comfortable applying for most high school Spanish jobs with my current level of fluency. The fact that I can take the steps to find new employment is important to remember, even if it feels like any new job I get would be more of the same.

There are smaller choices I can make too. I can decide how many activities my kids participate in, and how many obligations I take on for myself. I can decide how I spend the free time that I do have, and I have a lot of choice in how I spend some of my money.

Except it’s not as easy as it might, at first glance, seem. I read posts that would suggest you just have to make the commitment to simplify your life and just like that, you can walk away from all the hustle and bustle that makes you crazy. I am not finding it that easy.

Take my kid’s activities. Right now both kids are taking swimming lessons because it’s really important for me that they are water safe. I also confess to hoping they will really love the water. It never gets very warm in San Francisco and going to the pool isn’t an activity that happens organically. Generally you have to drive a good 30-45 minutes in any direction to find warm enough weather to swim; it’s something you have to commit to doing, not something you just do. I’ve met a lot of native San Franciscans that can barely swim (ahem, my husband) and I don’t want that for my kids. While yes, I plan to make water a big part of our summers in other countries, for the time being swimming lessons are the only real way they are going to get comfortable, and capable, in the water.

So we go to swim lessons once a week, and that night is an absolute shit show. The reality is it’s hard (more like impossible) to find a lesson for my 3-year-old beginner and another one for my 6-year-old intermediate swimmer, at the same place during the same general time. After much scouring of our swim school’s classes (almost every day for over two months) finally two came up, but they are at 7:15 and 7:30 on Tuesdays. We usually start bedtime around 7:30 so to be swimming at that time is kind of insane. Also I have staff meetings on Tuesdays twice a month, so I’m already getting home from a very long day on those occasions, and the last thing I want to do is pick up the kids and head back down south for swimming. If simplifying my life overshadowed all other goals, I’d never sign my kids up for those swimming classes, but I really want my kids to be capable swimmers, especially this summer at the farm, so the late night swim lessons win.

{I also can’t just take my daughter because then I need to find child care for my son, because if I take him, and he doesn’t get to swim, a 30 minute meltdown ensues.}

Then there is the PTA at my daughter’s school. That obligation requires a significant amount of time and energy. It’s also lacking in clear positive returns, as most of the time I feel like our efforts aren’t recognized or appreciated. (Sometimes I feel like we are taken for granted, or even taken advantage of, but that is for another post.) Being on the board of the PTA at my daughter’s school is not very personally fulfilling, and yet I am reticent to announce that I won’t return next year, as I know they will be hard pressed to find someone to take my place. I haven’t officially decided that I’m staying, but I’m pretty sure that is what I’ll do. The thing is that I want to help my daughter’s school in a significant way and there aren’t many other avenues for a parent to make a difference. And yes, I feel like our efforts aren’t appreciated, but I also know my daughter’s school would be worse off without what we do. I’m not comfortable doing nothing when the success of her school is so important to me.

And this isn’t at all about my daughter and what she has access to at school. I am on the PTA to be of service to all the students there. My daughter would be fine without the supports we provide and the events we organize, but other students would suffer if the PTA dissolved (and yes, there has been talk of that, we are all feeling very much, “the few, the weary, the only ones who ever step up to do anything”). So please don’t think I’m doing all this to help my daughter have a better school experience. She will be just fine without what the PTA provides.

Finally there are activities like Girl Scouts, that I have absolutely no interest in being a part of but that my kid wants to do. These activities really get to me, and I struggle immensely with how to commit to them in the future.

I avoided Girl Scouts last year, hoping my daughter’s friends would eventually stop going. But they all joined again this year and my daughter insisted she be a part of it too. So I said yes. I didn’t have a very positive Girl Scout experience myself and I have zero interest in being part of it as a parent. Still, I didn’t feel it was fair to deny my daughter an opportunity to be a part of a social situation with her friends for no other reason than I just wasn’t into it. So we signed up, and I usually ask my friend to take her to the twice monthly meetings and get my husband to pick her up. Problem solved. But then it’s cookie selling season and even though I committed to the least amount of cookie selling I could get away with, it was still a massive pain in the ass and stole a crazy amount of time from life last month. The idea of selling cookies again next year makes me want to put my foot down and refuse my daughter’s pleas to be in Girl Scouts again. But is that the mom I want to be? How do I explain to my daughter that she can’t participate in something that all her friends get to be a part of?

These are just some of the specific examples of activities and obligations that make my life busy and hectic, but that I don’t feel I can just abandon in my quest for a simpler life. It’s more complicated than just, Do fewer things. So how do I achieve simplicity when other goals interfere? How do I strike that balance?

Do you want to simplify your life? What do you think might get in the way of doing that?

26 Comments

  1. Ok, I’m going to give you unsolicited advice. Do not take your children to swim lessons at 7:15 and 7:30. They shouldn’t be out that late. Routine and bedtime are more important than swimming ability. Even if your son learns to swim, he will need continuous reinforcement of his abilities until he’s about 5 for it to stick. Do lessons during the day in the summer.

    1. I can’t get them into lessons during the day in the summer. It’s just not that simple in San Francisco. And I can’t get them into lessons on the weekends. There just isn’t availability. So this will have to do. And as I said in response to other comments, we start bedtime at 7:30 but they are never asleep before 9pm, so really this doesn’t push things back too much, it’s just a different kind of routine. I think once a week we can manage, and if it turns out we can’t, I’ll cancel them and… well I don’t know what I’ll do because like I said, it’s not as easy as just signing them up for lessons in the summer or on the weekends. They don’t even have waitlists at our place and other places that open for certain periods fill up within minutes–if you can’t log into the system because it’s overloaded you are shit out of luck.

  2. I won’t give you simple advice here because I’m sure you’ve thought it all through and ended up with the best option.

    I don’t think you can have it all here. Its either/or. You have to decide whether simplifying is more of a priority than any of your other goals/priorities. If yes, then put “water-safe” “improve school” or “Girl Scouts with friends” lower on the list and quit. If not, than own that life will be hectic by design, at least in this season.

    1. Ok a little ass-vice. No way would I do swimming lessons at that time. SLEEP and routine are our #1 priority. We’ve been out of swim lessons for a year because of inconvenience (and my refusal to deal with the weekly tantrums of “I don’t WANNA GO”

      1. I get it. The reality is my kids are NEVER asleep before 9pm. We start the routine at 7:30, but we certainly aren’t in bed by then and they aren’t asleep until much later. So if I shower them and put them in PJs there and start the routine as soon as we get home, it’s not THAT far off our regular night. Also, that later time is WAY easier to get to and less stressful (ie dinner especially) than say a 5:30 lesson, which we recently had and TOTALLY sucked. The later lessons are definitely much easier for me to get them to on time, so that is less stressful. It’s just a long day.

        The problem with just not going is then how will my kids learn to swim? We so rarely go for fun because it’s freaking cold here in the summer. So yeah… I’m not comfortable right now abandoning it, though maybe after a few months we’ll take a break and then start again in the fall…

        1. Also my kids LOVE swimming lessons. And I love seeing them so proud of the new things they learn. If they hated it, I would probably be making very different decisions about taking them.

          1. Fair enough. In that case, it makes total sense, in fact. Laura V writes some about embracing the hectic life, she seems to reject the idea that simple is necessarily better—-when the stuff you are adding on are all things that are important to you, it makes your life better to you to have them. The one thing really that seems to suck is the GS, but only the cookie sale months, which are thankfully over & maybe she won’t want to do it next year? Or do they get more self-sufficient with sales over time? I don’t remember my mom doing jack, she would just send me around the neighborhood with a friend once a week or so.

    2. I think you’re right that I can’t have both. I guess I’m just annoyed that none of the articles admit that. πŸ˜‰ I may just write one of those blogs and ask them to address this issue. πŸ˜‰

      1. Or just f those blogs? don’t try too hard to match your life to what a blog told you? (said in a joking way that probably doesn’t come across in words as it does in person)

  3. I totally feel you! Our Family goal for 2017 was, “learn how to swim!” So, after searching for a place that would take us on the weekends and my 2 at the same time, as I didn’t want to deal with the school week chaos, I found a place. I was put on a 6 month wait list…but 2 spots opened up. In January, my 2 started taking classes every Saturday. Love it.

    I simplified my life by taking on less things and sticking to it. Also, putting aside the guilt helps. I stepped away from my daughters PTA b/c the time just wasn’t there and when it was, I was there “go to” person…really became horrible. So now, I donate money or time at night (cutting things for teachers, coloring, writing, etc.) that I can do after the kids are asleep.

    1. Our place doesn’t have wait lists! Can you believe that!? You just have to keep watching the classes on the registration page to see if something opens up. It’s totally insane. And the weekend classes are even more popular than the week night ones. I never saw ANY weekend classes open up in all the two months I watched them–to find one for each of my kids would be impossible. Swim lessons in the Bay Area are nuts.

      I understand the value of simplifying one’s life without guilt. I guess I just wonder how I’m supposed to expect someone else to take on something that’s important to me (like helping at my daughter’s school) if I can’t do it myself… I don’t know. I certainly can’t dedicate my time to everything that is important, but I also don’t think it’s right to just do nothing… I’m not sure…

  4. I echo the comments re late swimming classes. Bedtime/sleep is more important. We are lucky to have classes in the early evening/Saturdays (although not currently doing swimming). Our window for activities is very narrow since our kids are in bed at 7:30 normally. It sucks with 2 FT working parents and no grandparents or other family to chauffeur kids around.

    Re PTA, I decided generous financial contributions for all the various pledge drives etc. would have to do, I’m already overbooked, currently bringing work home on weekends etc. in addition to my full days at work. I suspect some leaders are SAHMs so I don’t feel that guilty. And I simply can’t volunteer during the day. I’m not going to use my leave for that. I’m on a non Pta school committee that meets every couple months so I’m also giving there (I do take leave for that). FT working parents can only do so much.

    I’m interested in your take on GS. We were invited to join a daisy group–a mom from our preschool started one up and it would be a good way for the now kindergarteners all at different schools to stay friends–but I opted out. No time, hate the selling, but also there is some kind of oath related to serving god or something like that. I even contacted the national gs office to inquire about this and their answer was something along the lines of its up to each troop. Meh. Thus, I wonder how you feel about that as an atheist.

    1. The reality is we start bedtime at 7:30 but neither kid is EVER asleep before 9pm, so if I get them showered and in their pjs at swimming (which I can do easily) and we are home by 8:30 to start bedtime ASAP, it’s not THAT insane. It’s still hectic though.

      The other thing is, we had lessons at 5:30 previously and that was actually REALLY hard. I had to get some food in them before the lesson, but not too much, and then have dinner ready for them after. We were going to bed just as late on those days as we have been on this new later lesson night so… It was also WAY more stressful to get them to the 5:30 lesson and we were late a lot. It’s much less stressful to feed them dinner and get them to the later lesson, so that is nice. It’s juts a loooong day for all of us.

      I also can’t volunteer during the day. That does cause issues. Actually all of us on the board of the PTA are full time working parents. I don’t know how many SAHP there are in at my daughter’s school, probably very few (at least that speak English, as it’s an immersion school and 60% of the families are Spanish speaking). So I don’t think there are many SAHPs ready to take the reigns if us working parents decide we can’t do it anymore. We are not the kind of school where a lot of parents are interested in being a part of the PTA…

      As for Girl Scouts, I honestly haven’t looked into the pledge that closely. I do remember there was one, but I used to be Catholic so I probably didn’t notice any religious affiliation (I’m assuming if there is one it’s Christian…) I should probably look into it more. Honestly, I just signed her up and let my friend (her friend’s mom) bring her to the meetings. I really don’t want to spend my time at the meetings so I haven’t gone yet. And I had NO IDEA how crazy the cookie selling would be. It’s totally different from when I was young. My daughter actually really hated selling cookies too, though she won’t remember that when it’s time to decide if we want to do it again… Grrrr.

  5. Could you take swim lessons on the weekends? For us, I’m not sure either of my kids will be doing anything extra curricular on the weekdays unless they can get picked up from school or a friend takes them because my husband and I get everyone home at 6pm every night after work. Taking a class at 7:30 at night would be too rough on everyone.

    As far as the PTA, if you would rather cut that out than Girl Scouts, then you can’t feel guilty. If someone wants to step up, then let them. You only have so much time in your day and if doing all of these things is stressing you out then you need to figure out what to drop.

    1. The weekend lessons are even harder to get into, as they are even more sought after. I also don’t love having something we have to do on the weekends, because when someone wants to make plans, it invariably happens when we have a lesson. I probably would do weekend lessons if they ever opened up, but at the swim school near us you can’t be put your name on a wait list, you have to just keep checking the availability of classes and I have never seen any of them open up, let alone two at the same time.

      As for PTA vs Girl Scouts, I would rather drop Girl Scouts, but my daughter wants to do it, so I’m not sure what to do. PTA is definitely more stressful though, so maybe I should just drop that. I don’t know how I feel about not doing it though, because anyone at the school is going to be busy and stressed doing it (I think the percentage of SAHP there is VERY LOW, if not non-existent. It’s a very low income school and most parents there work (or don’t speak English) so yeah… I just don’t know how I feel about, well I want to do it so someone else should. Why should I expect someone else to do something if I’m not willing to do it myself?

  6. Kids’ activities really make it difficult to have a relaxed schedule. Only my older one has organized hobbies but they are 3 nights a week and because I usually stay at home with our daughter, I feel that I don’t see my older kid as much as I’d want/he needs (if I would take him to hobbies, I’d see too little of my daughter, who just started day care and needs me a great deal). But he likes these hobbies and they seem to be good for him, so we manage.
    It is really admirable that you do the PTA thing. I have to admit that I have simply dropped all that kind of activities. I don’t have the energy or motivation at this point. I keep thinking that I’ll do something like this when the kids are older. However you manage it now, so…I think it comes down to the fact that I’m just more selfish than you (I could say lazier, but I have my own hobby that takes a lot of energy and I’m perfectly able to manage that – though I do it mostly when my kids are already asleep, so it’s not away from their time with me). It hurts to admit it but it’s true.
    Swimming lessons are impossible in my country/city too. You have to wake up before six in the morning, go online and wait, ready to click and pray that your computer refreshes the admission page mire quickly than others’…but they must learn to swim, and not doing it now would just postpone the crazy schedule. We have the opportunity to go to intensive swim schools durin summer break (like every day for a week), they have worked well.

  7. Knowing how to swim and feeling competent around water is important, a life skill. And where you are it is hard to get lessons. I think you are making sound decisions on that but it is not easy.
    Do the GScout mom’s get together? Can you say being a Scout is important to your daughter but you cannot participate in cookie sales (other than buying) due to your PTA obligations? When the current administration’s voucher plans further decreases financial support to your daughter’s school and yours, will the schools be able to sustain their existence? What is you plan for then? Will your current district maintain a language program at all with reduced funds? Will you need to give up PTA activities to supplement your children’s educational experience with reduced funding?
    It really is depressing and discouraging. I am sorry. I do not see easy answers ~ but do keep them swimming. Good luck.

  8. These points have been covered in depth, but I’ll throw my two cents in anyway πŸ˜‰
    – I would drop swimming if it’s that stressful to you. Being water-safe is important (and I understand they enjoy it), but with how limited your exposure is to pools, etc., it doesn’t sound like a priority. In a few years (or less), bedtime may be more flexible and the kids will still pick up skills quickly. And, from previous posts (if I’m remembering right), it sounds like there are other activities during the weeknight you could do to add a little “fun” to the day– swing by a local park for 30 min, play a game together, whatever.
    – I would keep the PTA. Although it’s stressful, you’ve written a lot about your feelings towards the school and I think participating ultimately will make you feel better (it’s not always immediate or tangible, but doing something because it’s the “right” thing to do or because it aligns with your values really does improve your overall feeling about LIFE).

    My ultimate suggestion is to carve out more time for yourself. I’m an introvert, but often busy (as we all are!), and I find it’s the lack of recharge time that drains me more than the actual schedule. I know this is another challenging point between your dynamic with your husband and other responsibilities (work, etc.), but it is SO important. I often take a few hours Saturday morning and, while not really enough, it is so refreshing.

  9. Whenever I step down from something that was overwhelming me, I think of it as giving others the chance to step up and I often try to invite someone new to the organization to take my spot. It eases my guilt a lot. Just an observation, not intended to pertain to the PTA and your membership since it often seems valuable to you.

    We did swimming 4 years ago with the Kid (and we have water everywhere here so water safety is a huge and ever-present concern) and then we took a couple years off, only a few lessons since, and now we are about to get them both into lessons soon. I don’t feel like safety has been compromised by the pause in lessons and I think the adults’ sanity is greatly improved because we didn’t struggle to fit it in. However my children have both loudly announced they want to join a seriously competitive sport that requires enormous parental time commitments to getting them to practices and competitions. I don’t think we will say no right away but I have no idea how we will manage it either. It’s all a balancing act and I think this may be a leap in the dance where I have no idea how the landing will go.

  10. I have no idea how far you are willing to drive, but my kiddos take swim classes at PJCC in Foster City on Sundays. They have Saturday classes as well. It is not too crazy to get a slot, although I think you initially might have to call to get a login. You don’t have to be a member to do swim lessons there.

    1. While I’d rather not drive all the way down to Foster City, it may be worth it for weekend lessons. Thanks for the tip!

  11. My two cents – I’m Daisy troop leader – before marriage/kid – I was a Junior troop leader for 7 years. No one should be forced to sell cookies – and the troop leader if worth his/her salt should say so. Same for the ‘oath’ – my co-troop leader is an aetheist, so we removed ‘God’ from the oath for the kids. It might worth a conversation and an offer to do ‘x’ for a girl scout event on the weekends instead of selling cookies.

    1. Our troop was assigned table times around the city and each parent had to be in charge of one of the three hour selling times and each child was supposed to sell during at least two of the times. Our troop was charged with 1900 boxes of cookies and if we didn’t sell them we had to buy them ourselves. To be fair I am not at all involved in the inner workings of the troop, another mom sets everything up and some young woman is the actual troop leader, though I didn’t hear anything from her during cookie selling time. I don’t really know how we could have gotten out of selling cookies during those table times, but I did appreciate that I didn’t have to sell them to people around the neighborhood or anything like that…

  12. Feeling this. I too struggle with things I have decided are non-negotiable (swimming) and fun activities that they like (everything else) and the overall ethos of minimalism and just hanging out on the playground after school.

    I too, want it ALL and have lived for a long time doing IT ALL and thinking hey, I’m doing this, so it’s probably totally fine!

    No advice, just – yeah.

    1. Yeah. I guess it is wanting to have it all. I have definitely dropped some priorities, like being with friends. That might sound like a bad idea, but I was spending so much time investing in friendships only to get so little back. I pulled back from that and I do feel better for it, the disappointment is not there and I have more space for some other things that I realize make me feel good. I want to invest more in friendships soon, I’m just putting it on the back burner right now.

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