We’re in our second week of school here. Going well – they like the teacher, they’ve made friends, but the first week enthusiasm has dwindled already. Last week they were up before me, dressed before breakfast, and early to the bus stop. This week the kiddos are dragging. They still like the teacher. They still have the friends, but the seeds of resentment are forming.
They sense the intrusion. In the summer, even with some planned activities and the occasional week at soccer camp, my kids have a lot of time to CHOOSE, to choose what they want to do, to choose how long they want to do it, and, until the end of the day, to choose when to stop. Their essential selves, the part that is most clearly them, that is the most clear expression of their unique wonderfulness, have 10 weeks to really get down. There are still obligations and chores, but they are sprinkled throughout the day rather than this giant chunk that the school day imposes. Don’t get me wrong; there are lots of things that go on during the school day that I think my kids would choose to do if given the choice, but they are clear on the fact that if they wish to do well in school, the activity in question is not a choice and as such, they are in some ways, leaving their essential selves behind. They are obeying their social selves every time they learn a new rule at school. They are obeying their social selves every time they sit still when they are feeling oh so itchy and restless. They are obeying their social selves when they refrain from getting water during math and when they wait until recess to run. And they resent it.
The great thing about being a kid is the clarity with which kids identify that struggle. “How was school?” “It was good, but it really is hard to be good all day.” Actual quote from my son in years past. Longer conversations about this struggle reveal that he finds it hard to have to do someone else’s thing all day long, and to do it the way someone else wants him to do it. It wears him out and as the year progresses his weariness bears a bitter edge. He enjoys a sport from time to time, but when I ask him about activities, my brilliant boy fiercely protects his free time. “I just like having time in the day when I get to choose, Mom.” The kid is a genius.
How much better would our adult lives be if we could acknowledge the gap between our essential selves (the ones who want to go to the beach, play twister, read a trashy novel, sing, dance, talk to friends, paint a picture) and so much of our activity? Usually when we acknowledge the gap, it is through complaining followed by shoulder shrugging. “This is the way it is.” “Adulting sucks.” We surrender our responsibility for creating our calendars and then allow those stacked calendars to edge out the parts of our day that make for the most tangible and accessible joy. Our poor little essential selves get tired and angry and make it awfully difficult to do the things we “need” to do. Ever have that day where you have scores of tasks to accomplish that are important and you just can’t get any traction? No matter what you try to do it doesn’t work. I have, so what do I do? If I’m not thinking about it, I try harder. Square peg won’t go in round hole? Acquire hammer. Hit it really hard. Yeah, that’s about how well that works.
Here’s the thing, just like with kids, our essential selves can only be denied for so long. You cannot only be part of yourself day after day without serious consequences. You cannot leave such big parts of yourself behind without feeling incomplete, dissatisfied, and maybe even lonely.
Yeah, yeah, you’re thinking. I should take more “me” time. I know, I know, but I have so much to do. I know you do. I mean that. I really do. I also know that I am at my most productive, my least resistant, and my most effective when my essential self is on board. People who talk about balance aren’t just saying you’re doing too much. They’re saying you’re doing too much that doesn’t satisfy the core of who you are. Shift that balance ever so slightly, get that girl on board and you’ll be startled by how much easier that list gets to check off. What’s missing in your day? What’s the 9 year old in you asking for today?