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Rat Races and Rainbows

We pushed pause on our fast-forward life, and it was wonderful.Quite by accident, my family and I recently stepped out of the rat race. Initially, I felt lost and panicked, but with the passage of time, it has turned into a great blessing. I would even call it transformative.

Let me back up a bit. All of us parents know what it is like to transport our children to all of their after-school activities, burning up the roadways and strategically planning how and when we’re going to inhale our dinner. We do it to expose them to different ideas and activities, to stretch their minds and bodies, and perhaps to get them into a good college in the distant future.

But maybe, just maybe, it’s all a bit too much. The constant rush, the over-scheduling, the sheer exhaustion of going to and fro, here and there. It seems to get worse the older the kids get. Karate, soccer, flag football, gymnastics, music lessons, school events: the list goes on and on.

It’s normal. It’s what everybody does. It’s almost a badge of honor to be exhausted, a necessary sacrifice we make for our children. We drop-off and pick-up and go-go-go until we forget what it’s like to just sit still or piddle around or play.

Until recently, we too were smack dab in the middle of that race of constant after-school activities. My son would literally beg to stay home, even as I loaded them up in the car, prodding them to hurry up like weary cattle that have accepted their crap-tastic fate. Their eyes looked dazed, and there were lots of slumped shoulders and long sighs. But we forged on…

Wednesday was our activity-free day, and both of my kids looked forward to Wednesday as if it were a triple-scoop, double-chocolate ice cream cone with rainbow sprinkles.

Then, out of nowhere, my son, Graham, decided he wanted to drop karate, one of his after-school activities. I hemmed and hawwed and tried to talk him out of it. I considered the life-altering consequences of raising a quitter. As always, my thoughts snowballed; I imagined him never able to follow through on anything, eventually ending up living in our basement, spending his nights eating Doritos and drinking Schnapps.

My stomach was in knots for a week as we weighed the decision, finally deciding to grant his wish to quit karate and hoping for the best on basement living.

This decision had the unintended consequence of freeing up two solid weeknights. At first, I truly felt lost, like a knitter who ran out of yarn. I felt barren and fidgety, like I needed to do SOMETHING.

For God’s sake, I couldn’t just sit on the couch on a Tuesday afternoon, could I?image

The kids, however, were ecstatic. Each afternoon, after homework was finished up, they happily lounged for awhile and then began doing what kids do best: Playing and Creating. They made Lego worlds, they drew cartoon characters, they played school and Calico Critters. They jumped on our trampoline like bouncing kangaroos, shot some hoops, and drew beautifully-crooked rainbows all over the driveway with sidewalk chalk.

My son, Graham, read encyclopedias and created [really hard] tests for us, in true Graham style. I consistently scored low but learned new things about rainforests, lava, and soil.

The neighborhood kids soon filtered in, and listening to their laughter and crazy antics literally filled my heart with joy. I thought to myself, “This is what childhood should be.”

After all, my sweetest memories from childhood are running through grassy backyards and playing freeze-tag with the neighborhood kids. In fact, when I think of all the piano lessons and basketball games, those memories are a bit heavy for some reason.

I soon began embracing the extra time as well. I spent the time reading, journaling, meditating, cooking, and just sitting. The hubs and I spent more family time with the kids, catching up on the day’s happenings and all the juicy kindergarten gossip.

I relaxed into the extra time and space. I no longer felt rushed and panicked. I lost that fuzzy feeling in my brain that I get when I’m on auto-pilot. Once the world stopped spinning so much, I was more mindful, more focused on whatever was right in front of me. I slept better and was even less stressed at work.

We pushed pause on our fast-forward life, and it was wonderful.

I’m not suggesting we should pull our kids from all their activities. That’s not realistic. I’m just suggesting a bit more balance and being more mindful about how the constant rush is affecting not only your kids but also you as a parent and as a human being. Remember you? You actually matter too.

I can’t say we’re done with the rat race. My daughter wants to try gymnastics, and soccer will start up soon. Summertime will bring swim team and baseball. All I can say is that the downtime has been eye-opening and deeply refreshing. Spending Tuesday nights cuddling on the couch is not half bad.

Sometimes a little slow-down, lounge-around, take-a-breath moment is just what you need to see the rainbows all around you.

~Emily

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