Surprised, I pulled it out – and was flooded with a wave of nostalgia. The shell came from the ocean shores of Vancouver, where we spent a blissful few days with my sister-in-law and her family at the tail end of our family vacation in western Canada. I was also blessed to celebrate my 40th birthday there, surrounded by friends and family – including an incredible surprise visit from my dear friend, Kim – who flew all the way up from Phoenix just to spend the day with me. The Vancouver harbour, fresh seafood and delicious Thai food (and obviously, a few cocktails), and a circle of my most favourite people…amazing memories.
I’ve always found transitions to be tough. I anticipated the arrival of the big “four-oh!” with low-level dread, then had such a great time celebrating it that it was hard to come home. After settling back in, I definitely felt the letdown of a much-anticipated holiday – now over and in the past. The end of August felt like sand slipping through my fingers – I was reluctant to let go of the long, sun-kissed days – unharnessed from the routine of full-time work for me and my husband, and school and activities for the kids.
But the benefit of life experience (and I swear I’m not just saying this to sweeten the fact that I have a whole 40 years of it!) is that we learn from every stage. Bittersweet though it may be to change chapters or seasons, we take along what we’ve learned – and I’ve had the opportunity to learn from some pretty incredible people.
Leading up to the fall issue of Parenting Times Magazine, I had the chance to speak with Dr. Shimi Kang, the author of the book, The Dolphin Parent: A Guide to Raising Healthy, Happy and Self-Motivated Kids. One of her book’s key messages is that parents shouldn’t feel the need to hyperschedule their kids – and at the same time, themselves – in order to ensure their success. She argues that constantly filling our children’s time with formal instruction – when a tutor, coach or parent is telling the child what to do – results in rigidity and sleep-deprived, fragile kids (she calls them “crispies”). You can read the full Q&A in the magazine for full details.
I think this particularly resonated with me after my experience of returning to work full-time last January. Part of what made the transition so hard was that my kids’ extra-curricular schedule was so busy; the girls had activities four out of five evenings a week. When I was freelance writing from home, it worked. But in the new scenario, it meant that after a full work day and my hour-long commute home, I had to rush to pick up the kids from daycare, make dinner and get them back out the door in record time for activities. It’s a bad feeling to come in the front door – arms loaded with backpacks – and realize you have approximately 22 minutes to prepare and serve supper if you’re going to have any hope of getting to the prescheduled activity on time.
This season, I’m taking a page from Dr. Kang’s book (quite literally) and reassessing our priorities. That means picking and choosing our commitments carefully, and, if necessary, dropping a few things – or signing up for weekend activities, when we’re not being pulled 100 directions.
By dialing back a bit on the structure, I’m also aiming to build in more unstructured time. I’m always amazed at the creative games our girls come up with – particularly when we drag them away from TV and video screens. Suddenly, the “Cat Olympics” will be set up in the basement, or an elaborate series of forts created. Outdoor time and fresh air is critical, too. It can be so easy to drop onto the couch after work, but I really find that getting out the door for a bike ride with the kids – or a walk on a nearby nature trail – is so rewarding.
So maybe we don’t have to give up every iota of unstructured time just because September is here again. Perhaps making room for even little pockets of freedom will keep that sweet, summertime feeling alive just a bit longer. In the meantime, I’ll put the seashell back in my pocket – so I don’t forget.