Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Balancing Act and a Time Audit

Like every other woman I know, I spend altogether too much time trying to "achieve balance." The fact that that tired phrase includes the word "achieve" is telling. It's held up as a goal for the modern woman; being balanced is an achievement, balance is a treasure we "find."

I've been thinking of this a lot lately. I go through projects in fits and starts, and sometimes I berate myself for not being able to do all the things I want to do in a day. But recently I started reevaluating my standards for completing things. Last month, I caught myself ending a string of days with a sigh of resignation that I "didn't do enough." That was a clear signal that something was indeed out of whack: my perspective.

I love the idea of having a balanced life, a picture perfect combination of rest and activity, of giving to others and cherishing myself, of order and chaos, of consumption and saving, of social activity and alone time.

And why wouldn't I love that idea? Consumer media feeds my desire of such a life with images of a sleek woman in a lotus pose, or a neatly put-together "mommy" type person vacuuming her home with the super-efficient Dyson, or whatever. I'm admittedly hungry for approval, and so a perfect patsy for advertisers who prey on that need. I buy into it, and chase after balance in my life.

The funny thing is that as much as my imagination would like to run with these images and flesh out the details of such a "balanced" creature, I cannot. I can picture pieces of that life, sure: the put-together Kirie, lithe, made-up, wrinkle-free. I imagine patient hours with my kids spent in spotless spaces of my kitchen, my studio. Nutritious dinners, which I have prepared, are eaten, without complaint, by our daughters, and evenings with my husband are quiet and long.

Nowhere in my imaginings are the real nitty-gritty of day-to-day. Into what spaces does the balanced woman squeeze the following?:
  • the endless washing and folding of laundry
  • the scrubbing of dishes
  • the tidying of toys and books and markers that creep under chairs and couches and everywhere else
  • the reading time--how one book turns to ten books, and afternoons are dreamed away with a curious toddler cuddled in a lap
  • the continual process of reorganizing spaces--drawers, cabinets, shelves
  • the packaging and mailing of gifts and letters
  • the coaxing of said toddler into naptime, or bedtime, or getting dressed time, etc.
  • the visits to friends' houses, the entertaining when a friend visits ours
  • the baking--for school, for friends, for our own cookie jar
  • the endless sweeping and vacuuming
  • the workout--and recovery!
  • the self-care time, from a simple shower, to a self-manicure, to keeping my eyebrows neat
  • the fixing of all things broken--from the leg of a Playmobil deer to the toilet paper holder that's come out of the drywall
  • the cleaning of spills, from milk to scat
  • the spontaneous walks or outings or explorations that lead us away from the house for untold hours
  • the late night "pop ups" from the kids, with worries about monsters, or excitement about caterpillars
  • the mommy-time reading--from books, to blogs, to the newspaper--that fills my mind as I move through the other tasks of the day
  • making any kind of art at all--from music to painting
  • the phone calls to and from friends
  • the slow and savored time spent gathering fruits and flowers from the garden
  • the whole chase of groceries, from shopping to putting things onto shelves
  • the minutes (or hours) that can be lost because you sat down, and were too exhausted to get up to finish any of the above...

What of these? The advertisers have left these out, the most pleasant, most repetitive, and most necessary parts of the day.

I give up. The logical part of me sees this list and recognizes there is absolutely no way I could complete all of this in the space of a day, or even in a week. I would be crazy to even attempt it. So no more berating myself for not doing it all.

My daily schedule is like a balloon, with finite space in it. Squeeze one end, and the excess air will have to go somewhere. If I take time to do one thing intensively, it will steal time from somewhere else in the schedule. It does not all fit into the small space I've been allowing. So obvious! But I'm only just now starting to recognize that.

Perhaps, over the course of a month, I do have some kind of equilibrium. Regardless, the majority of my tasks these days seems to focus on making order or the illusion of it. Instead of fighting it, I'm trying to accept it as part of life at this stage. As I get older, and our kids get older, I imagine that will shift slightly away from chasing after toys and spills, and into the very different focus that teenagers bring. I recognize that my mix of activities will always include some need to control chaos around me, as well as my need to create new things, whether it be a painting, or a quilt, a costume, or a song. These are endless chases of their own, each pleasurable and challenging in their own way.

With my revised view of balance, perhaps my goal instead should be to look at whether my life is balanced as a whole, as a long line of days that each offers opportunities to indulge in the repetitive or the generative. It seems to me to be a much more forgiving and reasonable perspective. Maybe, if I see it that way, I will start to see I've "achieved" the elusive balance already.

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The Storialist said...

Lovely, thoughtful post here.

It sounds like you are really working through some things right now--shifting around the pieces of your schedule. I know how that is.

It will settle, and in the meantime, don't pay any attention to those vapid women in the cleaning commercials--they are pathetically excited by dust-free surfaces, and what does that matter? :)

Judy said...

Ah, balance that elusive thing we all try to achieve at times. I do remember the days never lasted long enough when I was a young Mom and wanted to do it all.

I never have enjoyed lists of those "to do" things but,instead like to think of an accomplishment list at the end of the day. It would always seem to validate why I might be tired and ready to rest from all the chores of life.

I'm so happy you are taking time to keep working on the blog. It makes me think of all the times in my life when I wondered if I could keep just one more ball in the air at a time. But, of course I usually managed to do that and more with the help of faith, family and friends. Oh, and lets not forget those strangers that just appear at the right time..

Thanks for letting me reflex on all my wonderfully unbalanced years. I do love your posts Kir.

angela said...

You stated this so well, Kirie. And you do so much, keep such a nice house and are a wonderful mother and a wonderful daughter, too!

You never cease to amaze me!!

I really understand all the many things you have that pull you in so many different directions - and you really manage them so well - I need to take lessons from you.

Love, Mom

Irene Latham said...

Balance is overrated. Let the pendulum swing, my sweet friend! That's where the love is.

Maggie May said...

I love love this post. This is the day to day that has been consuming my thoughts lately.

Angie Muresan said...

Missed you Kirie. And then I got sick and didn't check in anymore. But what a treat today when I turned the computer on and stopped by your site!
Balance is one thing I strive for daily, yet rarely achieve. Hmm...

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