One of the toughest things about being a mom is taking time out for yourself. With 3 kids, having even a few minutes of time where there aren’t 50 things I “should” be doing is pretty rare. Throw in the fact that they are all school-aged and attend schools with extremely heavy parental involvement, and the guilt of not doing enough to help out is a common theme. When I was working, I only had one child in Kindergarten and I could easily just say that I had to work and did not have time to volunteer extra time for classroom or PTA events. However, once I stopped working at my job, I felt that I should turn some of that so-called extra time into volunteering. I fully believe that it “takes a village” to give kids the most we can in education and these volunteer activities enhance the teaching in the classroom. Several years ago, however, I really found myself committing WAY more time to these PTA activities than I really should have to create a balanced lifestyle. And, of course, the first thing I allowed to fall off the priority list was taking care of myself. I’m sure it was in these years that I did the most damage to my health with weight gain – stemming from poor diet choices and reduced exercise.
My kids are a bit older now and at that magical age where they are more independent and, therefore, it is freeing me up to be able to sneak in time for myself. It is hard enough to schedule time for exercise when it needs to revolve around having an adult in the house to watch the young kids, but now I can pretty much get out of the house just about any time of the day or evening – provided one of them doesn’t need a ride somewhere. I’m not sure if I can express how liberating this is unless you have experienced the same phenomenon. Furthermore, their classrooms don’t seem to ask for as much help – and definitely not much is asked of parents at the middle or high school level. There are multitudes of opportunities for parents to volunteer with sports and extra-curricular activities at the schools but not quite as much during school hours. Whereas I used to spend several hours a week at the elementary school – I am now down to once every other week to make copies for my daughter’s 4th grade teacher. Several years ago I would make copies every week for 3 teachers (3 hours) and help with a reading or math group several times a month. Just an example of how things are slowing down. I also used to get very involved in PTA activities like chairing a big event or, more recently, keeping the PTA website updated (not a difficult job but there seemed to constantly be something to be added that left me feeling like the job was never really done).
My decision to start Optifast came at a very good time. I was comfortable with making the time commitment necessary to complete the program. Attending all of the classes (sometimes several times) and appointments, which were weekly for quite a few months, required that I take time out for ME. In January when I started the streak, I further committed to finding the block of time to exercise. By using the word “streak” when explaining to my family why I did actually need to get on the treadmill upstairs at 11pm when everyone was headed to bed, I was able to convey to them the importance of exercise to my program. These actions laid the framework to where I am now … heading out the door for a run squeezed in between two commitments I made to my kids. They understand that I need to go run NOW. They celebrate with me when I complete a race and text me to find out how things went. That means a lot.
Yesterday morning I completed my longest run to date – 9 miles. It was slow and I felt tired the whole time but I slogged through it. I had some tummy issues afterward. I will need to experiment with food/drink, etc. for future long runs. Fortunately I felt better within 15 minutes or so, unlike last weekend when it took a couple of hours to recover from my 8 mile run. During my last quarter mile of the 9 miles, I passed in front of my kids’ elementary school. Cars were everywhere picking up kids from a big PTA event called Holiday Craft Day. Kids come to school on a Saturday to make crafts for family members to give as holiday gifts. This program was my “baby” for about 4 years – and about 4 years ago I chaired the event. I still don’t know if I have recovered from those months I sunk into working on it. Along with some of the projects I have done for youth theater, that event probably ranks as an example of giving a bit too much of my time. Much of the stress I brought on myself by not delegating enough. Anyway, this year I didn’t even sign my daughter up to participate in it! I was completely not involved. At all. Well, at the last minute my son did end up volunteering for his community service hours but he walked to and from the school so I was basically out of the picture. Anyway, when I ran by the school yesterday on the way home, I had an enormous sense of pride at how far I had come. While I completely appreciate the value of volunteering for the PTA, it was my time to let others fulfill those roles and I was, in turn, fulfilling my own internal need and desire to do something great for me – training for a half marathon. I know there are people who can do it all (I think the mom that chaired Holiday Craft Day last year actually does run marathons) but I know, for me, I am just about max’d out. I’m glad to see the program is still in existence for other families to enjoy. This year, however, I put more value on my time and I would rather spend a couple of hours crafting with my youngest daughter than months and hundreds of hours (and stress!) helping 150 5-12 year olds make crafts for their family members. Selfish, yes, but I suspect that many could understand.
But I still believe it is important to do our fair share. So, I am shifting my volunteerism to the newer schools my kids are attending but trying as hard as possible to think through the commitment before signing up. I’ve ignored or turned down many more “jobs” than I would have in the past. I’m learning that just because they are in high school, it doesn’t mean they still don’t need parental help! In fact, I am finding that the requests are almost more frequent than at the elementary school. Just yesterday I agree to be the freshman team parent rep for my daughter’s high school basketball team. I’ve been the “team mom” plenty of times but this will be a new, and possibly fun, experience. I’m meeting new people at the new schools and that is a good thing – I am starting to relate better to parents with older kids than those with Kindergarteners. I will continue to volunteer – it is important. Being involved benefits the kids too – as a parent with my eyes and ears closer to the organization, we better understand the inner workings – for good or for bad. We are able to make connections with other parents and kids which benefits everyone in the long run. As I’ve somewhat re-created my outward appearances, it is interesting to head into these new situations and opportunities now. This crazy journey continues!