Oh, what a stress-free life I had before I became a military wife and mother. Little did I know that it is less stressful to finish a term paper at 3 a.m. than to care for a sick child when my husband is in some distant land.
Major events like deployments, marriage, birth of a child, or moving are stressful. Even worse are the unplanned events that shake my faith. Yet, over the years I have learned that I must focus my energy (and sanity) on the stress factors that I can control. It is the day-to-day living, the raising of our child, my attitude, my work schedule that I can control - at least in theory.
Granted, as a stay-at-home mom, I do not have to cram for exams, attend staff meetings or appease the supervisor. Nobody comes into my house to give me a rating on the cleanliness of my carpets or counsel me on the pile of laundry left in the basement.
The daily dose of stress I experience is often self-inflicted. It is the “wants” in our family that create the bulk of a hectic lifestyle. In my ideal world, I want to open the front door anytime of the day to welcome unexpected guests to my immaculate home. One of these days this will happen, but not before the military stops moving us every couple of years, I volunteer less, get up earlier, write fewer stories and read fewer books, watch no BBC comedy shows, unplug the phone, get more organized, and learn to say “no.”
“Mom?” Our son, Stefan, pulled on my sleeve the other day. “I want to play soccer again. Can you sign me up?”
I had been dreading this question for days. He loves to play soccer, but soccer also means a rework in our schedule. “Are you really sure? On top of guitar and tennis lessons? Plus homework every day? You won’t have much time to play outside anymore.”
“Please, Mom. Please. I can do it. I promise.”
“I don’t know.”
“But Ian and David are also playing. And they take more lessons than I do.” Stefan knows how to push the right buttons.
“Ian’s playing soccer. I see.” How in the world does Ian’s mother do it? They have four kids and her husband is deployed. My conscience badgers me. Of course I know I should not try to keep up with the neighbors, but do what is best for my family.
I sigh and nod my head. I know he can do it. But can I?
By the end of soccer season I will be able to identify any brand of frozen pizza sold in Europe blindfolded. In my mind I already see the dust bunnies on top of the unpacked boxes in the basement swelling to the size of elephants. Outside, the moles will flock to our lawn once they realize I am no longer spoiling their underground parties and recreate the Alps.
Should I curtail his after-school activities, so I would have less stress? Or should I reduce my activities? But what can I cut? I cannot ignore household chores until my home has a self-cleaning button like my oven. Perhaps I should cut my volunteer hours or my writing time? But what about my own wants?
Needs and wants are not the same. We all need love, nourishment and a home. We need to earn money to live. Satisfying our needs is not an option, but satisfying our wants is. Our son does not need to play an instrument or play sports. I do not need to volunteer and write. Yet, living without satisfying some of our wants is not fulfilling. It is the wants that show us our talents, individuality and how we can serve others.
After some thinking we sat down with a schedule and prioritized. He will play soccer but cut down on tennis lessons. I will rearrange my volunteer schedule so I can get chores done. On Sundays we will plan meals together and cook some for the week ahead. In doing this I hope our child learned that we cannot have everything we want and that fulfilling wants comes at a price.
This new schedule is a temporary solution. In a few weeks, soccer season will be over. In a few months we will move again. In a few more years, our child will be grown. Even as I write this story I am reminded that life does not stand still or follow my schedule. A few days ago, I was on my knees cleaning up the pound of flour that I had dropped, when the phone rang. My sister said that our mother fell and suffered an open fracture in her arm.
“I may never be able to use my arm properly,” my mother said, when I visited her, “but it could’ve been worse. I was lucky.”
“Yes.” I swallowed and looked away from the tubes and wires coming out of her arm. “You could’ve broken a hip.”
On my way out of the hospital wing I noticed a couple of chairs in the hallway. Two boys around Stefan’s age sat at the table in the corner playing cards. They had pushed the chairs away to make room for their wheelchairs. One of the boys had only one leg.
All this time I had been worried about stress and how we could fit our activities into our daily schedule. Seeing my mother and then the boys reminded me that I must be grateful for being able to be busy even though my days are hectic. Yes, this means being grateful that I can chase the dust bunnies and rake the lawn after a mole attack; being grateful that I can fulfill some of my wants in life to volunteer and write stories. Above all, it means being grateful that we have a healthy child who wants to play soccer.
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