I can’t really call it a vacation. The word vacation conjures up images of frosty drinks and semi-reclined postures.
So I’ll call it a trip.
My husband and I packed up our four kids (two of whom are “tandem twins,” babies who are just one year apart) and stayed in a small, TV-less cabin on the beautiful Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire. This trip has been a yearly pilgrimage for our family ― we water ski, we hike, we enjoy playing board games when it rains. However, as our family has grown (doubling in the past two years), the trip has become more and more taxing, especially after several challenging years while developing our first video game from our home studio.
The only frosty drinks are bottles of formula that the babies slap out of our hands and into the sand, and the partially horizontal posture my body takes is that of a perpetual bending down to console or lift a heavy, crying child.
I want you to know this is not a complaint, merely a reality. This is the environment of this particular level of my life.
The difficulty is not in the constant multitasking or the non-stop requests (crackers, juice boxes, Nintendo Switch, or the good-smelling sunblock and NOT the gross one) but, as in many video games, in the overwhelming sense of choice.
Now, you may be thinking that there’s no choices involved here ― you just do what you have to do. I offer the theory that the difficulty in parenting is deciding where to spend your energy, and the process of having to weigh and balance all of these factors. We want it all ― the happy children, the inner peace and quiet, our old social lives, healthy meals, fit bodies, well-adjusted cherubs, the works. But to have any of those things, we need to decide which are most important right now.
The ability to choose is both a great gift and an awful burden. If we are unhappy, we can choose to see things differently and completely change our state. We also have so goddamn many things as parents to think about, that these boundless choices seem to become one lump of obligations instead of many small freedoms.
If we are mindful of our surroundings and open to the idea that we have many tiny choices and that all we need to do to alleviate stress is to focus on a select few of them at any given moment, our lives can be much easier.
Let me take this out of the theoretical and put it into the practical.
One particularly rough and rainy day on our trip, I had the four kids by myself. The babies’ nap time was up, and after an hour of pacifying them with blueberries and a pair of plastic maracas, I knew our collective patience was up. The car was parked outside, and freedom was just a short jaunt in the rain away. The kids would be soothed by a drive, and we could hit up the McDonald’s about 15 minutes away and get a guaranteed happy hour or so.
BUT THE FOOD ISN’T HEALTHY AND DRIVING KIDS AROUND WHILE YOU LISTEN TO YOUR AUDIOBOOKS ISN’T GOOD PARENTING.
This is the voice inside me that takes away my choices. This is FEAR talking. Fear of looking like a crummy parent. Fear of turning my kids into unhealthy junk food fiends. Fear of numbing their minds on a pointless drive and wasting precious family trip time after years of working in our basement on our passion project.
But here, my friends, is where choice comes in. I am paying attention to the situation, mindful that my kids are cooped up and unhappy. I only have a finite amount of energy left and must make a choice.
The right choice for RIGHT NOW.
So I chose the mindless drive and the junk food and they were so, so satisfied and quiet.
When we returned, we were all happy, and I realized I had some better options. I had a better set of choices because of the ones I had made prior, so we read books and the babies had chickpeas, apples and corn on the cob for dinner. And that was also the right choice for right now.
As a video game developer, my mind sometimes turns concepts in life into games in my head. SO. Let’s imagine that our parenting energy is a finite resource. We only have so many sanity points to spend. Are we going to spend them all on making sure the kids only have the healthiest food? Are we going to spend them all just trying to pacify them so we can sit peacefully and cruise Pinterest for recipe ideas we’ll never use? Or will we spend our sanity points getting dressed and doing our hair so we look good for that birthday party we’ll all be attending later?
THESE ARE ALL OKAY CHOICES.
What I’m saying is we can’t have it all, but we can have what we need right now. Right now you may need to listen to your own music in the car because you missed yoga this morning and really need the peace. You can put on Big Block Sing Song later, when they’re fighting and need to be cheered up.
Just pay attention to the right choice for right now.
What I try to do is remember that I’m in a short season of my life, a brief but challenging level, and that they’re getting bigger and more independent each day. Tomorrow may be my toddler’s last day of baby babble and he may be a full on talker. Just weeks ago my baby lived as a carpet-dweller then learned to walk quicker than a blink.
So yeah, one day I’ll have the frosty drinks and lounge chair, but for now, I’m spending my points wisely and staying sane while winning the game.