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Living With Kids 

Some days it seems that everyone else is more successful than I am. Some people have multiple children, and make it look fun and easy. Other people have clutter-free houses (where do these people keep notices about upcoming PTA meetings or unpaid bills?). Some people are nicer than I am (they like dogs, for example). Some people have beautiful gardens. Some people have PhDs. Often I can't enjoy someone else's successes because I'm too busy feeling jealous and threatened. If they can do it, why can't I?

Shouldn't I be accomplishing more in life? I try to be organized and make lots of lists, but then I become a slave to that enumeration of items and completely forget to relax and enjoy life. Sometimes I will put a fun thing on the list, but as soon as I do it becomes a chore--one more item screaming at me, "Check me off!" Often the things on the list aren't important anyway. I could spend my life checking things off and never accomplish what I really wanted to.

My hobbies are writing, reading, walking, talking with friends, knitting, and hanging out with my husband and daughter. Why do I have to feel bad if someone else has a beautiful garden? I can't do everything and be everything.

And as a mother, it's hard to resist the temptation to sign my first-grade daughter up for everything--piano and soccer and dance and swimming and gymnastics and art and Spanish. Those classes all look so fun, and her friends are doing them. Most anxiety producing of all, her window of learning for music and language is wide open right now, but already beginning to close. If she learns Spanish now, she'll be able to speak it easily and without an accent. Learning an instrument when you're young is the only way to ever be really good at it. Participating in team sports now will build her self-esteem, help her develop a love of activity and stay fit for life, perhaps even protect her from embarrassing middle-school PE incidents. I've got to get on the ball if my daughter is to be a Spanish-speaker, a musician or an athlete.

I wonder if part of the push comes from the unspoken, perhaps unconscious, dreams that our children can be anything. Before a child is born, she is full of possibilities. As soon as she comes out into the light, some of the possibilities are replaced by realities. As she grows older, more and more possibilities fall away. If I don't sign her up for soccer, am I shutting the door on the chance of her being on the National Women's Soccer team? I can still remember having the feeling as a child that I still had time to become a famous [fill in the blank--ice skater, lasso twirler, poet]. Theoretically, it's still possible for me to become a famous poet (never mind that the last poem I wrote was in the third grade), but I will never skate in the Olympics. Susannah actually does still have time to become a famous [fill in the blank]. Rationally, I don't want her to be famous, but I wonder if the urge to over-schedule grows from some deep-seated dreams.

Susannah is a dancer. She chose it. She spends most afternoons in the playroom dancing to The Nutcracker, the Jackson Five, the Dixie Chicks and the like. She has been doing this half her life. So my husband and I provide her with dancing shoes and classes and recital outfits. All the other activities, I tell myself, are optional. Of course, I'll make sure she learns how to swim well, so she can have fun and be safe at the pool and at the beach, but she doesn't need to be on the swim team or learn the butterfly stroke. Even though this is my stated philosophy, I don't always stick to it.

I try hard to, though, because she needs free time. As I write this, she is working on her fort on the deck. She's been out there for an hour making mud pies and washing out rags and decorating with flowers. If she were at soccer practice, she wouldn't be doing this. A child needs a lot of free time in order to develop creativity and self-discipline. In fact, if I think about it, I would rather she have those two characteristics than excel at any particular skill.

And I don't want to have to excel at everything either. I wish I had a garden as beautiful as Julie's and a house as neat and clean as Cherie's. I wish I found motherhood as easy as Jenn seems to; or that I could have as many children as Chrystin or Heidi and still seem mentally healthy. I wish I spent as much time doing creative projects as Jeanette. I wish I was as laid back as Marya.

But there is no one person who is laid back, has four children, a beautiful and neat house, a spectacular garden, spends a lot of time doing art, reading, knitting, daydreaming, walking, and talking to friends. Everyone chooses where to spend his or her time. I make my choices, but then I'm jealous of other people's choices. The next time I see a really beautiful garden, I'm going to tell myself, "She likes to garden, I like to knit."

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