Hamster Wheel

Hamster Wheel

From late August through mid-June, when the school year is in full swing, I generally feel like I am running on a hamster wheel. I run nonstop, fearful that if I stop, or even attempt to slow down, I will fly off haphazardly, crashing and leaving everything around me in disarray – and we all know who would have to clean up that mess. So I just keep running. To insert obstacles into the race, I add more and more to my agenda as I run because (A.) I don’t like to say no and (B.) I can always make time for one more good idea. I will just run a little bit faster. I run and run and run, from meeting to class to soccer practice to church to basketball games to volunteer commitments to the next project that I have created for myself to another meeting, and sometimes I wonder what it is like to *Just. Sit. Still.*

And this is where I am a little bit lucky. As a teacher, I am fortunate to enjoy a summer break with my children, and, to be honest, given the current climate of education in America, it is one of the bright spots in a gloomy, depressing mess. But every year I fall prey to the same evil trap; it snags me in the dark winter months of hibernation and tightens its grip as the icy thaw reveals the promises of spring. It seems harmless at first, really. I begin to say things like, “It can wait; I will work on it this summer.” Or, “I don’t have time to worry about that right now, but I will have time to care about it in the summer.” Or, “I am really busy right now, but let’s get together this summer!” I will do it in the summer. I will fix it in the summer. I will check on it in the summer.

On my desk, there are post-it notes with lists of books to read this summer. I joined a book club in the spring – something that I have wanted to do for years – because summer vowed to bestow endless days of freedom that I could not possibly fill on my own. My kids created lists of activities that they intend to check off before the first day of school. And I said, “No problem! It’s summer!” My spring cleaning was never finished, and a general inventory of our house is in order. “No worries! We have all summer!” And the garage needs cleaned out. And I really want to learn to knit while I have time. And I have a chair that I want to refinish. And I have been waiting for the time to look for some new decorating ideas. And my photo albums are so far behind that I’m not sure what I was even trying to commemorate anymore. Just uploading and organizing and ordering all of those pictures will be a HUGE job . . . definitely a task to save for summer.

And we need to catch up on some doctor appointments this summer.

And I can’t wait to invest time in my blog every day!

And I am TOTALLY going to redeem myself as a mother by forcing encouraging my kids to keep up with their summer homework assignments this year.

And I told loved ones that we would spend time together, you know, in summer. The boys and I would have lunch with old friends. We would take road trips to visit those at a distance. We would meet neighbors at the park every week. We would have SO MUCH TIME!

So the fourth of July hit me with a bang last week, and not just because of the fireworks. It was a reminder that summer is slipping away, that the promises she made me remain unfulfilled. There really aren’t more hours in a summer day. More sunshine, yes. More hours, no. Life is still busy. With kids home from school, there are more messes to clean up, more snacks to prepare, more arguments to officiate, more activities to coordinate. Time does not decelerate in summer, just as it doesn’t slow down on the weekends or during a coveted week of vacation.

I have not read one book from my post-it notes. My blog has been quiet and lonely. My kids are dreadfully behind on their summer homework. My projects aren’t finished. (Or started.)

And I still don’t know how to knit.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m exceedingly grateful for the time that I can devote to my family when I am not working in the summer. I don’t take it for granted. But all of the lists, all of the unfinished projects, all of the tasks that remain incomplete and dreams that remain unfulfilled – well, they can drag a girl down. And, no, we have not been moping around the house, avoiding all of the fun. We have been having fun, and maybe that’s part of the problem. Or maybe it’s not. This whole balancing act is exhausting, and the truth is that after eleven years of parenting I’m still not exactly sure how this is all supposed to work.

Maybe I am lamenting how quickly time passes. The empty grid, those clean white boxes on the calendar that seem swollen with potential at the start of each year, fills in a flash with the exciting and, more often, the mundane demands of life. The days bend and flip and slide from your hands like a fish escaping back to the water. You try to hold on, but time is elusive, gone so quickly, and what is left behind? Maybe a picture . . . that might, eventually, find its way to a photo album . . . maybe.

Or maybe I am frustrated that I have not planned better, that I put so much off until summer in the first place. Maybe I am just venting my aggravation with myself – that I am not rising before dawn, that I have not maintained a structured plan for every hour like I do when the hamster wheel is in motion. I’m sure that I could have accomplished more by now if I had been more diligent. Then I would not be tormented by reminders of my lackadaisical attitude, like the remnants of fifth grade that my son unloaded several weeks ago, still neatly stacked in a corner. That’s what I should be doing right now – sorting piles instead of writing about them. No wonder I am a hot mess. And I’m pretty sure that I could have knit a sweater by now if I had my stuff together. 

Or maybe my go-go-go personality is just trying to process the potential of life outside the wheel. Although it fills me with anxiety, maybe there is joy in NOT living from a to-do list for a few days or, if you are fortunate, a few weeks. Maybe there is peace in NOT waking up to an alarm every single day. Satisfaction in NOT prioritizing the unimportant just to cross it off a list. Fulfillment in NOT planning the most efficient way to dissect the day but in allowing the day to unfold organically. Happiness in NOT accomplishing something but in enjoying something, instead.

As with so much of my life, I am still figuring it out, seeking balance, sorting through the different perspectives and emotions. Maybe your legs are aching, growing weary on the hamster wheel, as well. Maybe you can relate.

If you don’t have time to ponder it today, don’t worry. You will have more time this weekend.

That’s what she promises, anyway. But I wouldn’t trust her.

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/28638538@N00/4182287774″>Hamster in a wheel</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

2 thoughts on “Hamster Wheel

  1. I totally relate to your post, Mary Ann! It feels good to know that someone else thinks/feels in a similar manner. Thank you for taking the time to write this 🙂

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  2. Thanks, Laura! I’m glad I’m not the only one, but I also wish all of us could relax a little more without the constant internal dialogue. It can be exhausting, as you must know! Thanks for reading my blog! 🙂

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