Vacation. Oh yes, vacation. So much has already been written about it. So much is yet to be written. Yet it surprises me every time it comes around and makes me come to terms with touchy subjects. Here’s one of the big ones:
I need to put in effort to be good.
I’ll explain. During most of my childhood and adolescence, I didn’t have to exert myself. If something required effort, then (as you probably guessed) I just skipped it entirely. I sailed through school, and whenever something was challenging, like the advanced math class, I convinced myself that it wasn’t for me, and instead got the highest score in the regular math class.
For the first time in my life, I had to deal with outside challenges when I got to university. There, I discovered that in order to succeed, you need to study diligently and put in effort. Sometimes, you even need to stay awake until the wee hours of the night. I found out that my rules about taking it easy just didn’t work for these situations and the realization was painful. It happened the first time I got a score under 80, and the first time I was met by standard college indifference instead of praise from my teachers.
So I decided to put in effort and work hard. I constantly had two sides in my life – the easy side where I succeeded without trying, and the side that demanded more of me. I learned not to give up and not to float automatically toward the easy things, even though sometimes they were more tempting. I got through the dating period, my BA and my MA this way – always maintaining that delicate balance. I would ask myself: am I choosing this because it’s easier or because it’s the right thing for me? How much should I exert myself? Most importantly, I thought of ways to continue exerting myself day after day even when I didn’t see immediate results.
Take employment, for example. During the years when earning a living was a hobby to me and not something essential, everything fell into my lap. Every time I considered whether I should find a new job, or what I would do if I was fired next week, the next day I would receive a phone call with an offer for exactly what I was looking for, with a nice salary and great coworkers. But when employment became more significant in my life, both as a physical and mental necessity for me, it was then that things seemed to get stuck. Things didn’t fall into my lap, as far as I could see. These years were unclear and disorganized in terms of employment, and sometimes I want to take my twenty-something year old self and shake her and say – be grateful that things were so easy for you. Say thank you. Hey, that’s something else that takes effort. To find employment now, I put in a lot of effort and demand more of myself than I did in the past.
But let’s get back to talking about vacation. I’ll admit it – I need to put in effort to be a good mom. I need to put in effort to make my kids happy and be calm during their waking hours. I need to put in effort to remember their vacation workbooks and I need to put in a lot of effort to buy them lots of random art supplies that are supposed to be transformed into signs for their bedroom doors, useless picture frames or drawings that end up in the garbage.
I also need to put in effort to host their friends. To help kids who are not my own in the bathroom, to calm the irrational sobbing of someone who is not genetically connected to me or to speak patiently to someone who just insulted my son. I need to put in effort to take my kids to their friends’ houses too – to send dozens of text messages to my friends, to discover that they aren’t home, that one kid is at the library, another is at her grandmother’s house and another is already at a different friend’s house. Then I need to take the entire group in the scorching heat or, during a different season of the year, wrap three kids in coats and hats, to take one of them to the friend’s house, which he will leave twenty minutes later when he’s bored.
Housekeeping? Oh yes, I need to really exert myself for that. Just recently, after seven years of marriage, I understood why some people I know feel satisfaction after they wash their floors. I understood; that doesn’t mean that I felt it too. I like when things are clean, and I like when everything’s organized. I don’t like working hard to make that happen. I’m not very good at it, either. Give me a messy house, and after an hour of work, it will look a little bit less messy. Give my husband a house twice as messy and half of the time, and the house will actually look good afterward. I need to put in effort to do the laundry and wash the dishes and cook a good, nutritious lunch every day. I really need to work hard, and I do it.
There’s no lack of posts online that recommend, “If it’s hard for you, give yourself a break,” “Forget about dishes – use disposable plates and buy ready-made food.” I can accept that, but with a big grain of salt. I can give myself a break as long as I am still monitoring whether I’m doing it because it easy or because it’s really appropriate in the circumstances. Is it really right for my kids to alternate between frozen pizza and frozen schnitzel every meal, or is it better to calculate my time so that my kids end up eating more sensible meals? Is it better for us to use a ton of disposable dishes, or do we want to be more economical and more ecological? Each person needs to make their own decisions based on their circumstances.
I’m all for the trend of viewing ourselves as normal people. I believe in raising the issues and talking about the challenges, but I also believe in saying to myself – you need to put in effort. Sometimes, a lot of effort. It’s important for me to say this, because if you come to my house and see the homemade cookies that are almost always around, a nice dinner on the table and three clean children (more or less…), you should realize that I worked hard to do all of that. Nothing comes easily. But you should also know that I chose to work hard for it. I chose to invest in the things you see and give up things that I feel are less deserving of my hard work right now.
If, for example, I don’t like taking my kids to the pool, I won’t feel like a negligent mother, because I know that I give them enough in other areas. If I have hated the job of covering schoolbooks since back when I was in first grade, I will get over it, because it’s my job as a mother (or I might just ask their grandmother to do it for me…but my point is clear, right?).
My goal is not to preach. I hate when people preach. I really believe that every family has its own priorities and every woman has an entire ocean of thoughts and constant guilt pangs about everything that she doesn’t do. I do want to say one thing – giving yourself a break is not the right thing to do. Choosing what you do and what not to do is the real goal. There are tasks that are easier for some than for others, but everyone feels challenged in some area. In every rose garden, there’s a gardener who is sweating and toiling, and the sea of thorns reminds us that nothing is perfect. Choose where to invest your efforts; love yourself even in respect to the things you don’t do.