Summers are an interesting time for the Langford family. Most years — including this one — early in June my wife takes off for Utah to help take care of her mother, who suffered a serious stroke 8 or 9 years ago. From there, typically she teaches a summer class via distance learning. Meanwhile, I’m left here in Wisconsin with whatever children happen to be here during the summer — which right now is all three of them — doing my own work and supervising the children, more or less, up until the point when some or all of us take off for Utah to visit.
We’re now (as of early July) about a month into that. And it always makes me feel like I’m juggling one-handed, which is kind of an odd simile considering that I’m not actually a juggler at all in any literal sense. Only metaphorical. But metaphorically, it feels like what I imagine juggling with one hand would feel like. Same number of balls to keep in the air, but only half the hands.
So here’s what I imagine to be true about one-handed juggling:
Keeping all those balls in the air is possible, but requires more concentration. The hand has to move faster, covering more space. There’s no margin for error. The minute you grab a ball you have fling it out again, because there’s always something else coming at you that needs grabbing. The eyes twitch back and forth constantly, tracking everything. There’s a kind of stiff jerkiness, unlike the effortless-looking smoothness of the usual motions. Balls may not get dropped, but they get flung a little more wildly, requiring wider and faster arm motions. Too often, the hand must travel to where the ball will be, instead of the ball conveniently dropping into the space that the hand occupies.
(By the way, anyone who actually has juggled is more than welcome to correct what I’ve just said. I’ve already admitted my ignorance, so it’s no skin off my nose, or however that saying goes.)
All of which has its corollary in the household-managing arena. There are still just as many items to track, or nearly — just as many people to keep on schedule. Kids to wake up. Breakfasts to make. Medicines to put out. Chores to nag people into doing. Groceries to buy. Dinner to make. And one’s own work to do, interspersed with everything else.
This is actually one of the hardest parts to manage. Sometimes I’ll get into a project (work or otherwise) and not particularly want to stop. But if I don’t stop, the children won’t get up, or get fed, or go to sleep, or whatever.
I get tired of being the only one to make dinner. And yeah, the kids will help with that sometimes, especially my oldest, and my second child usually cooks dinner for herself anyway. But I can never just assume that things will happen if I’m not doing them. There’s no shared responsibility, no backup.
Which is, of course, not entirely true.
First off, there’s actually not as much to track over the summer. For one (very big) thing, there is no homework to make sure happens, no kids to get off to school. Which is an enormous thing. And yeah, we have some projects that we’re trying to get the kids to do over the summer, but I’m only partly responsible for those. Some my wife helps to track long-distance. (Skype calls are a thing.) Some our kids themselves are responsible for. And many are set up such that the consequences are fairly mild if they don’t actually get done.
Nor am I a paragon of with-it-ness, keeping everyone else on track. Often enough, it’s me who gets off-schedule. I get frustrated because my own eye wandered away from the ball(s). It’s understandable that the kids likewise don’t succeed in managing and monitoring things.
The truth is, I’m less efficient without someone to share the load. Or at least less mentally balanced and sane. And I’m reminded again that plenty of single parents do this all the time, and find myself both amazed and vicariously exhausted when I think about what that means.
I also find myself with a much better understanding of the way things actually are in the lives of my family members. It’s a blessing in that way. I actually wind up talking to our children more, working with them to get things done, and seeing firsthand some of the things that my wife is usually more involved with. I get to see a side of family life that usually I am too busy or too lazy to see. This helps to make me a better father, which is always something I can use help with.
And it makes me appreciate my wife more. Which, you know. Never a bad thing. If that means I get less done and become more forgetful and spend my time running around like a chicken with my head cut off (a perhaps less technically accurate but equally vivid comparison), then, well. At least I can hope it provides some amusement for the spectators.
Note: June 14 saw the release of Let Your Hearts and Minds Expand: Reflections on Faith, Reason, Charity, and Beauty, by Thomas F. Rogers, published by the Maxwell Institute at BYU, which I helped edit. It’s a lovely collection of essays, memoirs, et al., from a retired BYU Russian professor and playwright. Thoughtful, intelligent, reflective, and honest, it provides (in my opinion) an example of genuine, faithful Mormon intellectualism at its best.