With the start of summer, I immediately noticed how happy my daughters became. The luxuries of staying up later, sleeping in longer and not having to do homework brought out their carefree, good-natured selves. I heard them laugh more. (I also heard some fighting, but at least they were interacting with one another.) I found them numerous times in their rooms making all sorts of crafty things, building forts, creating art and music. Our oldest daughter enjoyed more social freedoms, meeting her friends for lunch, spending afternoons at the mall and evenings at the pool. Our seventh-grader devoted much of her time to rehearsing for the musical, "Kiss Me Kate," which was the highlight of her summer. And our youngest played tennis and took swimming, and had as many play dates with friends as we could arrange. Our family enjoyed a trip to Mexico and time with family and friends. Clearly this is the point of summer vacation, leisure and recreation, rest and relaxation. If only it weren't so brief!
Now we are heading back into another school year, and there is no getting around homework and early starts to our days. Our schedules will begin to fill up and we will all be working hard. But observing our pace over the summer makes me more mindful of how much I am cramming into our calendar during the school year, and how each added activity affects every member of our family.
I once heard someone say, "Our calendars not only record what we do; they determine who we become." This concept has stuck with me, and it challenges our over-scheduled, sometimes way-too-busy way of living. Most of us have family calendars that help us stay organized with our schedules, but I hadn't thought about the impact our calendar has on who we are becoming. For example, if we want to develop a healthier lifestyle, our calendars need to reflect that desire. We will not automatically become healthier just because we want to -- we need to carve out time for exercise and physical activity, and we need to make the time to prepare healthy foods and get enough rest.
If I am not careful about our calendar, activities and appointments can easily fill in every available space. We find ourselves hurrying from one event to the next, and the busyness of our day begins to creep into our hours for eating and sleeping, for resting and relaxing. At times I fall into bed at night, exhausted, thinking, "And now tomorrow we'll get up and do the same rat race all over again."
Just as with money, I am learning that we need to budget our time. When I over-schedule, I don't leave an allowance for unexpected time consumers: things like slow traffic, long lines at the grocery and children who can't find their shoes. We need some blank space on our calendars, because it's in those moments -- when we aren't rushing to do something -- that we can just be. Be funny. Be spontaneous. Make up a game. Have an unexpected conversation. Learn something new about someone.
As the school year begins and the pace of life picks up again, I am aware that we will need time and space to adjust -- my freshman daughter will be adjusting to a whole new world called high school. I am going to be watching, remembering that if we want our family to grow closer, we need to be eating dinner together as many nights a week as possible: this requires time and planning. If we want our family to become more service-oriented, we need to make time for volunteer opportunities. If we want to grow spiritually, church participation needs to be a priority. If my husband and I want to stay connected, we need to make date nights happen. Those squares on our calendar are not just 24-hour blocks of time; they are a series of moments that make up our lives and have the potential to shape us -- to shape our futures -- as individuals and as a family.
• Becky Baudouin is a freelance writer and speaker. She lives in the Northwest suburbs with her husband, Bernie, and their three daughters.