Welcome to our Monday guest post series on Parenting and Imperfection.
I’ve written in the past about balance because the longer I attempt to be a mom and a wife and a writer and a friend and a daughter… and and and and and…, the more concerned I become about abolishing the overwhelming and totally unrealistic pressure of “balance.” Instead of buying the myth of balance, I’ve written about life as a dance and the importance of finding our rhythm. Which is why I was so excited when my friend, Bethany Lee, sent me her post below.
Bethany and I are in the same book club. You may recognize her from a previous post as the one who’s about to set sail for a year with her family. I admire Bethany for a lot of reasons; she’s friendly, funny, smart, savvy, complimentary of her children, game for adventure, and committed to living life without fear. But my favorite thing about Bethany right at this very moment is the fact that she recommended The Wee Free Men by Terry Prachett to me because she knew I’d appreciate a children’s book about about terrifying, 6-inch, Scottish kilt-wearing fairies whose specialties are drinkin’, cussin’ and fightin’. Sometimes it’s just good to feel known.
Bethany Lee is the writer behind bread-casting where you can follow her family’s adventures. Enjoy!
by Bethany Lee
I’ve been troubled for several years about the use of the word balance in our culture. You know…the idea that if you find the right work-home balance, you too will be at peace every moment. Or all your problems with the kids will be solved if you balance consistent discipline with the right routine. Your pants will always fit perfectly if you balance the pie with the treadmill. We often say balance when we really mean perfection.
I gave up on perfection a few years back. Those who have seen my housekeeping can vouch for that. But some days I still think, just maybe, I could pull off being balanced. By which, of course, I mean perfect. Balance is perfectionism’s new disguise.
A few years ago, we bought a boat and learned how to sail (yes, in that order). Since then, the idea of balance has taken on new meaning for me.
One of the cardinal rules of boating is, “One hand for me, one hand for the boat.” (We often have work to do that requires two hands but one must sacrifice convenience to follow the most important rule, “Don’t fall overboard.”) As I move around on deck or down below, I chant it to myself, a reminder to stay alert. To stand wide and hang on, one hand always firmly gripping something stable. And when the wind rises and the waves follow, the rule’s importance grows even more evident.
Last month, we came across the Columbia River Bar in our sailboat. After 48 hours on the ocean, we were tired of motoring and racing the tide to get tied up safely in Astoria. We’d been across the bar twice before and though the engine died both times the weather cooperated well. Today, the engine was running fine but the notorious entrance was living up to its nasty reputation. Short, steep waves played keep-away with our little boat. Moving around was painful, like traveling in a life-sized pinball machine. Galley doors popped open and vomited canned goods across the cabin. I double-checked everyone’s safety equipment and crab walked to my bunk to get out of the way. More than once, I found myself floating in air, momentarily weightless until gravity caught up and slapped me down into the thin cushion. I hung onto the edge of the bed and leaned back against the wall, working hard just to stay still.
Back on watch a few minutes later, I settled into a lopsided dance, feet wide, hips swaying with the motion. I breathed deeply against the visceral fear and obsessively plotted our location on the chart. And from the middle of the mess, I helped guide us up the channel to a still harbor.
On an ever-changing sea, balance does not look like full-lotus-position peace. Some days the seas are so calm, I could build a house of cards in my cockpit. Other days, balance may mean bracing myself against the mast and hanging on for dear life. But true balance, at sea or in life, is about responding to the changing conditions, not finding one perfect schedule/diet/method that will bring peace every day foreverandeveramen. Peace is not an external condition, after all. If you’ve ever tried to live a perfect life, you know it doesn’t bring peace. Peace only comes in the middle of messy days, from the center of the dance.
This week, we’re moving. So balance looks like paper plates, caffeine, and frozen dinners. There’s a take-and-bake in the oven as I write. I could kick myself for the damage to my wallet, my waistline, or the environment. Or I could settle into the truth of the weather this week–it’s getting stormy–and hang on for the ride.
Bethany Lee, her husband and two middle-school daughters live in Oregon but are currently in the process of moving aboard their 50-year-old sailboat for a year-long journey to Central America. When she’s not sailing or homeschooling her girls, you might find her baking, reading, making music, or writing. She aspires to live without fear, pour love into her community, and occasionally find time for the laundry.
So. Balance. What do you think? Yay or nay?
You can see all of the Parenting and Imperfection posts here.