On Living Small(er)

Yesterday, I wrote about the ways in which the pandemic has taken away certain choices… and how this might, in a way, be a good thing. And perhaps I am alone in feeling that sometimes too many choices are sometimes (all the time?) a bad thing. I often end up focusing too much on the choices I didn’t make or take. Some might call this a “fear of missing out” or a “fear of regret”. I have option A and option B. If I choose option A, I cannot partake in B and vice versa. How different would my life b if I had taken the other option, the one I didn’t? The bigger question: how different would my life b if so many of my brain cells weren’t mired in a swamp of meaningless choices. Do I want white American or yellow American cheese on my burger? Do I want whiter teeth or healthier gums (or at least the toothpastes that promise as much)? Sprite or 7up? How many conversations have you had or overhear where people are debating Coke or Pepsi? How many people do you know who define themselves by those choices alone? (And perhaps with good reason: by making a decision about which one you are going to drink and sticking with it, it possibly makes other decisions easier down the road. “I can’t go to restaurant X because they don’t serve Pepsi products.”)

And as a parent, I grapple regularly with the questions around: do I teach my kids how to make good decisions or do I protect them from ever having to make these types of meaningless decisions themselves for as long as I can? The answer is yes.

It is very easy and possible for kids to have a very big world and the pressure on parents to “give their kids everything” is immense. We have to give them every experience, every option. They have to try every sport. They have to speak five hundred languages. They have to have seen this, that, and the other thing. They have to do extra-curriculars and six languages They have to be well traveled.

I would be lying if I said that I’ve spent more hours than I can count, too many hours worrying over whether or not I’m offering my kids enough experiences and, yes, options.

I would also be lying if I didn’t say that the pandemic has taken away a lot of those fears and worries about whether or not I’m giving my kids enough experiences. A huge part of this is that their dad has been work from home for a while. With two parents much more present, I worry much less that I, as one, am doing enough. Of course, the pandemic has also made certain outings and activities impossible… for everyone, not just us. So not only are we not alone in this boat, but I’m not constantly looking outside of the walls of our home in search of giving my kids more.

This year was a big year for cicadas where we live. In any other big Brood X (which has a seventeen year cycle of emergence) year, I’m sure there would have been loads of programs related to cicadas through the parks system and the Smithsonian and probably even at schools in the area. There were this year. So one afternoon in the spring right after we had noticed their exit tunnels under a few of the trees in our yard, we started to pick up rocks and logs and flagstones in our yard. Our efforts were rewarded with the squirming, wriggling cicadas still encased in their shells and awaiting the warm weather they required to emerge from the ground and begin their journey (and discarding of their shells) up the trees.

Like many families around here (I am guessing) much of our discussions this spring and early summer was about the cicadas: the noise they make, their life cycles, where they live, etc…. Whenever her sister was otherwise occupied, my 8 year old and I would walk around the yard and the conversation would inevitable turn to the cicadas. She’d ask thoughtful questions and I’d do my best to answer them, knowing too that these questions would come up again and either her dad would know or we’d be able to look up the answers. These conversations were lovely and full of a mutual learning about each other and our interests and also about the cicadas. I think we might have covered more territory than would be possible in a more traditional cicada curriculum or program.

And so this is what I mean about how the pandemic taking away certain options has allowed us to live, yes, perhaps a smaller life, but, more importantly, a deeper one too.

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