This weekend, our family watched the movie Babies together.
In the opening scene, two toddlers sit playing, focussed and quiet. In front of each is a large stone onto which each boy bangs and grinds a smaller stone.
Seeing these two boys playing in such a focussed manner with a couple of rocks, a question came to mind: How much stuff do my kids really need?
I asked my husband, who didn’t have a specific answer but was convinced our children have too much stuff. He and I went into the toy room that night and took away a shape sorter and two games to make room for the wooden train set our son is getting for Christmas. The rest of it stayed. It all seemed to have a use.
I asked my daughter about the boys and the rocks and if she thought she and her brother had more toys than they needed. She looked at me suspiciously.
“You could give your extra toys to those boys in the movie,” my husband suggested. My daughter shook her head.
“No. They’re too far away. And they get to play with rocks and bones and things, so they don’t need other toys.”
“What if I got some rocks and bones for you guys to play with? Would you need fewer toys then?” I asked.
And that’s all I got out of her.
We have more than we need, toy-wise, but we’re not inundated (for now). We have guidelines about electronic toys and noisemaking toys and character toys (except for a few small Elmos and Winnie-the-Poohs), and that keeps a lot of stuff out of the house in the first place. Every few months the kids and I go through and set aside a box or two full of toys that they’d like to pass on to other kids. I’ll make suggestions to get things going, but I do my best to let them drive the purge. And so far, it’s worked well. My kids actually seem pretty excited about picking out toys for hypothetical toyless children.
But it’s not just the toys. As homeschoolers, we have the time and opportunity to engage in a huge number of enriching activities. Even with just a few activities, we’ve got too much going on, but I feel nervous when I turn down any opportunity. Material possessions I don’t feel too bad parting with. Experiences are tougher for me.
There’s a chapter about families in Janet Luhrs’ The Simple Living Guide. In this chapter, Luhrs describes a situation in her own life that was quite similar to my kids-and-rocks moment (and that, oddly, also involved rocks) and that led her to feel similarly torn between scheduling enriching activities and scheduling enriching unstructured time.
“After much soul searching,” Luhrs writes, “I opted for conscious balance. Conscious balance means that I am fully aware of my motivations for making choices. If the choice is based on insecurity, I look hard at the insecurity.”
She already had my attention, but my ears really pricked up at her mention of insecurity.
Insecure is exactly what I feel when I think of my kids missing out on any of the dozens of wonderful but time-consuming activities. I know we need unstructured play time and recharge time from all of the interaction and stimulus of being out and about. But what if I throw in my lot with the homeschool co-op and my daughter ends up not making any close friends there? Would she have been better off at Girl Scouts? Is that where her future best friend is, just waiting for my daughter to find her? If we choose the wrong activity, how will we ever find her? As though there’s just one best friend out there for my daughter and it’s my responsibility to seek her out and bring us to her. That’s a remarkable amount of pressure.
I have to realize that my kids don’t have these worries. They’re in it for the fun. And I’d be willing to bet we’d all be happier and less stressed if I were in it for the fun, too. One of my college religion profs used to say, “You can’t dance at every wedding.” Right now, I’m not dancing at any of them. While everyone else dances around me, I’m sitting in the corner, tired and overwhelmed and worried that the wedding I chose not to attend is where I really ought to be.
The truth, if I choose to accept it, is this: If things are in balance and we’ve followed our values, my kids and I are where we’re supposed to be, no matter what we choose to do.
And the toys? Well, that’s a work in progress.