When Johanna asked me to join her and speak about balance I laughed a little. How can I, one who feels as if she is constantly tilting back and forth, speak about balance? I gave the idea some thought and then I gave myself a little credit and admitted that I have created balance for our family as best as I can.
I returned to my full-time job as an ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher in late August. I had been on leave for a good part of the past two years. Going back this fall was tough, but it was the right thing for me to do for many reasons. It has been a bit of a struggle to balance all aspects of my life, but there is one area in particular that I have worked hard on because it is so important to me... family meals.
We eat together, as a family, every night. Of course, there are the rare exceptions, a random work meeting for my husband or parent-teacher conferences for me, but other than that, you will find us eating our evening meal as a family, almost always at our kitchen table.
My husband and I had a serious discussion a few weeks into the school year when I was feeling overwhelmed by the new routines and schedules. He offered some ideas on where he thought I could “cut back” on stressors and things that took up a lot of time. Cooking was one area he suggested taking a look at. I bristled at the suggestion that I spend less time on our meals. What did he want me to do, microwave chicken nuggets and fish sticks every night? Of course not that is not what he meant at all. He was simply trying to point out to me that it made sense that I get out of the kitchen and spend more time with our family if I could.
Less time with the kids has been the most difficult part of going back to work for me, but I am not willing to give up quality meals for my family. Plus, we are members of a CSA farm and it has been important to me that we use our vegetables and not waste them. So I had to find a way to be smarter about how I handled meal times.
I truly have a passion for cooking, so that is another reason I resented the idea that I spend less time on our meals. It felt as if my chance to work on one of my hobbies or interest areas was being taken away from me. But I have to admit, at the same time, cooking had lost a bit of its joy when it meant less time with my kids and more stress at the end of a long day.
In the end, the balance I’ve found has come in the form of planning ahead, cooking ahead, and yes, letting go of things a little bit too.
I plan for meals two weeks at a time basing dishes on ingredients that come in our CSA box, what is in season, and what we have stocked away in our freezer. I do a lot of cooking on the weekends. Cooking during my kids’ naps, with the radio on gives me a bit of relaxation while I am getting things done. I save slow cooking and more elaborate meals for the weekends and often prep ahead any veggies I will need for other recipes during the week. I have also been known to cook meals for the next night after my kiddos are in bed. If I throw a few baked potatoes in the oven while I watch my favorite show and knit a few rows on a sweater and there is no waiting an hour for them to be done the next day. Just a quick warm up, some veggies and cheese and dinner is on the table.
As for the letting go part, well, my kids have eaten the occasional chicken nugget and I will admit that there are cans of tuna and a couple of boxes of Macaroni and Cheese in my pantry. And I have come to learn that sandwich night, or breakfast for dinner, something easy like scrambled eggs with cheese and toast can be just as satisfying as sitting down to a more elaborate and time-consuming dish. Sometimes it’s a lot more fun too!