Playing Small

A friend, sitting by the community pool with several other mothers, listens with increasing irritation to their animated conversation which resembles a verbal contest.  The main theme: busyness.  The object of the game: one-upsmanship.   Who can claim the prize for the Most Overworked Mother?

Each mother in succession pipes in her list of parenting woes expecting sympathy, horror, or dare I say, admiration from the others.  The group serves as a collective listener though one is not convinced that they actually hear each other.  Rather, each is distractedly plotting her own strategy.

One woman, wearing busyness like a badge, pulls ahead in the game.  She has multiple children in multiple sports and activities.  None, of course, are grateful for what mother does to enhance their lives.  The conversation takes on a dramatic volume and pitch as this mother concludes with sweeping gestures to enhance her case.

Who will be crowned the winner?  Which poor, selfless, overworked mother has ‘it’ the worst?  Like a typical round of Monopoly, there is no end to this game.  The only real winner is the one who chooses not to play.  This is the mother who knows that complaining and blaming equal playing small.  This mother knows that an over-scheduled child does not make the schedule.  Mother does.

The pattern of giving too many yes’ and no enough no’s is one I’m familiar with.  In the blink of an eye, the family calendar fills to capacity and begins to bust at the seams, leaving mother in a puddle of exhaustion at the end of a day.  And always, though I forget sometimes, I am in control.

The desire to give children the world can obscure a mother’s judgment.  It can trick her into attempting to juggle flaming torches and spin plates on sticks while walking a tightrope.  When she tries this stunt and fails – because she will – mother may fall to the ground and, without thinking, blame her child for pushing her off the rope.  Silly mother.

Instead of egging her on with ooh’s and aah’s like a crowd at the circus, mother’s friends could say these words:

Get down here before you hurt yourself!  Your children need you in one piece.  You don’t have anything to prove.  There is no prize for scaling tall buildings in a single bound.  Your prize is here on the ground.  It is waiting for you to stop running around long enough to pick it up and hug it and tell it how much you love it.

 The prize will understand, eventually, if the love words include a ‘no’ here and there.  It may even thank you some day for setting limits in order to preserve sanity and closeness and family time.  At the very least, you will have prevailed in the Game of Life because you chose not to compete.  Instead of playing small, you kept your eye on the prize, your feet on the ground, and your heart in a grateful place.

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