Ideal Life Progress: Commitment

It was September 22 when the idea struck me. That is, September 22, five days before my birthday, that I somehow got bitten by a little bug that would, mid-November, be occupying my every minute.

Our children attend a bi-lingual French/English elementary school. If you are anglophone and reading this, it may seem perfectly logical to you. But here in France, this school is one of only a few elementary schools which offer a bi-lingual program (with any language at all). In our region, there is an over-generous concentration of bi-lingual French/German schools, our proximity to Germany and Switzerland making this both possible and appealing. Among bi-lingual French/English schools, of which there are only a handful, ours is one of the newest and most innovative.

When my husband attended the Teacher/Parent night in September, he joked upon returning home that there was “too much UK” in the classroom. It was a joke, obviously, and not a criticism. He mentioned that the iconography of the red phone booth, the double decker bus, the Union Jack was ubiquitous.

That is the bug that bit me right there, and was the reason that in September, five days before my birthday, I wrote a note to my eldest’s teacher and asked her if I could prepare a Thanksgiving craft with the kids, and tell them the story of this traditional holiday.

She was genuinely excited about the idea. I made the same offer to my youngest’s teacher. She was perhaps slightly more reticent, but still accepted the offer.

And I therefore got myself onto a track which I know all too well: the I’m happy about it in the moment and then start to dread it as it approaches track.

The back of my head dread

Had I stopped for thirty seconds before sending that message to think about what I was doing, I wouldn’t have sent it. One of my In my Ideal Life… statements says, “In my Ideal Life I am a person who only commits to what makes her feel alive.”

Not that the thought of doing Thanksgiving with kids kills me. It’s not that I don’t want to share Thanksgiving with these two classes. I do. But the problem is the standards to which I hold myself. I could have known that I would end up spending every waking minute trying to make everything perfect.

Ever since the 22 of September, I have had this Thanksgiving craft percolating in the back of my mind. Percolating, if not to say, stressing me out. I had no idea how much actual time I would need to spend preparing it, and I knew for a fact that no one would care nearly as much about the details of it as I would.

When school resumed after the mid-term break, both teachers confirmed that they were still interested. The teacher for my youngest thought that doing a craft with all 25 kids might be too ambitious, but suggested, on the other hand, that a cooking project might be fun.

My heart sank. You and I both know my secret: I hate cooking. I hate food. I hate thinking about food. I hate touching ingredients. But because I have a hard time saying no, I said, “Sure! sounds like fun!” Mercifully, she said she has a cornbread recipe that was super simple and that she had done in years past with another class and suggested that we make it on Wednesday and then have it on Thursday at a little Thanksgiving party where I can tell the story of Thanksgiving.

For my eldest’s class, well, his teacher is simply enthusiastic about anything I offered, so I naturally immediately started getting carried away. (There is nothing more addictive than someone who thinks I have good ideas! This, actually, made me feel somewhat alive!)

Time budgeting

As I looked at all the work I had been planning to get done in November, I knew that something would have to give. This was disappointing. For example, I had been wanting to do NaNoWriMo this year, to get down the bones of the third book in the series. Truth be told, I am behind on the second book’s edits right now, so trying to attack NaNoWriMo seemed foolish. My lofty goals for the French blog were setting me up for a mid-November disappointment.

Add to this a time-consuming (because I knew it would be) preparation for a Thanksgiving crafting project, and I was starting to freak out.

Here is what I decided: I was going to put aside some of my writing projects in order to invest more available energies to this Thanksgiving project. I was going to do it intentionally, I was going to do it on purpose. I was going to take on this commitment in a way that would make me feel alive. I invited a friend over to help me craft one morning. I chatted with my sister on FaceTime while I crafted another day.

I know that I am fortunate that I can do this. I have the freedom to rearrange my work projects to make space for cutting out little Pilgrim and Indian outfits that will be put into the hands of six year-olds.

It is just now, though, that I am realizing that this is why I decided not to go back to a normal job when my babies were born. This is what being a mom looks like to me right now. This is why we decided not to move into an apartment that would require us to have two incomes, and why we are so dependent on God’s provision. It is so that I can spend three days preparing something to the extremely (too-high, perhaps) standards I have for myself, and so that I can then spend a day and a half at my boys’ school with their classes on Thanksgiving and the day before.

The Rules

My boys were seeming somewhat wary of the prospect of their mother coming to school. I had noticed this particularly with my eldest, who, for example, likes to run to the gate and stand there by himself and pretend he doesn’t know his little brother or myself when we finally arrive.

I get it. I mean, their worlds would be colliding here, and my presence would be putting at risk their carefully curated school persona. However, as they saw the cuteness that would be the result of the crafting project, there was a glimmer of excitement.

My eldest, no later than last night, set up rules:

  1. I may not talk to him.
  2. I may not give him a thumbs up.
  3. I may not embarrass him.
  4. I may not sing.

He actually made a little drawing of these rules. He is six years old, mind you. He informed me that all the kids know that I will be there, and that they are excited about it, but he is not excited about it.

The little scalawag told me that he wanted to sit next to me, that I was not to speak to the other children, that I must give him a thumbs up and that I could sing as much as I wanted to.

I hadn’t considered the boys’ reaction to my presence in their classes when I offered to do this project, but in some ways, their reactions and the little gentle joking that has resulted, (“OK, so I can’t sing, but can I cackle in my best witch’s voice?”) has made us all feel alive.

More to come

I have a bunch of baggies full of Pilgrim bonnets and hats, Indian dresses and turquoise necklaces. Having gotten it all done with a week to go, I feel a sense of space and peace going forward. By clearing my plate to do this, I don’t feel any guilt or anger that I “missed out” on projects I should have been working on.

Somehow, I managed to stay motivated and not succumb to the inevitable dread that I often feel once I have made a commitment. To even be able to say that out loud makes me feel that I have made a huge step towards my Ideal Life.

Published by Lily Fields

I am passionate about contentment. This is a challenge, because I am equally passionate about progress. I get up at 4:00AM to chip away at a solution to this monolithic problem: how to make progress on my contentment. Born and raised in the USA, I married a French philosophy teacher in 1999. We have lived in France since 2007. We stayed young and carefree until life threw us two curveballs in the form of little humans one after another in 2015 and 2017 respectively. Now I am a slightly older, slightly more exhausted version of myself, but with mystery stains on my walls and a never-ending pile of laundry.

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