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My plate is full of great things: Super-sized portions of field trips, a side of piano lessons, and heaps of delicious art classes, during which, Mama goes for coffee (and sometimes ice cream) with her friends.

Still, it’s a lot more than I’m used to. And to top it off, my skinny jeans are getting uncomfortable to wear (must be all that ice cream during art lessons) making it apparent I need to increase my weekly mileage. Oh yes, and I’m teaching writing seminars for the homeschool kids. And I’m going to write a novel this month. Plus there’s that little thing called homeschooling, where I’m SUPPOSED to be the teacher.

I love my life and the opportunities the kids and I have, but I wonder how I’ll get everything done.

The real problem is that for the past couple of months, most of our activities are an hour away. There’s no real solution or way around it, so I find myself spending 8 to 10 hours driving a week, and if you look closely at my kitchen floor and bathroom toilets, you’ll see the cost of the commute.

But here’s the thing: I can stay home and have a perfectly clean house, or I can provide valuable learning opportunities (and fun socialization) for my kids. There’s really no choice to be made–our lives are richer because of the activities and because of the people we get to be with while we’re doing cool things.

All of this means that in the next month, I have to be extremely dedicated to using my time wisely.

So, if you don’t see many funny quips on my Facebook page, don’t be alarmed. If I don’t answer emails right away, don’t call the Red Cross–I’m still here!

And though I will be driving way too much, I’ll also be running (before sunrise), writing (any chance I can get), living, laughing, drinking too much coffee, and loving my family.

All it takes is dedication.

But my house probably won’t pass a white glove test any time soon.

The phrase “balancing work and home life” always makes me think of the symbol of justice: a woman with a scale dangling from her outstretched hand—it is no accident she is blindfolded.

Life can’t possibly fit onto a scale without something dripping off the side.

Rather, the components of life are chopped up and tossed into a big bowl; and the ingredients are never in perfect proportion.

A few years ago (when I was losing weight for the 4th time), I made a bet with myself: any time it occurred to me to exercise, I HAD to do it—no excuses.

Recently my oldest daughter had her 12th birthday, and I became acutely aware of all the chances I had missed with her, and the chances I have been missing with my younger kids.

So, I made another deal with myself: instead of telling the children to go play with their siblings (like I usually do), I decided to play with them (or do a particular activity with them) any reasonable time they asked—no excuses.

Because I am a work-at-home, homeschooling mom, it is easy to shrug off the kids when they want to play. I can rationalize that the hours of being together, studying and doing chores somehow compensate for what they really want, which is to simply have some fun with mom.

At the core, I am selfish.

Really.

I get focused on a task (writing, blogging, running, cleaning, whatever), and it is easy to push the kids aside—because I am with them all day, every day.

Shouldn’t that be enough?

Just because I am a mom who is with my children 24/7, does not mean I have achieved some sort of mommy nirvana.

I have to work hard to stay focused on priorities, just as any full-time working mom. I can become so sidetracked with other things, even with homeschooling (which is FOR the kids) that I miss winning their hearts.

Thus, the playtime challenge.

I honestly don’t know why the kids want to play with me because it seems like it could be a punishment.

I brush hair, search for matching shoes, and make sure all the dolls are wearing pants. Even when every game ends up with a talent/fashion/college-scholarship-winner show, the kids, amazingly, love it.

Not only does our youngest light up with razzle-dazzle sparkles in her eyes, but the other kids join the game, incorporating machines that try to sabotage the contest, or aliens who are squashed like bugs under Barbie’s ridiculously high heel.

Playtime is for fun and silliness; and while it often seems like the empty calories of the day (a lot of fun but not much substance), for the children, it appears to be nourishing for their souls.

I may not realize for a long while how playtime is affecting the family, but I can only think it is good for us:  

A few extra servings of something healthy and sweet tossed into the big bowl of life.

When I was 18, I thought:

  • I wouldn’t get married until I was old–like in my 30s
  • I might have 1 child someday
  • my bachelors would take forever
  • I would love being a high school drama teacher
  • I had said goodbye to my beloved Europe forever
  • homeschooling was for cultists, who don’t allow females to wear makeup or blue jeans
  • “athletic” was a word that could in no way be associated with me
  • having kids drained the fun out of life
  • there’s no way a husband could also be a best friend

Nearly 20 years later, I find myself living way beyond my original life’s vision:

  • I married at 20
  • had 4 fabulous children
  • felt college breeze by, including the 2 years in the masters program
  • have great respect for public school teachers, but could not be bribed, drugged, or arm-wrestled into becoming one
  • hang my hat in Germany
  • teach all 4 of my kids at home and on the road, while wearing pants and makeup simultaneously
  • finished a marathon without an ambulance
  • laugh more with my kids than with any other group of people on the planet
  • have a friendship with my husband that grows deeper every day

I have a lot of goals, and I wonder if they will be met in the way I anticipate, or if life has something bigger in store for me.

In the future, I want to:

  • be published
  • make an actual income from writing
  • avoid cold, dark and snowy places at all costs
  • run an ultra marathon
  • do ten real push ups in a row (don’t laugh–it’s a dream of mine)
  • write more letters with paper & ink
  • learn a second foreign language
  • be less self-centered (I admit, blogging doesn’t help this)
  • improve the world in a meaningful way
  • travel to Africa
  • watch my kids soar
  • love my husband even more than I do at this moment

Twenty years from now, I wonder what I will think of my current goals–they seem pretty high to me.

No matter what our ages, we should all be dreamers. While gaining the prize is a wonderful thing, it is bravely pressing forward on the quest that matters most in the long run.

What goals (or misconceptions) did you have when you were 18?  I would really love to hear what they were!